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Let’s learn something

I was watching Meet the Press at the gym yesterday (yeah, I’m that guy) and heard something that gave me pause.  Moderator David Gregory had top surrogates from the Romney and Obama campaigns – NH Senator Kelly Ayotte and MA Governor Deval Patrick respectively – on the show and closed the interview by asking about education.  Specifically, in regards to education, he wanted to know if the panelists believe that we have “moved beyond this union– pro-union, anti-union debate in this political discourse?”  Governor Patrick chose to respond by touting the achievements of students in Massachusetts, while commenting that MA is the most unionized state in the country.  Senator Ayotte responded by saying “…obviously Governor Romney believes kids first, unions last.”   And that comment is what caused me to pause my elliptical machine pedaling.

Education comments

Kids first, unions last.  It’s a line that, if delivered in front of the right audience at a political rally, would bring raucous applause and an extended ovation.   Unions.  It’s a dirty word in America today and that breaks my heart.  You know what she is actually saying?  She’s actually saying that Governor Romney believes kids come first and teachers come last.  Teachers come last.  Not investors.  Not reporters.  Not politicians or policy makers.  Nope.  For Romney and Ayotte all of those people, and anyone else I may have left out, come before teachers.  That attitude is, at best, ignorant and, at worst, a pathetic attempt to demonize some of the most important people in our society.

Her comments imply that, in education policy, teachers should have the least important voice.   She couldn’t be more wrong.  Teachers are the ones in the classroom every day, working with our nation’s children.  They are the ones who inspire, who educate, who support students in their formative years.  And they are the ones who are constantly asked to do more – educating more students, teaching more information – with declining resources.  They are the ones who KNOW what they need in order to be successful and, yet, somehow Senator Ayotte and, according to her, Governor Romney don’t value their voices.   Students, teachers, parents, educational experts.  Those are the groups that should have the most important voice at the table – not ignorant politicians who think teachers are the problem.  Not ignorant politicians who are fine with more tax cuts, even if it means less revenue for our schools.  That’s viewpoint is not only short-sighted, but detrimental to America’s ability to compete on the world stage.

Teacher’s voices aren’t valued because they are a part of the dreaded union.  Those on the right are so quick to assume unions are the problem and, I submit, that attitude betrays a remarkable lack of appreciation for the history of this great nation.  Let’s not forget that unions were formed to protect the rights of individual workers against business owners and governmental whims.  Unions are responsible for things like the weekend, ending child labor in America, fairer wages and more.  So why is a teacher’s union so important?  That particular union plays a crucial role in ensuring, despite all the tax cuts and increased defense spending, there is still money for education. That particular union plays a crucial role in ensuring people aren’t forced to choose between making a living wage and helping prepare the next generation for success.  That particular union has a remarkable wealth of knowledge about best practices when it comes to education – knowledge that should be embraced, listened to and respected.

Looking back on my educational experience, I know how fortunate I was.  I remember  classrooms that weren’t overcrowded.  I remember having my own text books and not having to share a desk.  I remember my school being clean, safe and I remember not having to learn hungry.  And I remember teachers who cared – who went above and beyond to help me, to inspire me to succeed.  But not all educational experiences are like mine.  All districts across this country have teachers who care.  But not all have the resources to do the things we know are critical for student success.  Rather than attack those teachers who are trying to do more with less, let’s honor them.  Let’s respect them.  Let’s listen to them and let’s give them the resources they need.  Money isn’t the only answer but it shouldn’t be that, just because I grew up in a wealthy suburb, my educational experience should be so vastly different from my peers in other areas.

To the teachers who have made such a difference in my life, I say thank you.  To my friends who have chosen to spend their career in education, I say thank you.  To the millions of teachers around the country who constantly find new ways to inspire, I say thank you.  To Senator Ayotte and Governor Romney, I suggest you stop talking and start listening.  Listen to those who have dedicated their career to building the future American workforce.  Listen to the parents who have seen, first-hand, the lasting impact a teacher can have.  Listen to the students who have become inspired by a teacher and, as a result, are now pursuing a career in engineering or math.    You just might learn something.

How do these people sleep at night…

I pride myself on trying to understand and respect people whose opinions I disagree with.  The only way we are going to move forward in our country is by listening to each other and focusing on constructive dialogue rather than political posturing.  How in the world the President addressing students on the importance of staying in school can become a political issue is beyond me.  (Aside from the obvious point that asking them to write letters on how they can help the President was certainly inartful at best…)  Like it or not there are people in this country who have NO interest in making the USA a better place if it means the other guy might get the credit.  And these people will do whatever they can to discredit and defeat that person, and that is just sad to me.

Back to the article though…after 8 years of a president who governed a state that was at the bottom in educational achievement, it is refreshing to have a President who understands the importance of kids staying in school and helping them achieve their potential (here’s hoping that goes beyond words and into meaningful reforms, but that’s another topic).  The fact that people are boycotting the President delivering a message to students is shameful…simply shameful.  How can we teach our kids to listen to others if we censor the words of our opponents.    

Couple of quotes from the article I want to highlight:

1. As far as I am concerned, this is not civics education — it gives the appearance of creating a cult of personality,” said Oklahoma Republican state Sen. Steve Russell. “This is something you’d expect to see in North Korea or in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.”

               WHAT????????????  Sen. Russell, why you are comparing a speech by a democratically elected president to actions by dictators who ruthlessly kill and detain their own citizens?  Does that make sense?

2. Arizona state schools superintendent Tom Horne, a Republican, said lesson plans for teachers created by Obama’s Education Department “call for a worshipful rather than critical approach.”

               Come again Mr. Horne?  Obama promotes a worshipful approach?  You mean the guy who doesn’t think we should teach the bible as fact and who taught in law school (which is all about critical analysis) is worshipful…umm, I think I’m terrified that this guy is a school superintendent.

To me these comments illustrate the importance of our kids staying in school…maybe the next generation can turn out leaders who aren’t close-minded and who care more about improving lives than getting their name in the paper. 

I don’t like that Democrats went after Bush for doing this in 1991 and I don’t like it now.   I suppose the difference is that Bush made the speech right before his election and used it to talk about his educational policies and plans while Obama will be using the speech to, according to the White House, make “a plea to students to really take their learning seriously. Find out what they’re good at. Set goals. And take the school year seriously.” 

Please explain how you can be opposed to that?