"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Teaching Profession Under Assault

It's the end of another school year. This is the time when teachers are cleaning things up, winding down, focusing on what was accomplished and what was left undone. Good teachers will analyze the successes and failures of the year and begin to think about ways to improve their skills for next year. Summers, while providing time for rest and recuperation, also provide time for study, planning and reflection. A good teacher is also a lifelong learner, and summers provide a time for personal learning and professional growth.

The picture of teachers painted by the Michael Bloombergs, the Scott Walkers, and the Michelle Rhees of the world is very different, however. In their public pronouncements, the "corporate reformers" and politicians in their pockets praise teachers for their sacrifice yet in the next sentence blame them for all the ills of the world. Teachers are to blame for our economic woes. A group of professionals and their professional organizations (aka unions) have sucked our economic system dry through high pensions and collective bargaining for one purpose only -- to line their own pockets. While CEOs pull in millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses...while the largest corporations whine about the high US Corporate Tax Rate, yet some, like GE, pay no taxes at all...while the American taxpayer subsidizes oil companies who are pulling in record profits...the American Teacher is held up as the epitome of greed and avarice.

Last April Chris Hedges at Common Dreams wrote a piece titled "Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education System.
A nation that destroys its systems of education, degrades its public information, guts its public libraries and turns its airwaves into vehicles for cheap, mindless amusement becomes deaf, dumb and blind. It prizes test scores above critical thinking and literacy. It celebrates rote vocational training and the singular, amoral skill of making money. It churns out stunted human products, lacking the capacity and vocabulary to challenge the assumptions and structures of the corporate state. It funnels them into a caste system of drones and systems managers. It transforms a democratic state into a feudal system of corporate masters and serfs.

Teachers, their unions under attack, are becoming as replaceable as minimum-wage employees at Burger King. We spurn real teachers—those with the capacity to inspire children to think, those who help the young discover their gifts and potential—and replace them with instructors who teach to narrow, standardized tests. These instructors obey. They teach children to obey. And that is the point. The No Child Left Behind program, modeled on the “Texas Miracle,” is a fraud. It worked no better than our deregulated financial system. But when you shut out debate these dead ideas are self-perpetuating.
Hedges interviews a teacher who understands the system.
“Imagine,” said a public school teacher in New York City, who asked that I not use his name, “going to work each day knowing a great deal of what you are doing is fraudulent, knowing in no way are you preparing your students for life in an ever more brutal world, knowing that if you don’t continue along your scripted test prep course and indeed get better at it you will be out of a job.
It's important to ask the question, "Who is going to want to teach our children in the current educational atmosphere?"
Teachers, under assault from every direction, are fleeing the profession. Even before the “reform” blitzkrieg we were losing half of all teachers within five years after they started work—and these were people who spent years in school and many thousands of dollars to become teachers. How does the country expect to retain dignified, trained professionals under the hostility of current conditions?
Why is this happening? Why is the US systematically dismantling its public education system? Privately run charter schools and voucher schemes are draining more and more money from the public treasury, while public schools serving the nation's poor are getting less and less. Public schools are being closed rather than improved...and the blame is being laid at the foot of America's teaching professionals.
“I cannot say for certain—not with the certainty of a Bill Gates or a Mike Bloomberg who pontificate with utter certainty over a field in which they know absolutely nothing—but more and more I suspect that a major goal of the reform campaign is to make the work of a teacher so degrading and insulting that the dignified and the truly educated teachers will simply leave while they still retain a modicum of self-respect,” he added. “In less than a decade we [have] been stripped of autonomy and are increasingly micromanaged. Students have been given the power to fire us by failing their tests. Teachers have been likened to pigs at a trough and blamed for the economic collapse of the United States. In New York, principals have been given every incentive, both financial and in terms of control, to replace experienced teachers with 22-year-old untenured rookies. They cost less. They know nothing. They are malleable and they are vulnerable to termination.”
Are bad teachers the problem? Do we gut the teaching profession, privatize public education and staff our newly opened private schools with the untrained and the inexperienced? That's what we're being told we need to do...and where is the public money for education going? Who is really getting rich off of the changing face of education? Is it the public school teacher averaging around $50,000 a year?

Are the best and the brightest going to pick education as a career choice? Will they become teachers and spend their lives reading scripts and teaching children how to fill in bubbles on a test sheet?

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