Declaring War on Teachers

I came across a great article in my feed reader this morning. 

Written by Mark Brandon—a professor of law at Vanderbilt University—it highlights some of the virulent anti-school teacher rhetoric being spewed by legislators in Tennessee. 

He writes:

From the floor of the state Senate, tea party Republican Jim Summerville recently warned Tennessee’s teachers to mind their own business where education reform is concerned.

"Make no mistake,” he said, "the final responsibility is ours — and we are warriors.”

Lest his point be missed, Sen. Summerville added, "We will bend public education to our awe, or break it all to pieces.”

Sure sounds like the good Senator Summerville is putting Students First, huh?

What’s really crazy is his rhetoric doesn’t sound too far off from that spewed by one of my favorite dictators of all time, Benito Mussolini.

Don’t believe me?  Then check out this Mussolini quote:

Let us have a dagger between our teeth, a bomb in our hands and infinite scorn in our hearts.

It would have fit nicely into Summerville’s speech, don’t you think? 


And that should frighten you. 

Color me crazy, but I’m a firm believer that well-intentioned educational policy makers just shouldn’t sound so much like lunatics that took the world to the brink of destruction. 

I wonder how all of these union busters—and their buddy Ms. Rhee—plan to pick up the pieces of the system that they quite obviously intend to break.

5 thoughts on “Declaring War on Teachers

  1. Pingback: Value-Added Teacher Evaluation Models Fail Kids AND Communities | The Tempered Radical

  2. Bill Ferriter

    Hey Matt,
    Thanks for the pushback. You know I always enjoy it when you stop by to challenge my thinking. Here are a few responses:
    First—and I think you know this about me—I have NO problem with anyone who wants to question the way that education is currently done in our country. Declaring war is completely unproductive—in the end, pitting stakeholders against one another is going to get us no where—but challenging the status quo is something Im completely down with.
    We do need to revise the way that teachers are evaluated and compensated. We do need to rethink how students receive instruction and to find better ways to provide feedback and to receive in put from parents and communities. Those are places where education is failing.
    My resistance, though, comes from the attacks against teachers. Maybe it is a slight semantic change, but it is an important one. People like Summerville and Rhee are denigrating the individuals who are working in our classrooms, and thats ridiculous for one simple reason: Those of us who are working in classrooms arent responsible for setting the policies that leave yall frustrated.
    Even as a relatively accomplished, recognized and savvy teacher, I have literally zero control over school choice issues. I have no control over the curriculum that Im required to teach and, increasingly, I have no control over the instructional practices that Im required to use to teach that curriculum. I have no control over school calendars. I have no control over the systems that we use to assess students. I have no control over student class sizes.
    Whats even more ironic to me is that the people who do have control—complete control as a matter of fact—are educational policymakers.
    Want to point fingers at someone for the failures and frustrations that you feel with education?
    Then look to the local and state school board members in your area. Look to the local and state representatives in your area. Look to the federal representatives from your state. Theyre the people who are setting policy and mandating practice. All we do at the school level is implement the practices that those individuals dream up.
    And then look to your neighbors who elected those individuals—-or who didnt bother to get involved in the conversation to begin with.
    For parents or any taxpaying citizen to feel disempowered in conversations about education is just not fair because their choices—–or their choice not to stay informed or to get involved in elections—-is the direct cause of the educational policies that everyone seems to love to hate.
    As far as giving parents the right to accept or reject the advice given by teachers and schools, Id be in support of making that process formalized by increasing funding for charter schools and vouchers. Let parents use a portion of their tax dollars to seek out the instructional programs that are right for their children and their families.
    Notice that I said a portion of their tax dollars.
    Thats an important difference between taking all of their tax dollars, and its a difference that matters to me. I believe that our public schools add value to you even when the dollars are being spent on other peoples children—and that value is something you should be asked to contribute to. Conversations about my child always bother me because in the end, ensuring that every child has an opportunity to succeed regardless of the community where they were born and raised just makes sense. Morally, its the right thing to do. But for those who dont buy the moral argument, financially its the right thing to do.
    Undereducated and poorly prepared children end up costing taxpayers more money in the long run.
    As far as giving parents the right to accept or reject advice given by teachers at the school level AND to stay in the same classrooms—-which is what I think youre getting at with your reference to lawyers working on behalf of their clients even if they dont agree with the course of action their clients believe in—I like the idea, but I also know that it would be impossible to pull off at the classroom level.
    The fact of the matter is that a lawyer works with one client at a time. Ive got anywhere from 28 to 35 clients. A lawyer can choose clients based on their individual areas of strength and expertise, streamlining the process of providing support and designing courses of action. I dont get to choose my clients and am often poorly prepared to deal with the individual challenges that they present. A lawyer can choose to turn away clients when they are overwhelmed or overworked. I have to take anyone who is assigned to my room whenever they are assigned.
    All of those realities make it impossible for me to differentiate delivery to the degree that I think youre looking for even though in my ideal world, thats exactly what would happen. The only way we can move closer to this reality is by investing more into teacher salaries to decrease student-teacher ratios—-and I sure dont see that happening any time soon!
    Does any of this make sense?
    I feel like Im babbling right now—-but Im enjoying the babble. Im polishing my thinking, and polishing is never a bad thing.

  3. Cris Clarke

    here in NC there is no teacher’s union with collective bargaining power. Now that we are under attack who will advocate for us?

  4. crazedmummy

    I would love to have parents decide. Parents can decide to have their children learn math, English, French, science, music… Then they get to live with the consequences. In Italy, the courts decided that parents of 30+ year olds could not force them to move out, as they had brought their children up to be dependent.
    So the consequence of choice is that then parents have to supply whatever is lacking. Just as if a defendant in court decides to go against your advice. They have to live with the consequences. Some might be fine, many might not (depending on how good a lawyer you are, I guess). I have no problem with that. It’s not fair for parents to decide what their children should or should not receive, and thus block the students from future aspirations.
    My question – what of the 295 students I have who don’t have involved parents? What of the students who were thrown out at age 15 by their parents, and are now legally emancipated? What of the 8 year olds who get themselves up, dressed and across to school every day?
    I never ask people to trust me, I just keep acting in an honest way and then some of them come to me to ask what they should do. I tell them only what I know, and what might apply to them. They are shocked that a GED is treated the same as a high school diploma, when other teachers tell them it’s much better to have a high school diploma. I tell them welders get paid more than teachers. I tell them trash collection is a great job if you want to be outside and do physical work, and it pays pretty well. They are very unhappy to find that the part-time job they got to save for college counts against them when they look for grants and loans for college. Above all, I tell them not to believe me, the internet is out there, I tell them to look for themselves.

  5. Matt Johnston

    I will concede that Senator Summerville’s comments are vile and beyond the pale. Very little will get done in such an atmosphere. I have long been in agreement with you that more educators–thoughtful and reflective educators–need to be involved in the school reform debate.
    My fraternity had a saying, “Merely because a practice is prevalent may be the poorest reason for continuing it.” You may not agree with Michelle Rhee and I agree that comments by politician like Summervile are not constructive, but you have to agree that there are aspects of our education policy and system that are broken now and are in pieces now. Why should we have to put those piece back together in the same way? Why can’t we build something new, something innovative? Why should we continue with a practice merely because it is prevalent? Who gains by such a system?
    As a lawyer, I am often accused of thinking like a lawyer. Well it is hard for me not to do so–it is my profession. So as a result, the legal profession is often, rightly, challenged from the outside. That is good for the profession and good for individual lawyers. Lawyers don’t have all the answers. In politics, politicians never have all the answers (indeed, they rarely have any).
    In education, no one, not chancellors, (heaven forbid) not politicians, not parents, not unions. Indeed, not even teachers have all the answers. So why the attack on teachers? Because in the end, rightly or wrongly, our education system has become entrenched in a mode and model that is not conducive to our current society. People are afraid and they want to blame someone. I believe the attack comes from a feeling of futility. We hear from teachers and “educators,” “trust us, we know what is best for your children. Trust us.” But that is hard and there is no delineated role or rights for parents and kids.
    I understand the reflex to defend one’s profession–I truly do. I sympathize with the reaction to calls for teachers to “do more with less” which is, admittedly the dumbest statement ever. But at the same time, we hear statements from “education” leaders wedded to the old practices telling us that teachers know best. I’m sorry, but with all due respect–that is not always the case.
    It is that hubris, that faux moral superiority, that galls me to no end. My kids teachers spend less than 6 hours a school day, for 180 days a year with my child and they have the gumption to tell me that they know my kid better than me? That they know how to educate my kid better than me? Where are my rights in dealing with education professionals? Where is my ability to draw the line with public education?
    Professionals shouldn’t make such presumptions. A lawyer cannot practice contrary to the clients wishes, they can advise but in the end it is the client’s wishes that are paramount. Same holds true for a doctor and her patients. The fact that clients and patients go along with advice does not diminish the client/patient power.
    I believe attacks on teachers are founded upon the belief that parents/students should have far more input into education than they do. They feel as if they don’t have a veto power, that they don’t have the ability to say “No that is not right for my kid.” Fear of lack of control is, I believe the motivation.
    So my question to you, I suppose, would be, how receptive would teachers, as a profession, be to having some sort of “codified” rights for parents/students. How much more flexibility would be needed in our teachers and in our schools to effectuate more parent/student rights to accept or reject the advise given by teachers?

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