Though it has been endemic in this country for a number of years, prejudice against and hatred of teachers, or what I term “pedagogism,” has increased to a level where the very survival of our educational system and the well-being of our children are threatened. President Obama, in his State of the Union address, warned that if America is going to compete in the new world economy, we must improve learning in this country and attract the best and the brightest to the teaching profession. Tragically, despite the president's admonition, many governing officials throughout the country, such as Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Gov. Terry E. Branstad of Iowa and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, among others, have declared all-out war against public service unions in general and teachers in particular, blaming the economic crisis not on the criminal behavior of bankers and Wall Street executives, or on a bloated military defense budget of over $708 billion, or on unnecessary and immoral wars and occupations (Afghanistan alone costs American taxpayers over $2 billion each week), or on tax subsidies for oil companies that have, for the past few years, enjoyed windfall profits, or on tax cuts for the wealthy. Rather, these pedagogists unscrupulously blame their state's alleged budget shortfalls on “overfunded” schools and “exorbitant” teacher salaries and pensions, despite an average nationwide annual teacher income of approximately $51,000.
If America is ever to regain its economic stability and leadership in the world, Tea Party members, libertarians and other “fiscal conservatives” who have been influenced by this rhetoric, must abandon their hatred and intolerance toward teachers and become better informed about the nature and realities of the educational system in this country. They must realize that schools are not just places where parents can house their children as caregivers seek additional employment to make ends meet in a difficult economy created by the greed and criminal behavior of those now being rewarded with tax breaks by their political benefactors. They must understand that teaching is not a hobby or a second job to augment the income of a primary wage earner, nor are teachers babysitters. Rather, they are working professionals who prepare many years in costly colleges for the awesome responsibility of being entrusted with the education of our nation's greatest asset, our children.
I have heard it argued recently that the ludicrous salaries and bonuses that banking and Wall Street executives are receiving – despite their avarice and irresponsible, even criminal, behavior, which precipitated the recent economic collapse – are justified and necessary to attract quality people to the finance and investment sector. But what service does a banker or a Wall Street executive provide our children? How is their greed and incompetence bettering our nation, contributing to the common good? In truth, can you think of an occupation that is more vital to ensuring this nation's economic well-being – nay, its very survival – than the education of our children? Strengthening our educational system and attracting the best and the brightest to the teaching profession requires compensation and benefits commensurate with their education and the vital service they provide to society. Fair compensation for teachers is not an entitlement. It is a moral imperative, and it is in the national interest.
As with all bigots, pedagogists rely upon lies and misinformation to incite intolerance and hatred for teachers. They tell us, for example, that once teachers have received tenure, they have a job for life regardless of competency or pernicious behavior. Here is the truth about tenure. First off, the granting of tenure is not automatic. After having successfully completed a rather intensive screening and interview process, new teachers will receive a probationary appointment for a number of years, usually three, during which time they will be both formally and informally observed by school and district administrators. If, after a number of such observations and evaluations over the course of the probationary period, the evaluators determine that the teacher is proficient, motivated, compassionate, dedicated to excellence and an asset to student learning, the teacher will be offered tenure. While it is true that a tenured teacher cannot be fired without adequately proof of incompetence, neglect of duty, inefficiency, insubordination or unprofessional conduct, teachers are continually observed and evaluated throughout their careers. If found lacking, teachers will be counseled, advised on their deficiencies, perhaps even required to undergo additional training. These teachers must improve their performance, rectify their behavior or, after due process, face termination. While I will admit that the process is better in some states than in others, and may probably be improved, the purpose of tenure is not to provide sanctuary for incompetents and criminals, but to protect good teachers, to safeguard workers' rights. Since 99.9 percent of educators are dedicated to improving the quality of education in our schools, I am convinced that, in a non-adversarial environment, sincere and reasonable negotiations could yield significant and fair improvements in the process that would both ensure the highest teacher proficiency and that the rights of teachers are respected. Tragically, given the pedagogism that is apparent in Wisconsin, Iowa, New Jersey and elsewhere, such an environment of fairness and reason does not exist at this time.
Despite claims by proponents of the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind program, the quality of education, level of student learning and capabilities (or “merit”) of teachers cannot be determined by a score on some standardized test marketed by corporations whose only goal is profit and devised by “education and statistical experts” who have little or no experience in the classroom. Such contrived and often culturally biased instruments of evaluation accomplish little other than to force schools and teachers, in order not to lose much-needed funding, to “teach to the test,” – that is, to focus primarily on test preparation and test-taking skills rather than on students' individuals needs, college preparation and overall development.
While I have no doubt that new teachers are well-prepared, motivated and enthusiastic, it is also clear that their education does not end when they graduate college and earn their degree. As with most skilled professions, it takes years to develop an outstanding educator, and a significant aspect of teacher development will depend upon observing and interacting with those who have spent years in the classroom – older, more experienced teachers. These veteran teachers are a benefit to our children and an asset to new teachers and to improving the quality of our educational system. As attested to by the positive results of continuing observations and evaluations by principals and administrators, the vast majority of teachers are doing an exemplary, even heroic job, despite the adverse conditions under which they are required to work: overcrowded classrooms, inadequate supplies, etcetera.
Fanning the flames of hatred against teachers and pushing legislation that cuts much-needed funding for education in these times of crisis and threats to the economic well-being of our nation by spreading lies about the enthusiasm, motivation and competency in the classroom of even our most senior and experienced teachers, these politicians have demonstrated that their motivation is purely economic and that their primary concern is to increase the wealth of their corporate benefactors and fund endless war and occupation rather than to improve the quality of education, the well-being of our children and the interest of our nation. Though it may be of little consolation, it is in times of peril such as these that the importance of tenure becomes apparent. With teacher layoffs seemingly inevitable, tenure provides hope for the future of our educational system by at least ensuring the protection of our senior, most experienced teachers.
Let's be clear. Giving tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans and tax subsidies to oil companies does not create jobs; it never has and never will. Rather, it serves only the interests of the insatiably greedy and fattens the coffers of their political benefactors. Spending trillions on unnecessary wars and occupations does not make us safer. Rather, it costs lives and foments and exacerbates hatred for America around the world. The inevitable consequence of such unsound and irresponsible fiscal policy of benefiting the wealthy and waging endless war inevitably increases the suffering of the masses by creating the illusion of crisis that, we are told, must be resolved with layoffs, union busting and cuts to education, social security, Medicare, and so on.
It is time to expose these “budget reforms” for what they truly are: attacks on teachers, public employees, workers, the middle class and, most egregious, upon children, the future of our nation. It is time as well to expose these “reformers” as charlatans and corporate sycophants. Let us come together, therefore, to help America get its priorities straight. Let us come together to end war and occupation. Let us come together to make America and the world a better and more peaceful place in which to live. Let us come together in the noble struggle to save education, save our children and save America. It is that important, and the threat that grave.