Thursday, September 27, 2012

Whether or Not They Back Down, Billionaires Don't Care About Our Kids

There's a great piece by Texas superintendent John Kuhn suggesting that schools reflect our communities, for better or worse.  Can we improve our schools and communities? Of course we can. Should we close them and turn them over to billionaires who wouldn't want to live or study with us? Probably not. Yet that's precisely what we're doing with our schools, as we follow programs more aligned to the druthers of Bill Gates, Eli Broad and the Walton family rather than anything based on research or demonstrated practice.

Now they have a second major Hollywood production, demonizing teachers as the source of all that afflicts our communities. There are great reasons to be suspicious of its motives, even if we ignore its ridiculous claim to be based on a true story. There are a few things I've experienced my entire working life that I'd like to mention here.

One is that teaching has never been a career for those looking to get wealthy. You have to love it or you don't last, and indeed, half of all prospective teachers are gone within five years. For most of my career, NYC was dying for teachers, ran job fairs, recruited internationally, and offered free training for anyone who'd sign up. They did this because their insistence on paying the lowest wage in the area made it very tough to recruit. And despite what you may have heard, it's no picnic being a teacher. I remember what it was like in front of 34 teenagers before I got the hang of it, and had I not done so, I'd certainly be among those who walked.

In fact, bad teachers are not roaming the earth like a plague of zombies, and we are simply not in crisis. And please, while we can tolerate GW Bush as President, or Arne Duncan as education secretary, don't lecture me on merit. Tenure exists so people like me can speak up against the abject nonsense propagated by such figures without being tossed into the street. I have seen people "counseled out" and I have seen people fired. The simple fact, though, is most people who can't hack it simply leave of their own accord.

Whatever the movie may contend, I'm not sitting around watching Rome burn, and nor are the overwhelming majority of my colleagues. Those who demonize us are no different from garden-variety bigots who target a racial group or sexual orientation to stir up hatred among those with no better use for their time. We are the ones who spend every waking day with children. We are the ones who look after them while parents work, and we are the ones who try to inspire them to find a direction in life, whether or not they pass the often ridiculous multiple choice tests imposed by the corporations who profit from them.

By publicly ridiculing our profession, by degrading working conditions, by presenting corporate fairy tales by precisely the same folks who jettisoned the economy with their insatiable avarice we are not much helping our children. In fact, Barack Obama, Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, Joel Klein, Rahm Emanuel and their ilk do not patronize the test-prep, high class-sized factory-like institutions they're trying to create for our children. We need to reject their indulgence in fairy-tales like "Won't Back Down" and insist our kids get what their kids get--small class sizes, individual attention, and assessment without ridiculous high-stakes tests.

Finally, we need to recognize one major consequence of degrading and insulting this profession. I teach high-needs kids exclusively, and when corporate hacks degrade teaching, they're actively trying to remove a viable path to middle class for kids like those I serve. Last year I had a former student as a student teacher. She would be great at my job. Her very existence as a teacher sends kids the message, "I did it, and so can you."

Making her into a test-prepping, drone-like, wage slave is not what she needs, not what our kids need, and not good for America. Firing her for test scores that are likely as not meaningless is good for neither her nor our children, all of whom need more, not fewer opportunities to make it in this increasingly tough job market.

In fact, no matter how much money bumbling Bill Gates gets his hands on, he will never know anything about public education or the struggles of our children. And it is we, not the billionaires, who spend every waking hour looking toward their best interests.
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