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

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Anti-Education Agenda

Since NCLB came to town, conservatives have embraced public education--like a boa constrictor--slowly squeezing out the life while mouthing the cynical rhetoric about making it stronger. One must wonder what would happen if a national candidate came along who was, in fact, an advocate, rather than an enemy, of public education.

In the meantime, another teacher finds a voice. From the Houston Chronicle:

I've been a full-time teacher for 15 years, and I'm about ready to throw in the towel. After all the news reports and commentary regarding the high school dropout rate, TAKS testing and private school vouchers — and all the hoopla about the importance of education — to me it all begins to sound like Charlie Brown's teacher. If you've ever seen an animated Peanuts cartoon where the Peanuts gang is in the classroom, whenever the teacher speaks it sounds something akin to a trombone with a mute stuck in the bell, played in slow, spearate notes. "Whoh wha, whoh wha, whah whah."

I can't count the times I've heard how invaluable education is to our country. It's become trite. Furthermore, it's a lie.

If it were true that education is so important to our country, then why isn't more done to attract the best candidates to the teaching profession and retain them? Why do so many of our legislators in Austin actually work against teachers, decreasing our retirement compensation, or denying it to us altogether (Social Security for example)? To be anti-education would be to commit political suicide; yet, every year many in the Texas Legislature attempt to weaken public education.

By failing to realistically address the high dropout rate (which eventually will weaken our society more than any act of terrorism ever could) and by continually making the teaching profession less attractive by reducing retirement benefits (while increasing their own, I might add), increasing the minimum service requirements for retirement, and placing undue and unrealistic emphasis on TAKS testing ("one size fits all") over teaching and learning, many of our state lawmakers are perpetuating an anti-education agenda. However, you can bet they will never run on an anti-education platform; and you can also bet that they will continue to be re-elected.

The fact is, education and educators are so little valued that our state government more often than not excludes us from the decision-making process. Take, for example, the recent changes to the official Texas school year calendar for 2007-2008, in which the Texas tourism lobby had unprecedented influence. Not one education association in Texas — not one — endorsed the new calendar. But evidently, our legislators couldn't resist the (monetary) offers being made by the state's tourism industry. By the time parents figure out what's been done, next year, the legislative session will be over and will not convene again for another two years.

Finally, the plan for the public school system, with the help of the TAKS Test, seems to be to eventually put it up for sale to the highest bidder. To understand what I mean, one need only follow the money trail.

When the TAKS scheme was first being cooked up, the originators made sure that their chums in business and elsewhere would be in charge of administering the test. TAKS testing is now a multibillion dollar industry, and those administering the test are involved neck-deep with the "creators" of the test.

Furthermore, when a school "strikes out," or doesn't achieve the minimum standard three years in a row, it is supposed to be closed or turned over to private administration.

It seems to me that many in our state government will not rest easy until our state lottery, highway system, public education system and who knows what else (state parks?), are sold to the highest bidder.

Unfortunately, Texas voters continue to elect and re-elect these dubious champions of public education. We can show we're serious about educating our children by paying closer attention to who is making the important decisions about education and why.

Otherwise, all this talk about education just ends up sounding like Charlie Brown's teacher.

Dial has worked for 15 years as a teacher, the last three in t he Spring Branch Independent School District. He can be e-mailed at dendial@yahoo.com.

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