Monday, February 21, 2011

An Open Letter

Dear Family and Friends,
Given the momentous events of the past few weeks at home and abroad, I'm sure we're all watching with interest how these crucial situations are changing the face of democracy. As one of my treasured compatriots (if you are on this list, I treasure you, like it or not!) I trust that you keep up with world affairs and I suspect that the irony of democracy threatened here at home is not lost on you. That's why I want to share some thoughts with you and why I seek your comments on same.
In short, the siege on public employees and teachers we're now experiencing is as serious a threat to our democracy as anything going on in the Middle East.
In this age of instant communication, the costs and benefits can work in favor or against the dissemination of the truth. To be succinct, public schools and the teachers they employ are under attack. Both the profession and the hard fought rights that involve everything from due process to collective bargaining are threatened. Most of this assault is under the guise of balancing budgets or overspending. Make no mistake, that is hardly the truth. As noted economist Robert Reich said in a recent commentary, "The problem isn't that we've been spending too much. It's that most Americans have been getting a steadily smaller share of the nation's total income."
What we have here is a deliberate and concerted attempt to break unions, and place the blame for everything that's problematic or "wrong" with public schools on the backs of teachers and/or the struggling poor and middle classes. One has only to look at the people and organizations behind many of these so called "reform" efforts to see the big picture. These corporate, hedge fund backed, wealthy (I might add greedy) organizations have no real interest in educating our nation's children. They are all about control, punitive measures, exclusivity, and deceptive use of the all mighty "data." Privatizing and Corporatizing public schools is their agenda. This, of course leads to all manner of undemocratic consequences like de-facto segregation, but it also deepens the gulf between "haves" and "have nots" in this country.
So what's at stake? Only democracy, that's all. If we lose a viable public school system, what will we have lost? Tell me what you think.
Like me, I'm sure you have thought about what it means to live in a culture that values diversity, education, learning for it's own sake, and equity. Unfortunately, many in our country have either abandoned those principles or have decided that they don't matter any longer.
When I think about the future; that is, the world our children and their children will be inheriting, I'm troubled. To be sure, the universe of social media that we are just beginning to explore will make us closer, but it will no doubt make us distant in ways we have yet to imagine. The technology is often about imagery, if it's about anything. Books, photographs, landscapes, people become simulations. Could educating students in a democracy share the same fate? Programs like NCLB or the current "Race to the Top" are examples of the illusion of reform. They are ill-conceived and, unfortunately, appease those who would blame the victim (students) or those attempting to educate. (teachers)
If you are still with me, let me say only one more thing. I write because I'm deeply concerned. I value your perspective and seek your thoughts as well.
As you may know, I taught for 33 years. I know full well the problems in public education. I know there are people who should not be in the teaching profession, as there are doctors, lawyers, politicians, and corporate executives that do not belong in their chosen fields. BUT, the time has come to defend public education. There are millions of dedicated professionals that put in long days at under resourced, ill-cared for facilities. They know that testing is not teaching. They know what it really means to educate a human being. They are on the verge of losing any semblance of integrity and due process to heartless politicos who have no idea what it means to be a teacher. Lastly, there are millions more students, (like many of us) who were educated in public schools that prepared them for careers, occupations, community colleges, state and private colleges, as well as our nation's most rigorous, prestigious, universities. Our public schools are the true essence of our democracy. It's time to stand up and support them. You can do that in many ways, even just telling the truth.

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