They will try to distract you with shiny objects. Focus on the Big Picture

My phone rang this morning. I was up early to watch a soccer game, and had posted some things on twitter. The call was from a long-time acquaintance, not a close friend but someone I interact with online frequently.

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“I know it’s early, but I saw you were posting on Twitter. Help! I need you to talk me off the ledge”

That’s a new one. Of course, how can I help?

“I try to watch and read stuff from people I disagree with. I saw some discussion on Fox News that makes me think Betsy DeVos might be a good choice for Education. Am I missing something?”

OK, deep breath. What did they say?

“My daughter is in the public schools. She took 2 years of Spanish, but when the school cut French as a language they had the tenured French teacher in the Spanish class. She doesn’t know any Spanish and my daughter wasted 2 years in that class! That’s ridiculous and DeVos wants to stop tenure and make teachers accountable! I’m really angry about what happened! Why are the Democrats so against her? This situation is terrible!”

— — — — — —

She was really angry about what had happened, and it made sense to her that the school should have been allowed to keep the Spanish teacher, instead of having to put the tenured teacher in charge of a class she had no business teaching. And I don’t blame her. That’s a really dumb idea and it makes no sense.

If you have a child in Public School, I’m sure you have a story like this. Here’s one of mine: I had a son in a Biology class where the teacher refused to teach genetics or evolution because it was against her religious belief. She spent an entire semester teaching what she called “science ethics”, until a student realized that she wasn’t being prepared for the required tests and told her parents. The school brought back a retired biology teacher who taught an entire year of bio in a single semester, but didn’t fire the teacher. Instead, she taught Earth Sciences. And she was allowed to leave at the end of the year with no official statement about her inability to teach the curriculum because she was a Union member and had seniority, so she went to a different school system.

That’s a really bad situation. I was angry, other parents were angry. And the obvious and easy target is the Union and the seniority system.

Anti-Education advocates know this. So they say “We need to make teachers accountable and if they aren’t doing the job, they need to be fired.” Doesn’t that make sense?

That’s a shiny object. Where’s the big picture?

My friend’s school didn’t want to put a French teacher in charge of a Spanish class. They wanted to have both a French AND a Spanish class, and hire the appropriate teachers. But funding cuts had forced them to make a choice, and then Union rules had backed them into a corner. They source of the problem wasn’t the Union OR the teacher — it was the fact that money for Public Education is being drained away by for-profit charter schools and the politicians who get campaign contributions from them!

That’s the Big Picture. Public Education is the foundation of our democracy but it is under attack from every direction. Churches want to fund their own schools with your tax dollars, and have supported politicians who are willing to pass those laws. The Charter School movement created a new source of private profit, and big money came in for lobbying. The game plan:

  • Cut funding for Public Education. Allow existing problems to get worse.
  • Frame the problems as endemic to Public Education.
  • Play on people’s fears. Remember busing? It left a lot of people angry and scared. Use that.
  • Emphasize stories of poor children who attend parochial or charter schools who have done well.
  • Call it “Parental Choice”. Demonize the Unions. Push stories about bad teachers
  • Finally, hide the evidence that for-profit charter schools are failing our children.

The stories and fears are the shiny objects. Here’s where Democrats, Liberals, Progressives, whatever you want to call it need to focus:

The solution to problems in Public Education is not to give it a profit incentive. The solution is to fund our Public Education system as if our survival as a democracy depends on it. Because it does.

  • Pay Public School teachers enough so that smart, effective people will be able to make a good living. Many of our teachers are committed public servants — but some are there because it was a way to get a job.
  • Find other incentives to attract graduates to teaching. How about forgiving monthly federal student loans every month they are employed teaching at a Public School?
  • Fix the funding system. Here’s an idea: Every school should get funded based on the number of eligible school-aged children in their district. Large districts will get more funding. Wealthy districts will be able to spend more per student if some of their families send the kids to private schools…which will make the schools more attractive, bringing more wealthy kids back to the Public Schools! Use Corporate taxes to fund education, because corporations need educated employees!
  • Americans should be free to send their kids to private or parochial schools. But government education funds go to public schools.

Betsy DeVos and her supporters do not want to fix Public Education. They want to privatize it, profit on it, and control the information available to our children.

The solution to a problem is not to make the cause of the problems stronger! Stories about bad teachers, inflexible unions, and failing schools are shiny objects. The Big Picture is that we must fund our Public Education system as if our future depends on it. Because it does.

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