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.