Teachers Are The Enemy

I rarely listen to the radio, but since I’ve moved back to New Jersey, I’ve been doing a lot of driving since my new job is located 2 hours north of where I’m currently staying. Over the last few days, a radio advertisement has been playing that got so annoyed that I had to turn the radio off. Twice. I am normally a very laid back person and I do not get annoyed very easily.

I cannot remember which politician or political group sponsored the advertisement. It was in favor of the NJ bill for school choice. It sounds nice. I mean, who doesn’t like choice? The advertisement vilifies both public school teachers and the New Jersey Educators Association (NJEA), which is the teachers’ union. The gist of the advertisement is that our schools are failing our children, which was spoken as a blanket generalization without context. It states that public school teachers and the NJEA oppose school choice. The implications here are obvious. 1) The teachers and NJEA do not care about the children or they would support “school choice.” 2) Charter schools are better able to serve our children in all situations. While I am not able to find the advertisement online, this letter to the editor echoes the sentiments on NJ.com.

What is wrong with the ad?

The advertisement is such blatant propaganda and is wrong on many levels. For starters, the people behind the advertisement are not educators. They are politicians. Politicians who, by and large, do not use the public school system. What is worse, though, is not that they have a different opinion than I do (which is always welcome when civil discourse is possible), but that education is being sacrificed for political gain. An honest agenda would have presented facts or studies to support the egregious claims made in the advertisement. Offering teachers and the NJEA up as scapegoats solves no problem.

Second, despite the apparent beliefs of many NJ politicians, Secretary of State Arne Duncan, and President Obama, charter schools are not the panacea to all of the country’s education woes. Charter schools can solve some problems sometimes, but they are not THE answer. There is no easy, single answer. The problem is that politicians need something simple and concrete. No politician wants to go to his/her constituency and say that there is a long and difficult road ahead and that schools are going to take decades to fix if we start repairing the broken system now. It is much more palatable to voters and politicians if they can say this is what’s wrong (They failed a test!) and this is how we can solve it (Close the school! Open a charter!).

I am not going to use this post as a forum to discuss the benefits and costs of charter and public schools, although that will come in a post in the near future. However, charter schools are not held to the same standards as public schools and they are not required to follow the same restrictions. Yet, they are funded with public money. There is nothing charter schools do that public school cannot if given the same freedom.

The advertisement ends by saying, “Don’t let your child’s zip code determine his future.” I may have the words slightly off, but it is what was communicated. I agree with this. This sentiment stems from the fact that different towns have schools of varying quality. The way to fix the problem is to improve the schools so that they are all good schools and not to bus kids to other towns. Let me state that heterogeneous schooling is both unwanted and undesirable. However, we can work to improve the quality of the schools. In my experience, teachers are caring, hard-working, and willing to improve, when they have support in identifying what’s wrong and in helping to develop strategies to improve. For the record, a mandate saying that higher test scores are required is not including teachers in developing strategies to improve a school. Changing the way schools are funded would not be a bad idea either. Schools here are funded by property taxes, so the richer areas are obviously going to have access to better facilities and resources and, sometimes, teachers.

Also, how are the schools failing? The advertisement does not say. I would, though, bet anything you want that it is referring to a test score. I’m sorry NJ politicians, but if that is your only measure of a failing school, then I reject it. A handful of tests are not indicative of the overall health of a district.

Why do they oppose school choice?

The advertisement sets up teachers and the NJEA as being against children because they are against the bill for school choice. I have not contacted the NJEA (I am not even a member) and I cannot speak for any other teacher. However, there are a few reasons that stand out.

Supporting this bill would be tantamount to saying that the public schools are not willing or able to help children. Many teachers work unbelievably hard because they love their children. They should not take kindly to what is basically a governmental slap in the face saying that they are not good enough. If we are not good enough, then test us why and help us improve. We care about the kids and are more than willing to improve. But if you push a test score in my face, I can think of a few better places for you to put it.

I’m writing annoyed, which is not usually a good idea, so I may be less tactful than usual. I would appreciate any feedback. As always, you do not need to agree with me. Unlike the advertisement, I am open to civil dialogue discussing the merits and drawbacks of both the bill and the teachers’ union.

3 comments to Teachers Are The Enemy

  • Ric Murry
    Twitter: rrmurry

    Nicely written Jason. You said something that made me think skeptically (not hard to do) of why politicians do this kind of thing.

    You said, “The problem is that politicians need something simple and concrete.”

    This is exactly correct. So here is my thinking.

    Politicians NEED the simple. Why? Is it because their constituency is simple-minded? Is their constituency public-school educated?

    If the constituency is simple-minded and public school educated, then the politicians have a point (kind of a self-fulfilled prophecy). Under-educate the masses so that government does not have to work so hard to appease them. Perhaps the advances in computer technology was becoming a game-changer for education. Politicians noticed something that could have improved the information gathering and critical thinking abilities of the public, and needed to halt that advancement to protect themselves. By keeping the masses (their constituency) intentionally under-educated through the use of pedantic standards, they make their job easier and power greater.

    I have been operating on an assumption that Common Core Standards (and in many ways any standards) are removing history and science from counting on test scores, so schools will no longer teach these subjects. Diane Ravitch, in Twitter yesterday, said that a reporter in St. Louis said a school district is only teaching ELA and Math in their middle schools.

    Why would standards, written mainly by politicians with minor underling-like support of teachers, remove the value of science and history? Because it is there that students learn to APPLY reading and logic to the things that really matter in the country.

    I also had another epiphany from here and something else I recently read. Ever notice how people who leave the classroom (or places of direct connection with the students-Media Centers) begin to call themselves “educators” instead of “teachers?” It is subtle, but there is a big difference. Politicians say they get educator input. They will get administrators or people from BOEs to “assist” them.

    Once a person becomes an “educator” they are no longer a teacher (in most cases-and yes there will be exceptions). Educators are more closely linked to politicians than teachers at that point.

    Then again, what do I know? I’m just a teacher, and a history teacher at that.


    Ric Murry´s last blog post ..rrmurry: RT @DanielPink: Optical Character Recognition for Google Docs. Yet another innovation with roots in 20% time. http://bit.ly/b2OxnH

  • Jason T Bedell
    Twitter: jasontbedell

    Thanks for the insights Ric. Sounds like a twist on an old Marx idea: education is the opiate of the masses.
    I plan to start an administrative degree next year, but I will never stop being a teacher. That is an important idea. Everyone in the school who works with kids is a teacher. We need to make sure we remember that and keep kids first.
    Jason T Bedell´s last blog post ..Teachers Are The Enemy

  • Debbie Gottsleben
    Twitter: gottsled

    Jason it is very discouraging to hear the way that teachers are being attacked. I don’t understand why teachers specifically have become public enemy #1 with so many politicians, most notably our gov. Other public workers have the same benefits and often make more than teachers and yet it is only teachers who are under attack. Are some teachers ineffective? Yes, but they were given tenure by someone and are still evaluated each year. I think many teachers who are viewed as ineffective could be guided by a stronger administrator to become better. So maybe the gov. should go after administrators. But, I also think that teaching is an incredibly hard profession. It is harder than anyone can possibly imagine. I think that people need to step into a classroom and see what is required of a teacher today. Sadly, I don’t think I could recommend the profession to anyone now. Not because I don’t think it is a noble calling and that there are many intangible benefits, most importantly seeing a student succeed because of something you’ve done, but because of the bashing that is going on from all ranks of our govt. starting from the very top in Wash. Frankly, I think these politicians should be the ones that are ashamed. They are the ones that have turned their backs on problems and rewarded themselves at the same time. Not all politicians but so very many. What about the outrage that should be shown against Wall St., where greed almost caused the decimation of the entire world economy or against BP? So many teachers are selfless spending hours of their own time working with students and spending their own money to help out students in need. But because students who come to school with a host of problems, not any of which a teacher caused, don’t reach some arbitrary standard every teacher in the country is demonized. It is a very sad state of affairs. And I haven’t even started on what they are doing to libraries both school and public.

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