The animosity towards teachers – primarily secondary educators but increasingly also higher ed folks – is puzzling. It’s not as if educators are paid millions of dollars in raw salaries and drift away on golden parachutes from the companies they have ruined due to their incompetence. They don’t require government bailouts, they don’t spill millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf. But outnumbered 40:1 in the classroom they are a primary cause of fiscal instability at the state budget level, and at a real-wage of about $15 per hour compared to $25 each for three-person-minimum road maintenance crews they epitomize the waste of labor-unionized, state-worker jobs?
The charges brought against educators for Crimes against Productivity are just one more instance of our collective unwillingness to take responsibility. We have Wars on Poverty, on Crime, on Terror. Such militaristic rhetoric and the mindsets behind it only save the day, ignoring the complex inter-dependencies, the misjudgments and the prejudices, the whole history of what brought the opposing forces to the battle field on that day. Ignore those, and the day is lost before it dawns.
What would it say of our collective consciousness if we had labeled these “Restitution for” programs?
But here we are again, for better or worse facing the newest campaign. Let us keep with the agenda and call it the War on Teachers. The cynical might argue that the willingness of the “Average American” to believe the scapegoating hype (on either side of any issue) is itself a perfect example of how educators have failed to raise the “Average Student” above the intellectual capacity of beef cattle. Someone more generous might observe that for educators the current situation is a backhanded compliment: people are frustrated with our collective inability to solve our problems, and the Source of All Correct Answers at the Head of the Classroom has obviously let us down.
One way or another we educators must shoulder some blame.
We never HAD the Correct Answers. We had answers to a specific set of test questions. We had models for responses to writing prompts. We had quicker recall of dates and names than our students did (sans mobile phone access to Wikipedia, that is). But answers to questions about right and wrong, solutions to problems of the magnitude students face as citizens, ethical human beings, or even as organisms needing food and a place to get out of the rain … we never offered those. Or at least we shouldn’t have appeared to.
It is indeed a matter of responsibility, this precipitous drop over the last few decades in skill levels of incoming students and capability of outbound, employment seeking graduates. Where we failed was in not instilling in our students a sense of responsibility for their own learning and for their own intellectual freedom in a complicated, competitive, and sometimes hostile social, economic, and political system.
But responsibility is shared across all those who interact with the student, from the parents who shunted the real education of their children onto the classroom content teachers, to the government officials who substituted cost and predictability for the real issues of capability and acumen, and to a host of others.
In the War on Teachers the enemy forces number in the tens of millions, and he is us. We have all turned our backs on the students. What matters now is whether we raise our hands to surrender, or to volunteer in the restitution.