I recently received a comment on my blog that struck a chord. . . and triggered a memory of who I used to be and who I am.  It addresses a number of questions people ask me about my own feelings on a wide range of issues, and I found it both focusing and inspirational and thought I would share it with you.

Let me just say that I’m not a teacher, and my kids are only now starting going to public schools. While I did work for the Louisiana Department of Education until recently, that was in the data department and my only role dealing with children’s issues directly was ain an advisory position on a student discipline adversary panel. So I understand why people ask me:

“Why do you care so much? Why do you fight, for teachers, for other people’s kids? You’re not a teacher and you could afford non-public school for your kids.” (Most white middle class families living in Baton Rouge go that route.) “You could afford to move to a wealthier school district with kids and families just like yours. (If they don’t go the former route most take this one.) “Why do you stay in a school district that lags many in the state when there are top notch ones in parishes within commuting distance of your work?”

Well I usually come up with simple arguments I feel can relate to the person asking me the question. Really what I want to say is “if you have to ask the question you wouldn’t understand the answer,” but that seems like an overly clichéd copout, it wouldn’t win me any converts to my actual viewpoint, and it would do nothing to endear me to the friends and relatives asking. However, one of my reader’s shows why all of us should care about public education and our experienced public educators in particular. He shows the reality Reformers try to conceal with data, averages and misleading research. He shows what is being done to destroy hope of so many children and teachers under the guise of helping them.

Crazy, I am one of those baby boomers who did enter into teaching to perform a public service and help what would be called high needs students. I did not need Teach for America to tell me what to do. I thought I could make a difference, but soon realized the odds stacked against many of these children.

I worked in South Jamaica in the borough of Queens in New York City. When I started teaching, this was one of the most poverty stricken areas of the city. These children were surrounded by drugs, hunger and neglect. Here were students who had single parents who were stuck in an endless cycle of welfare and poverty. Most were overwhelmed and gave up. Three of my original students would eventually be killed by drug and gun violence. Another student would shoot a cop. However, I know that I may have contributed to two escaping.

One would become a supervisor in the transit authority and another became a registered nurse (male). I remember one student, Tommy, who came to school starving every day. I would bring him food and snacks so he could make it through the day. Another student, Lyndell, would be molested by his aunt and ended up with venereal disease at the age of 13.

I want Michelle Rhee tell me how their magic curriculum and magic TFA instructors would have been able to have gotten such students college ready!

I think the term vampire does describe these people. Their plan is to suck dry public education for their own personal lust of profit. I dare any of them to demonize my motives for staying as a special education teacher for 35 years. I am the only one in my school that really understands compliance issues surrounding special education students. I am the informal special education coordinator in my school because Bloomberg disposed of all special education supervisors leaving most young special education teachers rudderless. Therefore, I advise my principal daily on all special education issues and try to help our neophyte teachers. I try to maintain compliance, sit on IEP teams for initial cases, coordinate testing as well as analyze data. This is in addition to instructing mandated students who need special education teacher support.

My day never ends. I work way into the night because I work per-session as well as tutor to try to make ends meet. I am working seven days a week because I have to put my own child through college. I do not mind the work, but I am near 60 years old and getting tired. I am tired of the special education conflicts in my school and the daily brush fires I have to put out.

I am finally listening to my wife and at the end of next year, I am going to throw in the towel and retire. But i am not going to sit back on my laurels. I will write, talk to parents, and remain politically active for one single purpose. I will do whatever I can to expose these reformers as the frauds they are. I hope I can make a difference. LiberalTeacher at http://thepubliceducator.wordpress.com/

This why I fight. Not to take anything away from Liberal Teacher who I greatly admire, but I believe many of my teachers felt this way and sacrificed much for their children away from home. They did not enter the profession for money, and small increases in their checks in the name of “accountability” and “adding value” to kids is not very inspirational or motivational to a person like this. Shit, they could have gone into banking, law, engineering, computer science, accounting, just about any other career other than teaching if they were motivated by money! To think one can simply throw money at the problems described by Liberal Teacher is not only ignorant it’s especially insulting on so many infuriating levels:

  • It implies teachers are lazy, and a little monetary incentive is all they need to really “get to work.” (If money was a primary motivator for teachers they would not have gone into teaching in the first place!)
  • It minimizes and masks the real, horrible and disturbing realities many of our kids and teachers face every day. Drugs, poverty, child abuse, malnourishment are not sexy terms for billionaires to hear or deal with. Billionares only want to hear terms like “test scores”, “no excuses”, “cohort groups” and “accountability” through the windows of their glass houses.   (To them, Gates, Dell, Waltons, Bloomberg, Broad, Mudoch, et al, I say buck up, and grow a pair you elitist self-serving cowards. This is the reality. You are a part of the problem, and your work is making all of these problems much, much worse.  If it’s not by design it might as well be.)
  • Reformers perpetuate the self-serving “belief” ,through their money colored glasses, that everyone and everything is solvable by giving or taking money. When a school is struggling you can take their money away and it will improve through desperation – perhaps the way a rat in a laboratory starved of cheese will risk its life and health to find and eat anything edible to survive. When really the opposite is true. Schools and teacher facing challenges (reformers refuse to admit exist) need more support, not a starvation diet that saps hope and breeds desperation.
  • Thousands of starved schools are closed every year and the children and teachers are reshuffled in the name of improving education. All this does is hide the kids until they dropout, and teachers see and know this.

This is why I care, because I’ve seen just a small sliver of what folks like Liberal Teacher have.  I care because I know these kids exist, because I’ve worked with them myself, because I’ve seen them walking the steets at night, because I don’t hide behind glass walls, and private school halls, pretending these situations don’t exist.

Once I dreamed of being a teacher, of helping others learn and find their way, but I was afraid.  I was afraid of the lack of money, the lack of respect, the hard and emotional work that I didn’t feel I was prepared for.  That was probably a mistake, but it’s one I made.  Maybe one day I’ll remedy that and give back as many of my public school teachers gave to me, but for now the very least I can do is defend those who had more courage than I.  How many of you felt the way I did, but took other paths. . . and perhaps have always wondered “what if?”

So many of our teachers give until they can’t give anymore, now they are being replaced by revolving corps of 2 year temps with no community involvment or investment before they go onto their public policy positions, law careers and political careers.  Now they are getting chased out by teacher evaluation systems designed to toss out experienced folks in favor of temps who’ve only learned the teaching flavor of them moment.  This is just a check mark Teach for America teachers and their ilk, not a way of life, as has been the case for so many folks like Liberal Teacher.  Who are you going to listen to about the problems faced by todays public students?  Private schooled billionaires living in their fenced-off estates, and their obscenely overcompenstaed puppets like Michele Rhee, or folks like Liberal Teacher?

If you are not a teacher now, could you honestly say you could live the life he has, and is?  I know I probably should have, but I didn’t.  That’s one of the reasons I will defend unsung heros like him and trust my kids in his care, for as long as he’s able to provide it.

Teachers-are-not-robots

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47 thoughts on “Why I fight, and why you should too

  1. The reforms will make things worse for the most needy. Caring teachers can save a few. The rest will die literal or spiritual deaths until the life of poverty is improved. What is the true cause of the social disaster? And if you can tell us that, what is your remedy? Liberal teacher sounds like he is doing the work of St. Francis. What is his idea of the cause of the life situations of his students? What would be his remedy? What the reform movement is doing is trying to give families who want to escape the poverty culture a chance to do so. That’s what’s driving it.

    1. What solutions would you propose to mitigate the hardships of poverty? Would it be to further siphon money from public schools to open for profit charters? While I do not have the definitive answers to the difficult challenges that poverty presents, I can safely say that charters are not the solution.

    2. I don’t have to stab myself in the eye to know that would not improve my vision.

      I would actually ask experienced teachers in the trenches that have to face these problems and kids. I doubt the solutions would be cheap, which is why Billionaires would rather promote their own ideas that mask and hide the problems while they drive down costs and drive off experienced educators who might get in the way of their profits.

      However I think many of these social ills cannot be solved by teachers and schools. We need robust mental and medical health and social working services if we want to reach these children. We can’t just teach them reading, writing and arithmetic at school and then send them home to housed surrounded by flying bullets and drug dealers and expect their tests scores will be unaffected or we can simply educate those traumas and challenges away. A comprehensive solution is necessary. Teachers are a part, but can’t do it alone.

      And they can’t do it at all if we allow reformers to drive them all off.

    3. I believe whats driving reform, besides profit, is false hopes for those who want to escape poverty. The false hopes are raised by those who feed of off the poor. It begins with their elected and appointed municipal officials and is being continued by the education privatizers who will end up phasing out the students who need the most. What is the remedy? Teachers. I believe teachers, who are already trained and in place, need to revolt and take over their schools by implementing the curriculum and advocating at the state legislative level for laws that allow them to implement effective school-wide learning environments.

      1. Correct. Which is also why privateers are desperately trying to drive off experienced teachers as fast as they can, to ensure a permanent stranglehold on the institution and to maximize profitability. A company’s goal is to maximize profits, not provide quality or cost effective education. If you thought educational costs were high now, wait till stock prices, bottom lines and bonuses are the norm.

    4. “The reforms will make things worse for the most needy.”

      “What the reform movement is doing is trying to give families who want to escape poverty a chance to do so.”

      Harlan, you’ve just given us a clear distillation of the “New Paternalism” and sorting among the Worthy and Unworthy Poor that is a strong thread of so-called education reform. The so-called reformer’s sound bites and empty rhetoric pose as universally inclusive, but their actions belie that.

      They are in fact creating an intentionally-tiered system of favored private/charter schools for the striving Worthy Poor, and a besieged, legacy public school system that suffers from both disinvestment and mal-investment for “those who (don’t) want to escape the poverty culture.”

      A vulgar type of person, such as myself, would call that “divide and conquer.” It’s also a of It’s exactly what we see here at public hearings in NYC when charter school appropriation of public school facilities is being discussed and rubber stamped: parents seeking the best for their children insidiously pitted against each other.

      It’s a very, very ugly thing, and exposes the gross injustice at the heart of it all.

      1. Unfortunately, you are probably right. It’s working too because so many in education are dumb communists. They do not understand that socialism can never work, yet remain blindly loyal to that dead religion, as Diane does too, and so can be out flanked by those who wish to destroy them. While socialism is in ascendency nation wide and indeed world wide, the public school systems who believe their own rhetoric are being knocked off state by state. Until the public schools give up their dream of equality, a fundamentally self contradictory goal, they will be easy prey for the privatizers. I don’t have sympathy, however. I’ve known too many public school teachers who confuse equality with excellence. As long as they can think no better than that, they will be unable to fight back corporatism, which has no such internal inconsistency interfering with their effectiveness. When teacher grow up and give up their nonsenseabout “revolution” they will continue to lose the battle for control of the school. Life is hard for the merely well intentioned. If you can’t end testing, the best thing is to self privatize your way out of the requirements. But that’s anathema to the adherents of the old religion. You still swear by Marx and the state. I’ve explained to you the only way out, but redness of mind is hard to give up. Pity though.

        1. HU,
          “. . . because so many in education are dumb communists.” AH, so you are an expert at recognizing commies, eh? Ol JOE sure could have used you but you were a mere pup at the time I suspect.

          “You still swear by Marx and the state. I’ve explained to you the only way out, but redness of mind is hard to give up”. That redness is not nearly as hard to give up as the redness of your neck-HA HA!
          Duane

          1. Well, I suppose insult for insult can be expected. I’ve called you a tyrant (socialist), and you’ve called me a racist. The difference is, I’m not a racist, but you are in potentia a tyrant.

  2. Reblogged this on The Public Educator and commented:
    I agree completely with Crawfish’s comments and thank him for using my comments as a basis of his blog piece. I want to add that complex problems, such as poverty, require complex solutions. What I do know is that to defund public schools that must educate every child and redistribute those funds to Charters that will exclude those children most in need is not the answer. Instead of these billionaires investing in political front organizations that seek to destroy public schools, which is a democratic institution, they should be investing their money in what is called here in New York community schools. It is a pilot program in which a public school provides a variety of services, such as extensive academic intervention services, educational services for parents, counseling for students and parents, health clinics, and day care so high needs parents can work. This obviously costs a lot of money. There is an easy way to find the money; let us go back to a progressive income tax rate of let’s say 75%. In this way, we will take the money these billionaires are using to create fake nonprofits that have political agendas and use those resources to create thousands of public community-based schools in our urban areas.

    1. Community schools are a reasonable answer. I agree with you there. Can you see any way to raise the money without the extreme progressive tax you propose. Is that the ONLY way, or just the easiest way? Would it even work? What assumptions are you making about billionaires if such a high tax were imposed? Would the federal tax go to the states, which actually fund education.

  3. I wish that America was not so self-absorbed and could find it in the collective heart to view Teachers in light of their true value to society, to the future of the nation – – to somehow come to an understanding of the sacrifices our teachers make and the life-long impression their influence leaves on so many lives . . . I wish America did not take their Teachers so much for granted. I admire Teachers but I do not have the panache and the class to even aspire to be one. Teachers need a lot more honor and recognition than they have ever gotten because they are kind of like troops on the firing line – – they are one of our most valuable assets in defense of Freedom and are, therefore, in my book – – – nothing short of heroes and heroines.

  4. Students, reform and the purpose of education.

    Hi Crawfish,

    Pretty powerful words here 🙂 Thank you for posting. What scares me is that the word reform has become like a swearword for many people, yet I know it is necessary to change the education paradigm if we ever want to create successful learning experiences for our students. All students. Every one of them. And it can be done, if there is will. Somehow the final goal of education seems to be lost (I can give a hint: it is NOT having student sit quietly in the classroom and produce good test scores). We need to prepare students for their future lives! And that cannot be done with one-size-fits-all teaching or fill-this-bubble testing.

    From my previous experiences I know there are individual learners and unique teachers, and only by focusing on a mutual goal we can help students become ready for life. I wish we could make education (and life) more equal… but even if we are able to help students realize that they have choices, we have gotten pretty far. Learned helplessness is a horrible companion.

    So, please, keep on fighting… I will do so too. I am trying to convince one teacher at the time that they can choose how they teach, no matter what the situation is. By choosing how to teach we can teach students how to choose. And that is such an important skill in this modern society.
    ~Nina

      1. Hi Harlan,
        I think equity is just rooted into my basic mode of thinking, and I see education as a subjective right of human beings. (UNESCO has a good example of this: EFA – Education for All.) Learning is inevitable, because it is the basic survival skill, and having better life conditions would allow more people to reach their full potential. This requires several things: gender equality, educational equality, equal access to information and so forth. But then again I come from a culture where equitable education is a priority. In Finland even higher education is free.

        1. A lovely dream, but a dream still for the USA. Finland can be excellent because it is already equal. Here the family structure is so destroyed, only excellence for the wealthy is possible.

          J. H. Underhill

          1. Damn, I guess I’ll never get any of that “excellence” thing then seeing how one doesn’t get rich on a teacher’s salary (especially in a rural poverty district).

          2. Actually, one big part for educational success in Finland is that we never wanted to be the best – just to provide good education for all. Educators and policymakers agreed that education is important. No country is equal by nature. Equality is a choice.

      2. I think the larger question is why DON’T you? Equality of access and opportunity is not the same thing as everyone doing the same thing at the same time for the same pay. But giving students the same types of opportunities allows for more people to pick themselves up by the proverbial bootstraps a lot more effectively. Isn’t that what the American dream is all about?

        1. No, the American dream is freedom to excel. Equality of opportunity is impossible to achieve. Nature doesn’t work that way. Literally. Even economic equality. Equality is impossible to achieve, except before the law. We do what we can. But holding out for equality is futile. Excellence for those capable of grasping it is all that can be done.

          My opinions are irrelevant. I’m just an observer.

          J. H. Underhill

      3. I dunno, I read something somewhere once that said something like, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal….” Guess you don’t believe that.

        1. All that means is created equal before the law, not having special legal status, as did the aristocrats of France and England, created equal in their having a right to freedom, not equal in their ability to actually attain happiness and property, not equal in intelligence, focus, and application. It’s not a question of belief, it’s a question of knowing what it means, which obviously you don’t.

          J. H. Underhill

          1. Our wealthy enjoy special statuses, perks, and access today. They don’t have official titles, but they might as well have.

            A good education is freedom. A poor or non-existent education keeps people in chains of ignorance. As long as we provide substandard educations to our poor, because they were born poor, we will never be equals before the law, and never be free.

            1. You may be right about that. Certainly MY education, such as it was, has been a source of freedom of action for me. Without it, I’d still be in the shipping room of the paper cup factory where I started working at the age of 16.

        1. Seriously? Then you can pay for my child too. I’ll send you the bill for his college. Only $60,000 a year now. Please deposit $240,000 in my account by next week. Thank you.

          J. H. Underhill

          1. You reversed his statement. You would not need to spend 60,000 dollars annually on an adequate education if one was provided for all. You are not in a position of telling us what is adequate for other people’s children, when it is obviously not adequate for your own. I find it curious that so many reformers funding reforms do not send their own children to these scaled down, bare bones, testing factories, they did not attend them themselves, but they purport to know what is best for other children. That is not equality. That is not freedom. That is economic tyranny.

            Our freedom before the law is an illusion. Chronicially underfunding public defenders offices versus what a Johnny Cochran can do for a defendent tells that tale of inequality before the law.

      4. Harlan, obviously life is not equal or fair. However, our republic depends upon the relative equality of access to an education. And not because of some vision of utopia but because our republican system requires an educated citizenry which of course requires that each successive generation be educated. This is why, or least why in my opinion.

        1. So how is that educated citizenry thing working out for you? The citizenry elected Obama twice. The citizenry elected a phony twice. McCain was a phony too. I can accept that mistake as possible. But in preference to Romney? We call them low information voters now. If that can happen, I take it as prima facie evidence of the failure of educational leadership in this country. Time to tear it down and start over.

          J. H. Underhill

          1. Sometimes you have to choose the lesser of two evils. Or is that the lesser of two weevils? I forget sometimes. . . Our two party system is a farce. I would have chosen Jill Stein, who you would have really hated Harlan, so be thankful you got a DINO. 🙂

            Hmm. . . I guess dinosaurs really do still roam the Earth?

  5. Crazy: I have no doubt that Liberal Teacher will continue to fight & to help as a retired teacher and, in fact, may be able to do even more. Active teachers–PLEASE go to teachers you know who are retired for mentoring & for help. A wonderful organization (made up of retired teachers) in Rockford, IL–Watchdogs for Ethics in Education (W.E.E.) helped the actives who were suffering under a relentlessly destructive Broad superintendent. Through their dogged research, filing of F.O.I.A., attendance at school board meetings, careful note taking and numerous phone calls, e-mails and meetings, they were able to convince the school board to get rid of this superintendent. Therefore, Liberal Teach, have at it.
    And the same for the rest of you retired educators out there–you CAN make a bigger difference than you’d even dreamed possible. You can save hundreds!

  6. I thank you, Crazy Crawfish, for an amazing post. It’s funny that I ran across this blog tonight. I have been a vocal advocate for public education for several years now in a variety of ways., Unfortunately, I still remain a compliant slave to reform in my classroom as bullying administrators force me to stay with the “script”.
    But a brief comment from one my fourth graders gave me an additional shot in the arm today. We were getting ready to take the final part of the Massachusetts ELA MCAS and an announcement came over the loudspeaker saying there would be no recess due to a few absent staff members and the need for folks to test some students in small groups. I saw the disappointment on the faces before me and I told them not to worry.I said I would take them outside for recess myself once the test was over.
    One of the boys had been watching my reaction to the announcement and looked me in the eye and said, “I think you are one of those people that fights for other people’s rights”. I asked him why he thought that and he shrugged his shoulders and said, “I can just tell”. I smiled to myself because I have often envisioned that little boy as a successful civil rights lawyer. Why? I can just tell.

  7. Thank you, Crazy! More people need to remember why they made the choices they made and stop condemning teachers for taking a more difficult one. Everything you said is true, and I thank you for fighting for us!

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