While a graduate student at Howard University, I had the good fortune to land a job teaching in a wonderful private school in Washington, D.C. Many of my friends and associates taught in the public schools. While our class sizes and access to resources were quite different, what we shared was a commitment to young people and a belief in the transformative power of education. We also shared a degree of respect and influence in the community due to our chosen profession. Back in the mid-1990s, teaching was still celebrated as a noble occupation, if not a vocation of service. How things have changed.
Over the past few years, we have witnessed a steady assault on teachers' abilities. They shoulder the blame for the general failure of American education, including lower rates of student performance on high-stakes testing and incredibly high dropout rates. At the same time, the narrative of the incompetent teacher, with its concomitant condemnation of the three T's--tenure, teachers unions and too much time off--dominates the national discussion on the failure of American education. Equally, a new abiding faith in technology, in the form of the push for online alternatives to traditional schooling, has challenged the notion that large numbers of teachers are even necessary.
This troubling one-two punch has been relentless and, for the most part, successful, perpetuated by a cacophony of interests unwilling to commit the resources or institute the reforms necessary to revitalize and transform our schools. In recent battles in New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, teachers have been vilified for supporting the idea that education is a civil right beyond compromise. Such demonization points to a Fahrenheit 451-esque future. Before you burn the books, you must first do away with the teachers. Perhaps, this is already the case. In many communities from Wisconsin to New Jersey, monies allocated for corrections dwarf the amount spent on education, with little to no discourse about how to correct this. Philadelphia teachers even appealed to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, but to no avail.
The press has certainly been complicit. In the last two decades alone, sensationalized stories about improper student-teacher relations garnered bigger headlines than shrinking budgets and the demise of music and art in many districts.
Where are the stories about the corporate tax breaks that have helped to compromise the health of our schools, especially in deindustrialized urban centers where the shrinking tax base has seriously compromised education?
This is not a blanket defense of the teaching profession. Long before critics became fixated on the so-called abuses of teachers unions, teachers themselves clamored for greater accountability, more opportunities for professional development and administrators with practical insight (teaching experience) into the challenges of the field. …