As thousands of West Virginia teachers raised their voices, it was 12-year-old Gideon Titus-Glover’s message that stood out to the governor.
The 6th-grader’s plea to invest in education echoed in the governor’s mind. In a matter of hours, Gov. Jim Justice agreed to a 5% pay raise for teachers and other school employees, putting an end to a strike that kept thousands of students out of class for days.
“If you put money in schools you’re making smart people, and if you have smart people you can make more smart investments,” Gideon told Justice at a Monday town hall meeting in Wheeling.
“Well, he’s right, he’s right,” said Justice, recalling his exchange with Gideon at a press conference on Tuesday.
“To be perfectly honest, in a lot of ways I was looking at this, maybe, not correctly,” the governor added.
A key exchange
Gideon had been joining teachers – including his mother – on the picket lines since Thursday.
He couldn’t go to classes at Triadelphia Middle School, so he carried a sign with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that says, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
On Monday, he sat among a group of teachers and waited patiently to approach the governor who fielded questions from attendees.
When his turn on the microphone came, Gideon questioned Justice’s decision to increase the state’s tourism budget compared to education spending. The governor owns a luxury resort in the state, Gideon said.
“I just kind of thought that was wrong,” Gideon told CNN.
At first, the governor said he was wasting his time but then, Justice tried to explain about returns on investments.
Turning one dollar into eight is a good investment, the governor said.
“Wouldn’t it be an investment to invest in smart teachers that would make me smart and then I can in turn, turn around and do smart, good things for our state?” the student replied.
‘He feels very strongly about injustice’
The town hall had left many teachers disappointed. They walked out shaking their heads and feeling “disgusted” and hopeless by the governor’s remarks, CNN affiliate WTRF reported.
“I watched the governor and while he was speaking, I cried because it was really touching that he listened to my 12-year old,” Gideon’s mother Michelle told WTRF.
Gideon was at youth group Tuesday night when someone showed him that the governor talked about him at the press conference.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in fully, it’s kind of crazy that he mentioned me and listened to what I said,” Gideon told CNN.
Philip Titus-Glover said his son’s intervention at the town hall was “natural.” He is a critical thinker who feels “very strongly about injustice.”
“Gideon has a strong opinion and he’s not afraid to share it,” he said.
“It’s been the way he’s approached life, he’s always questioned things,” he added. “It’s how we live, if he has questions, he’s allowed to ask them and we try to answer his questions the best we can.”
While the Titus-Glovers don’t have any plans to jump into advocacy, Gideon said he wants to be an Air Force pilot when he grows up.
But for now, he’s just excited to get back to school Thursday.