Thursday, September 4, 2008

"We need to... help bad teachers find another line of work!"

Did anyone else notice that McCain's line about bad teachers finding other lines of work got one of the biggest rounds of applause from the audience tonight at the RNC?

I really think that those on the right wing of the political spectrum have an active disdain for teachers, that they think we work from 9 to 3 every day, that there's nothing else to it except figuring out how to spend those three months we get off a year.

I'm not blaming McCain for this - I actually liked the line about getting rid the bad teachers, although it leads to opening cans of worms that generally scare the hell out of me. I mean, I pretty much know who the bad teachers are at my school, or have been, and would love it if they weren't my colleagues anymore. But who determines that? Test scores? Busy administrators with unknown or questionable motives? I haven't heard a good system yet.

But it was the applause that most struck me - a wild, frenzied cheer for teachers to lose their jobs. I just keep trying to imagine if the line was about another profession, like firefighters, or police officers, or soldiers, if the applause would have been anywhere near the same. I mean, obviously you can't have bad soldiers on the ground, right - they endanger the lives of people and the safety of the nation. But any politician would be slammed for attacking them, or attacking police officers, or some other professions. And immediately thereafter McCain brings up the word "accountability," which is a euphemistic buzzword for standardized tests.

No Child Left Behind is a good-intentioned but deeply flawed policy. It's not just flawed because it's unfunded, although that is a major reason; the dumping of so much limited resources into creating, distributing, and scoring standardized tests is one reason, I'm sure, that I have few resources in my classroom (not enough textbooks to send home, technology only if I buy it myself, etc). It's also flawed because it encourages states to make their tests as rudimentary as possible in order to produce Adequate Yearly Progress, because it discourages creative thinking, and because focuses too much attention on the short list of tested courses (English 2, Biology, Government, and Algebra). But I've never quite heard it framed like McCain did tonight; heck, the climax of that portion of the speech was about getting rid of bad teachers. And, gosh, the crowd sure did love it!

Some people in this country really hate teachers.

As it is, though, I'm glad McCain is pouncing on the issue of education. It's been mostly ignored for the entire campaign, and Obama didn't mention it in his brilliant acceptance speech. I criticize No Child Left Behind up and down, but at least it entered education into the national discussion in ways it wasn't before or after. When McCain said that "education is the civil rights issue of this century," it was hard for me not to get goosebumps, because I totally agree with him. Hell, Jonathan Kozol would agree with him.

Of course, my answer for that is to create an amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing equal public education for all, not on more testing "accountability." (And, make no mistake, I have nothing against accountability; I just don't think a standardized test is the end-all and be-all, or anywhere near it.) McCain also favors vouchers, which I oppose, and even campaigned against during my days as a rabble rousing college student in Michigan (but, because I teach at a magnet school, I have some dissonance about this, and think about a lot).

I'm glad that McCain is talking about education, though. I disagree with most of his views about it, but if this issue enters the national conversation again, we might see some change. Writing this, I'm thinking to myself, "Geez, well, last time this happened, yes, people talked about it, but it brought us No Child Left Behind." But I guess I have great faith in an Obama Presidency on the issue of education, and welcome a focus on it in the election.


Anonymous said...

Yes, it is incredibly challenging to figure out who is and is not a good teacher in any fair way, but we can't let this continue to prevent us from tackling this issue. Chancellor Rhee in DC is considering paying teachers over $100K if they are willing to give up automatic tenure and have to meet a set of standards (to be determine - but will probably include some test scores). Maybe this is not THE solution, but at least they are trying something...

A BCPSS Parent said...

Do you think the cheers might have more to do with the Republican Party's hatred of unions than a hatred of teachers? Schools had to be mentioned because Obama brought them up in his acceptance speech, but I think you would have hear the same frenzy if they had been talking about another unionized profession. The problem is police and firemen are off-limits since 9/11 is something the republicans try to own. Steel workers and auto workers are off-limits since those jobs have started going overseas. The teamsters haven't done anything lately...I think teachers were all they had left.

Anonymous said...

"I mean, I pretty much know who the bad teachers are at my school, or have been, and would love it if they weren't my colleagues anymore. But who determines that? Test scores? Busy administrators with unknown or questionable motives? I haven't heard a good system yet."

You have your answer right there: YOU know who the good and bad teachers are. We TEACHERS know. But we are NOT allowed to be in charge of our own profession. Doctors police doctors; lawyers police lawyers; we should be the ones who police our own profession.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I gave up on the RNC way before this. Based on your comments, I assume that McCain's statement is about giving teacher choices, not forcing them to move on. And, quite frankly, I don't think that sounds like a bad idea. I too know teachers that need to get out and move on. And some of these teachers don't feel like they can do something else. Will Republicans implement this fairly or in good faith? Somehow I don't have much confidence in this one.

Chris Lehmann said...

Great post... and I agree.

I think one of the really horrible ancillary consequences of NCLB is that it has made it socially acceptable to teacher-bash.

Such a shame.

Lauren said...

IMO, conservatives do not like teachers because they fear the morals they may try to pass on to their children. That's why there's this idea to teach Creationism alongside Evolution. Creationism goes much further than evolution though, into the formation of the Planet and most of Geology. So, it wouldn't stop just at evolution if they got their way. I've heard people say teachers should just teach the curriculum and not worry about teaching kids behavior skills or ethics or anything else. As a parent I know I need help with teaching my kids how to be humane in this world. School can help inforce caring attitudes. Teaching is not viewed as a profession of choice by many, but as something people do when they can't find anything else. Their focus on "bad teachers" hurts all teachers. Teachers need the respect their education should grant them and that should come with a respectable salary as well. Where I live teachers start at 29,000. SICK!

sexy said...