Corporatism, Education, Teachers — May 22, 2013 at 12:58 pm

The demonization of teachers & the destruction of our public school system is a public scandal & embarrassment


This MUST stop

NOTE: In the essay below, when I have used the phrase “public schools”, I am talking about what are generally known as “traditional” public schools. Technically speaking, charter schools are also public schools, distinct from private schools, as Maria has pointed out in the comments. My main issue with charter schools is with for-profit charter schools. However, as Patti has pointed out in the comments, even non-profit charters can be an issue if they draw excessive amounts of students from traditional public schools, making it impossible for them to “compete”, particularly if they are allowed to cherry-pick the best students and not take students with any sort of educational issue including special needs students. Check out the comments section for what I see as some very interesting conversations.

The story of 22-year Cody Bailey being installed as president of a for-profit charter school in Michigan (posts are HERE and HERE) has rekindled my outrage about the demonization of teachers and the systematic kneecapping and dismantling of our public school system here in Michigan. Operating under the guise of “education reform”, corporatists like Cody Bailey, the Mackinac Center, and the DeVos family are engaging in an unsubtle effort to convert our nation’s schools into profit centers for corporate “education” businesses. Their approach has three primary components.

First, they demonize teachers asking for fair wages and benefits for their work as greedy parasites sucking on the jugular vein of our government. Rather than seeing them as the gifts and assets that they are, these anti-union corporatists see our educators as “costs”; costs to be minimized for the sake of profit. In order for them to complete the transfer of our tax monies going to public schools into their corporate coffers, they first need to make sure they have no competition for teachers to turn to, competition that pays better and offers better benefits. Today’s hearing on House Bill 4625 is just another piece of that concerted effort to lower public school teacher compensation. The legislation aims to eliminate nearly all criteria for increased pay for teachers except for their students’ test scores.

Teachers are not “costs”. Teachers are as valuable to our society as doctors and police officers and fire fighters. They don’t just babysit our kids all day. They prepare them to be successful in their lives, not just in test taking.

When tragedy strikes schools, our teachers are there to protect our children. We saw this in vivid detail in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. This week, when a massive F5 tornado hit Oklahoma, the stories of teachers literally saving lives have made headlines:

The tornado that devastated this Oklahoma City suburb of 56,000 people destroyed Plaza Towers and also slammed Briarwood Elementary, where all the children appear to have survived. Students and parents recounted stories Tuesday of brave teachers who sheltered their pupils, in some cases by herding them into a closet and a restroom amid the fear and panic.

After the tornado alarm went off, students at Plaza Towers scrambled into the halls. But the halls — some of which were within the view of windows — did not appear safe enough.

Sixth-grader Antonio Clark said a teacher took him and as many other youngsters as possible and shoved them into the three-stall boys’ bathroom.

“We were all piled in on each other,” the 12-year-old said. Another teacher wrapped her arms around two students and held Antonio’s hand. {…}

At Briarwood Elementary, the students also went into the halls. But a third-grade teacher didn’t think it looked safe, so she herded some of the children into a closet, said David Wheeler, one of the fathers who tried to rush to the school after the tornado hit.

The teacher shielded Wheeler’s 8-year-old son, Gabriel, with her arms and held him down as the tornado collapsed the school roof and starting lifting students upward with a pull so strong that it literally sucked glasses off kids’ faces, Wheeler said.

“She saved their lives by putting them in a closet and holding their heads down,” Wheeler said.

One teacher, Suzanne Harley, ended up impaled with the leg of a school desk driven straight through her right calf.

Teachers in some areas make sure kids have enough to eat and that children living with abuse or neglect are protected. Everyone has heard stories of teachers spending their own money to provide school supplies to their classrooms; nearly every teacher I know has done this or is doing it now. Here in Michigan, the Michigan Education Association went into action with its union members pooling their resources and sending $13,000 in school supplies to Benton Harbor schools where kids were going without essential items like pens, pencils, paper and other supplies.

To characterize these everyday heroes and assets to society as costs and to paint them as greedy for wanting a fair wage is offensive and an outrage and should anger anyone who hears it.

The second component of the corporatist effort to dismantle public schools is to suggest that they “need to compete” in order to be excellent. I’ve written about this before:

This is a seductive argument and I can understand why it appeals to conservatives and maybe even some non-conservatives. The capitalistic model is a strong part of our American culture.

I personally don’t agree with this. I personally believe that the public school systems are US, not some independent group that must be forced to be better. If we wish our school systems to be better, it is incumbent on US to make them better. They are run by school boards elected by the public. Our children go there. They are in our communities. They are as American as a city council, a village board or any other public entity. Our schools embody the principle of “government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

It goes beyond this, though. The same crew that demands excellence through competition is working around the clock to make sure our public schools cannot compete. The elimination of $1 billion in school funding over the past two years ensures that our schools will struggle and probably fail to be “competitive”. And, while they use every outlet they can to tell us that charter schools are the solution to education problems, we know that it’s simply not the case that charter schools are in any way superior to private schools. Their beloved test scores show that.

Isn’t it ironic that “school reform” corporatists spend an enormous amount of energy eliminating wage competition but then tell us competition is the answer to a better education system?

The final component of their effort is to promote the concept that making a profit in education is something good, rather than something to be concerned about. Here on this site, a commenter under the absurd name of Francisco d’Anconia, a character from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged who venerates profit-taking, made the statement that “profit is not evil” as if to suggest that being against for-profit schools is an indictment against ALL profit-taking. It’s not and it’s a facetious argument. Making a profit on school supplies and, perhaps, some services is acceptable. Making a profit on the provision of education is not. Just like with healthcare, whenever a profit statement is on the line, choices will be made to enhance that profit and that means cutting corners. The corners that get cut are the healthcare of our citizens and the education of our children. There are some things that should not be driven by profit and these two things — education and healthcare — are at the top of that list.

Our public schools and the men and women who teach in them should be held in high esteem, not demonized and hobbled and dismantled. Despite the corporatist argument that this all about parental choice, the fact is that they are working toward the day when choosing a public school is no longer a choice. When that day comes, you’ll choose which profit center to send your child to be educated, just like you decide what store to buy a television from. With their profits, they’ll buy politicians, law makers and policy makers to ensure they have less and less oversight and, before long, our education system will be good for little else than producing little poorly-educated worker bees to work in the factories and stores and restaurants the corporatists own and run. Only the wealthy elite will be able to afford to give their children a quality education in private schools like the one Governor Snyder sends his kids to.

It’s time we stop this process dead in its tracks. We have two choices and the difference is stark. On one side you have the corporate-funded Republicans doing their part to tear down our public schools and the teachers who teach in them. On the other side you have Democrats who are fighting to preserve public schools and restore the funding that is so critical for making them successful.

In 2014, education will be on the ballot next to the name of every single candidate and a host of ballot proposals, as well.

In 2014, we will decide the fate of our education system in Michigan.

The fight starts today.