Teachers and Scapegoats

Well, I’m back in sunny, warm cold, snowy Northeast Ohio after spending a week in sunny, warm Dataw Island, South Carolina. And I can report that from what I saw last week — flowers blooming, trees budding, grass growing — that spring will make it here: eventually.

While  in Dataw, I managed to climb to the roof often enough in the early a.m. and giggle the laptop just right to connect to the Internet — so I wasn’t off the grid entirely. And as I opined from my perch overlooking the marsh, I don’t understand why we as a nation continue to so enthusiastically — and mistakenly — devalue teachers and teaching.

Here’s an editorial cartoon from Clay Bennett at the Chattanooga Times Free Press as reprinted in the Akron Beacon Journal this morning. On the door: Scapegoats’ Teachers’ Lounge.

Teachers as scapegoats. Sweet. And true — at least from what I have seen during the last 20 years or so and more recently in Ohio, Wisconsin, Texas and elsewhere.

OK. I understand that what is going on now in Ohio, Wisconsin and so on involves more than just teachers — it touches all public employees and focuses on issues involving unions and collective bargaining, pay, benefits and the fact that middle class jobs have declined if not vanished in many states and communities beyond jobs in the public sector.

And there have been plenty of thoughtful commentaries about how the move to trim collective bargaining rights for public sector employees and unions is a political move to diminish political power and campaign contributions among groups typically aligned with the Democratic Party. I guess I’m not that cynical and that seems to give too much credit to people like Scott Walker and John Kasich. But maybe so. We’ll see.

But back to teachers. If we don’t attract, support, retain and reward excellent classroom teachers then this nation is sunk. And yeah, I know, teachers unions protect some poor teachers — just like other unions and civil service rules protect poor pipefitters and federal and state government miscreants. But we are devaluing education. And that matters.

I don’t typically watch Ed Schultz, the liberal Talking Head host of MSNBC’s “The Ed Show,” but he has an interesting post on The Huffington Post, “Why Wisconsin Matters.” Here’s an excerpt:

Governor Scott Walker has leveled the largest assault on public education in the history of the state of Wisconsin. This is an attack on the middle class and an attack on teachers who are being treated as political tools and pawns. They’re bargaining chips in negotiations.

Teachers, who play more of a role in economic development than anybody who wants to take a chance on Wall Street, are being vilified and targeted unfairly.

Nobody goes into teaching to get rich. They do it because they love helping people. They love the reward of seeing kids reach their potential. It takes a special person to be a teacher.

The wonderful thing about public education is that everybody’s welcome — the gifted, the talented, the challenged. The socioeconomically challenged kid can walk in the door and have a chance to learn and his or her only hope, because that home life might not be the best, their hope is that teacher.

Republicans are placing the burden of economic recovery on the backs of the middle class and our teachers. An economic recovery required because of the policies put in place by Republicans, resulting in wealth distribution from the middle class to the top two percent.

My mother was a high school English teacher at Granby High School in Norfolk, Virginia. She had three accelerated classes and three regular classes. My mother graded papers until the wee hours of the morning. She got her kids off to school every day. And when she came home in the afternoon, she was still grading papers, and then she was working on lesson plans on Saturdays.

My mom used to take tremendous pride in knowing that one of her students went off to the University of Virginia and became a doctor. She took a tremendous amount of pride in being part of that student’s education.

And here are two segments from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart that really have a lot to say about what’s wrong with public education — and what’s wrong with the attack on teachers. Both are worth the time to watch.

OK. Well, I’m back and enjoyed survived an early a.m. run in the ice and snow.

And I’m going to continue to opine in my role as a pajama-clad citizen journalist about teaching and teachers. Why?

Well, I’m proud to tell people that I was a classroom teacher — if only for a relatively short time during a 40-year career.

And I believe that if we continue to devalue teaching and teachers — in part by making teachers scapegoats for everything that is wrong with education in this country — the USA will suck an economic and jobs tailpipe that will diminish our prosperity, reduce opportunities for the majority of our young people, and undercut the vitality of our communities and nation as a whole.

Just sayin’.

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