Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Liberals, Conservatives & Public Ed.

I should probably dedicate this post to "Conservative Teacher" because he is the one who inspired it.

I know that many public education teachers are liberal Democrats, but I don't quite fit that mold. I am somewhat left of the political center, so I don't like Tom DeLay, but I don't like Nancy Pelosi either, and I find Michael Moore and Ann Coulter equally obnoxious. I think liberals have done great damage to public education, but now conservatives threaten to destroy it.

In his book "The Death of Common Sense," Philip K. Howard says that nothing has done more damage to public education than the ruling by courts that education is a property right that can't be taken away without due process of law. I agree! That ruling was made by liberal judges and it's been backed up by legislation passed by liberal legislatures. Minnesota's Fair Pupil Dismissal Act is an example, and it makes it either impossible or prohibitively expensive to remove disruptive kids from classrooms.

I know that there are places where the public schools aren't very good, but I'm convinced that the perception that public schools in general are doing a poor job is wrong. That perception really scares me because I'm afraid it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy as parents who care about their kids education react to it by pulling their kids out of public schools.

I teach in a good school, and the performance of our former students testifies to that. Yet there is no evidence that my school is in a league of its own. There are thousands of schools around the nation with millions of students who are doing as good a job as we are. Nevertheless, all I ever hear from politicians and TV talk show pundits is that our public schools are failing.

Although liberals are very open to providing more money for public education, I get the impression that they think we're all doing a lousy job, too. An example is the "Dropout Nation" article in Time Magazine last month. Whenever students do poorly, they jump to the conclusion that the school must be failing to do something or be doing something incorrectly. Liberals want schools to develop more programs and use more progressive teaching methods in order to reach the non-performers. They fail to understand a basic truth of public education: non-performers rarely do poorly because schools are lacking the right program; the great majority of them do poorly because they don't try very hard.

The things that liberals have done to screw up public education could turn me into a conservative if it weren't for the conservatives themselves. While liberals might be misguided, I don't know any of them who could actually be called hostile to public education. Many conservatives, on the other hand, have no qualms about their hostility toward teachers and teachers unions, and some of them, as was pointed out in my last post, would even like to destroy public education. It is hard for me to view them as anything other than the enemy.

Conservatives are all for seeing the most motivated students in public schools leaving for private schools through the use of vouchers, and they often point to the great discipline in those private schools. Why have I never heard a conservative suggest that public schools be given the power to remove disruptive and apathetic students like private schools can? To me, that sounds like a conservative idea. Instead, they want public schools to "compete" with the equivalent of one hand tied behind their backs. If public schools have to compete like that, it's a competition they can't possibly win. As public schools are forced to tolerate kids who won't try and won't behave, and as motivated students leave, they will be turned into holding cells for those young people in our society with no hopes, no dreams, and no drive. From some of the horror stories I've heard, it sounds like that's exactly what has happened in certain places in our nation. Maybe that's exactly what some conservatives want.

I guess I'll just have to remain in the middle of the road.

21 Comments:

Blogger elementaryhistoryteacher said...

Education has become a political football. The liberals and conservatives have used it for years to win the public's vote. As long as this practice continues educators will be stuck in the middle treading water. For example, Sonny Perdue, governor of Georgia, is currently airing commericials for his reelection bid stating he restored order in Georgia's classrooms. Yes, there was a law that was passed but the process that must be followed to remove a disruptive student is so laborious for the teacher and places so much scrutiny on their actions that most throw up there hands in disgust. One of my summer projects is to research this law a bit more and find some instances where teachers have used it. Once again you've created a thought provoking post!

5/23/2006 6:33 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Thank you, EHS! I can't wait to find out what your research shows.

5/24/2006 4:54 AM  
Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

This post really resonated with me. I agree with you almost completely-- Nancy Pelosi amuses me, because she's like the opposite of Newt Gingrich but with less nastiness.

I don't believe that "Government is the problem." The current crop we have in office who rode that wave to its crest apparently have had no problem emulating the worst examples of their credo.

I do believe that laws dealing with public education have created some of the worst problems in education. It is too hard to protect hardworking students from those who seek to sabotage their educations-- both students and adults.

As long as schools are supposed to act as holding houses for all youth between the ages of 6 and 18, there will be those who do not "succeed." There are adults who do not succeed, too.

5/29/2006 11:01 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Thank you for your comment, Ms. Cornelius. I'm glad you agree with most of the post, because there's no way I want to argue with someone with a black belt! I definitely want you on my side.

5/29/2006 1:48 PM  
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