"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Educators Must Get Political

Most teachers want to teach but in the current environment, teachers and educators are going to have to start thinking more and more about the connection between politics and education and in fact, take a more prominent role in politics if they want to preserve what they cherish and value the most -- education and the interests of the children they teach.

In honor of American Education Week, here's a column from one teacher, Jan Abelove in Pennsylvania, who would prefer to spend more time working on creative and valuable lesson plans but finds herself becoming a political activist as well.
This is American Education Week. Historically, it is a time to recognize and celebrate the successes of local public schools. But it is also a time to reflect on the state of public schools, locally and nationally.

As a veteran educator, I have watched the cycle of public education revolve for more than 30 years. New education reforms come and go, and there is continued discussion about adequately funding our classrooms.

However, the one constant in public education is the influence of politics. This year's theme for American Education Week is "Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility." The theme is aimed at raising awareness in our communities about the critical need to provide every child with a quality public education.

The only way we can truly achieve this goal is through the political process. On Election Day, public-education supporters went to the polls and made their voices heard by electing many pro-education candidates.

During the campaign, Pennsylvania State Education Association members supported pro-education candidates by putting signs in their yards and talking to friends and neighbors about the issues and the candidates.Education employees got involved because we know that every decision in education is a political decision.

Consider the passage of the new property tax reform law, Act 1. The landscape for public education is changing because of Act 1. School districts will now have tighter time lines and less flexibility for school budgets.

The most worrisome part of Act 1 is the potential for referendums for tax increases above a certain index. This means public-education supporters will have to expend time and energy waging public campaigns to persuade voters to raise their taxes for school programs. In other states with the referendum provision, a failure at the polls has resulted in the elimination of nonmandated programs such as art and music.

For educators and students, this can be devastating.

Along with Act 1, public educators are dealing with the demands from the No Child Left Behind law and the increasing focus on test scores.

There is no question that public education is inherently political. In all the debate and rhetoric, however, it seems that we have lost sight of what really matters: doing what is best for the children.

American Education Week is an appropriate time to reflect on the political nature of our public schools.

Educators do not choose their profession with any desire to be involved in politics. It is, however, a reality, and none of us can escape it.

For many public-education supporters, being politically active is uncomfortable and time-consuming, but it is necessary.

If we truly care about children, everyone who cares about the state of public education needs to get politically

This means recruiting pro-education candidates for school boards, campaigning for pro-education state and federal candidates, writing letters to legislators and speaking out about necessary reforms.

I think great public schools represent a basic right for every child, and it is my responsibility as a teacher, community member and taxpayer to use my political power to achieve this goal.

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