Thursday, July 7, 2011

Update: My Fellow Teachers Do Something Stupid

The National Education Association (NEA) endorsed President Obama and thus squandered whatever political influence it might have. Less than a week after that announcement, the President had a Twitter Town Hall and was posed with the following question.
MR. DORSEY:  So 10 percent of our questions now are about education, and this one was surfaced from our curator in California by Marcia:  “Public education here in California is falling apart, not graduating enough skilled workers or smart citizens.  Privatization looming?”
Given that Obama has just received NEA's endorsement, one would expect a ringing defense of public education.  Instead, President Obama offered the following:
THE PRESIDENT:  Look, when America was making a transition from an agricultural society to an industrial society, we as a country made a decision that we were going to have public high schools that would upgrade the skills of young people as they were leaving the farms and start participating in a more complex industrial economy.  When my grandfather’s generation came back from World War II, we made a decision that we were going to have a GI Bill that would send these young people to college because we figured that would help advance our economy.

Every time we’ve made a public investment in education, it has paid off many times over.  For us now to give short shrift to education when the world is more complex than ever, and it’s a knowledge-based society and companies locate based on whether they’ve got skilled workforces or not, that makes no sense.

     And so we’ve got to get our priorities straight here.  It is important for us to have a healthy business climate, to try to keep taxes low, to make sure that we’re not spending on things that don’t work.  It’s important that we get a good bang for the buck in education.  And so my administration has pushed more reform more vigorously across the country through things like Race to the Top than most previous administrations have been able to accomplish.  So we don’t just need more money; we need more reform.

     But we do have to pay for good teachers.  Young, talented people aren’t going to go into teaching if they’re getting paid a poverty wage.  We do have to make sure that buildings aren’t crumbling.  It's pretty hard for kids to concentrate if there are leaks and it’s cold and there are rats running around in their schools.  And that’s true in a lot of schools around the country.

We do have to make sure that there are computers in a computer age inside classrooms, and that they work and that there’s Internets that are actually -- there are Internet connections that actually function.

And I think that those states that are going to do well and those countries that do well are the ones that are going to continue to be committed to making education a priority.
I appreciate history lessons, but the list of public education successes should be followed by "I will do everything in my power to support public education."  Instead the declaration was followed by a paragraph that could have been written by the Cato Institute.  OK, Cato would not have endorsed Race to the Top, so I probably would prefer the Cato response to Obama's. 

I'm glad the NEA endorsement produced such positive results so quickly.

If NEA and Obama won't stand up for public education, I'll offer the following as a step by by step explanation of why public education needs to be preserved.

First, I agree with the statement attributed to Thomas Jefferson: "If we're going to have a successful democratic society, we have to have a well educated and healthy citizenry."

Second, as the astute Cory Heidelberger points out, Americans are "the first great nationality based on rational choice rather than blood."  Mr. Heidelberger could have added that Americans are not united by religion, language, crown, or geographic features.

Third, nations need both principles and institutions to unify the people.  (I don't have a source for this one, but I'll be happy to debate it with anyone who wishes.)

Fourth, absent a national religion or monarchy, I submit the the most logical unifying institution is the public school.

Private schools will produce the same unifying results as Coke, Pepsi, 7-Up, and Dr. Pepper.  Have you ever tried offering a Pepsi to a Coke drinker?  Perhaps I'm exaggerating a bit; they might unify as well as McDonalds, Wendy's, Taco Johns, and Burger King.

If President Obama can't or won't enunciate the essential need for public education, and apparently he will not, NEA had no reason to endorse him

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