Please Give My Children Three Meals, Health Care, Books and Computers

Please Give My Children Three Meals, Health Care, Books and Computers

by
Abby Zimet

Having lost too many battles of late, teachers and their supporters are fighting back. In Wisconsin, Walker's bill was declared "null and void"; in Alabama,  Rep. Daniel Boman switched parties to protest an anti-teachers' bill; in Kansas a biology teacher blasted Education Secretary Arne Duncan for "double-speak" on supposedly respecting teachers; and in Michigan a school superintendent wryly proposed making his school into a prison to get the money it needs.

 
 A letter from David Reber, who teaches high school biology in Lawrence KS
 
Mr. Duncan,
 
I read your Teacher Appreciation Week letter to teachers, and had at first decided not to respond. Upon further thought, I realized I do have a few things to say.
 
I'll begin with a small sample of relevant adjectives just to get them out of the way: condescending, arrogant, insulting, misleading, patronizing, egotistic, supercilious, haughty, insolent, peremptory, cavalier, imperious, conceited, contemptuous, pompous, audacious, brazen, insincere, superficial, contrived, garish, hollow, pedantic, shallow, swindling, boorish, predictable, duplicitous, pitchy, obtuse, banal, scheming, hackneyed, and quotidian. Again, it's just a small sample; but since your attention to teacher input is minimal, I wanted to put a lot into the first paragraph.
 
Your lead sentence, "I have worked in education for much of my life", immediately establishes your tone of condescension; for your 20-year "education" career lacks even one day as a classroom teacher. You, Mr. Duncan, are the poster-child for the prevailing attitude in corporate-style education reform: that the number one prerequisite for educational expertise is never having been a teacher.
 
Your stated goal is that teachers be "...treated with the dignity we award to other professionals n society."
 
Really?
 
How many other professionals are the last ones consulted about their own profession; and are then summarily ignored when policy decisions are made? How many other professionals are so distrusted that sweeping federal legislation is passed to "force" them to do their jobs? And what dignities did you award teachers when you publicly praised the mass firing of teachers in Rhode Island?
 
You acknowledge teacher's concerns about No Child Left Behind, yet you continue touting the same old rhetoric: "In today’s economy, there is no acceptable dropout rate, and we rightly expect all children -- English-language learners, students with disabilities, and children of poverty -- to learn and succeed."
 
What other professions are held to impossible standards of perfection? Do we demand that police officers eliminate all crime, or that doctors cure all patients? Of course we don't.
 
There are no parallel claims of "in today's society, there is no acceptable crime rate", or "we rightly expect all patients -- those with end-stage cancers, heart failure, and multiple gunshot wounds -- to thrive into old age." When it comes to other professions, respect and common sense prevail.
 
Your condescension continues with "developing better assessments so [teachers] will have useful information to guide instruction..." Excuse me, but I am a skilled, experienced, and licensed professional. I don't need an outsourced standardized test -- marketed by people who haven't set foot in my school -- to tell me how my students are doing.
 
I know how my students are doing because I work directly with them. I learn their strengths and weaknesses through first-hand experience, and I know how to tailor instruction to meet each student's needs. To suggest otherwise insults both me and my profession.
 
You want to "...restore the status of the teaching profession..." Mr. Duncan, you built your career defiling the teaching profession. Your signature effort, Race to the Top, is the largest de-professionalizing, demoralizing, sweeter-carrot-and-sharper-stick public education policy in U.S. history. You literally bribed cash-starved states to enshrine in statute the very reforms teachers have spoken against.
 
You imply that teachers are the bottom-feeders among academics. You want more of "America's top college students" to enter the profession. If by "top college students" you mean those with high GPA's from prestigious, pricey schools then the answer is simple: a five-fold increase in teaching salaries.
 
You see, Mr. Duncan, those "top" college students come largely from our nation's wealthiest families. They simply will not spend a fortune on an elite college education to pursue a 500% drop in socioeconomic status relative to their parents.
 
You assume that "top" college students automatically make better teachers. How, exactly, will a 21-year-old, silver-spoon-fed ivy-league graduate establish rapport with inner-city kids? You think they’d be better at it than an experienced teacher from a working-class family, with their own rough edges or checkered past, who can actually relate to those kids? Your ignorance of human nature is astounding.
 
As to your concluding sentence, "I hear you, I value you, and I respect you"; no, you don't, and you don't, and you don't. In fact, I don't believe you even wrote this letter for teachers.
 
I think you sense a shift in public opinion. Parents are starting to see through the façade; and recognize the privatization and for-profit education reform movement for what it is. And they've begun to organize --Parents Across America, is one example.
 
. . . No doubt some will dismiss what I've said as paranoid delusion. What they call paranoia I call paying attention. Mr. Duncan, teachers hear what you say. We also watch what you do, and we are paying attention.
 
Working with kids every day, our baloney-detectors are in fine form. We've heard the double-speak before; and we don't believe the dog ate your homework. Coming from children, double-speak is expected and it provides important teachable moments. Coming from adults, it's just sad.
 
Despite our best efforts, some folks never outgrow their disingenuous, manipulative, self- serving approach to life. Of that, Mr. Duncan, you are a shining example.
 

 

Dear Governor Snyder,

In these tough economic times, schools are hurting. And yes, everyone in Michigan is hurting right now financially, but why aren’t we protecting schools? Schools are the one place on Earth that people look to to “fix” what is wrong with society by educating our youth and preparing them to take on the issues that society has created.

One solution I believe we must do is take a look at our corrections system in Michigan. We rank nationally at the top in the number of people we incarcerate. We also spend the most money per prisoner annually than any other state in the union. Now, I like to be at the top of lists, but this is one ranking that I don’t believe Michigan wants to be on top of.

Consider the life of a Michigan prisoner. They get three square meals a day. Access to free health care. Internet. Cable television. Access to a library. A weight room. Computer lab. They can earn a degree. A roof over their heads. Clothing. Everything we just listed we DO NOT provide to our school children.

This is why I’m proposing to make my school a prison. The State of Michigan spends annually somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 per prisoner, yet we are struggling to provide schools with $7,000 per student. I guess we need to treat our students like they are prisoners, with equal funding. Please give my students three meals a day. Please give my children access to free health care. Please provide my school district Internet access and computers. Please put books in my library. Please give my students a weight room so we can be big and strong. We provide all of these things to prisoners because they have constitutional rights. What about the rights of youth, our future?!

Please provide for my students in my school district the same way we provide for a prisoner. It’s the least we can do to prepare our students for the future...by giving our schools the resources necessary to keep our students OUT of prison.

Respectfully submitted,

Nathan Bootz
Superintendent
Ithaca Public Schools

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