For years, politicians and policy leaders have been running the nation’s public education system basically by the seat of the pants, drafting and passing legislative doctrine that mostly ignores the input from classroom teachers, research experts and public school parents.
Just the latest example of this fly-by-night leadership came from Rand Paul, the senator from Kentucky and expected GOP presidential contender. According to the Politico newsletter, Paul is “planning a major push on education reform, including ‘education choice, school choice, vouchers, charter schools, you name it.”
‘Gotta love the “you name it” proposal, don’t you? So reassuring to parents. “Relax, we’re enrolling your kid in the ‘You Name It’ program this year. Everything will be fine.”
In an astonishing display of incoherence, he told the Politico reporter how much he, and his children, had benefited from traditional public schools – “I grew up and went to public schools. My kids have gone to public schools” – and then suggested we create something that looks nothing like them.
“Have one person in the country who is, like, the best at explaining calculus … teach every calculus class in the country,” he rambled, in belief, somehow, that having “2 million people in the classroom” would ensure more children “have a teacher that may be having a more hands-on approach.” Really?
Have education policies from the Democratic Party been any better?
Apparently, most teachers don’t think so. As Politico, again, reported, teachers are organizing at an unprecedented level. Through their unions, teachers have amassed “tens of millions in cash” and have acquired “new data mining tools that let them personalize pitches to voters,” in an effort to “run a huge get-out-the-vote effort.”
Education Week suggested that a “new era” in teacher organizing has begun, with “a remarkable policy convergence, portending what could indeed be a more unified response to national and state education issues.
“The convergence, observers say, is the product not only of the unions’ need to assume a defensive posture in the face of legislative and legal attacks, but also of the pressure brought by internal factions that have urged the unions to take a tougher stance against market-based education policies.”
What’s got teachers stirred up? How real and potent is this upsurge of their activism? Why should people who identify with progressive causes care? Salon recently posed those questions, and others, to Lily Eskelsen García, the new president-elect of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, at the recent Netroots Nation conference in Detroit.
First of all, congratulations on becoming the new NEA president.
Still president-elect. I take office Sept. 1. We have an incredible president, Dennis Van Roekel, who basically said a transition period should be a transition period, not go stand in the corner. So he gave me the president-elect title and told me I would take the press calls, go to Netroots, meet with Arne Duncan, start establishing where you want to go and be as vocal and as visible as you can possibly be. Our members have asked NEA to step up and take things to another level. There’s too much at stake for us. There are policies that need addressing and we have some of the best policy expertise in the nation, but those ideas need a face to the NEA, a face for the American teacher that is channeling the voices of these 3 million educators, and when you hear the words come out of her mouth it’s not just her opinion — it’s a whole lot of teachers and support staff who are saying here’s an important thing for the American people to hear and an important thing for Arne Duncan and President Obama to hear. So he told me to start being that voice today.
The voices of these teachers are important, aren’t they? And too often we don’t really hear their stories about what it’s really like to teach in American schools, do we? For instance, I was just at a meeting of the American Federation of Teachers, where a teacher told us about showing up to school one morning and finding a man had been shot to death in front of the building the night before. The body was still on the sidewalk as the kids were coming to school, and the teachers had to decide how they were going to handle this with the children. So many of our teachers are really serving as first responders for kids, aren’t they?
That’s true. So how did the teachers handle this? More…