(The following is my latest blog for Huffington Post and column for the Newton County News.)
It was with sadness that I recently realized that it was not only the public schools but our Sunday schools that are failing us.
In the story of the creation that was taught to me when I was a child, I remember that God rested the seventh day. Why did my Sunday school teachers never mention the miracle that happened next?
Why did it take me this long to find about the heretofore secret gospel. You know, the one where it says “On the eighth day, God created the billionaires and said, ‘And they ?hall know all about education.”
Unless that one was locked away in the Dead Sea Scrolls, that version of the eighth day does not exist, and if it does, I am going to give up religion.
The latest pronouncement from those billionaires whose deep pocketbooks make them experts in education came this week when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg made his controversial statement that education could be improved by firing half of the teachers (those horrible bad ones who have been scapegoated as the solitary reason for problems in American education) and doubling class size for the remaining teachers.
Bloomberg’s idea is not a new one. I can remember Edison Learning CEO Chris Whittle suggesting the same thing several years ago. And certainly anyone who can come up with a failed idea for turning education into a business is someone Mayor Bloomberg should turn to for ideas.
There are so many things that are wrong with Mayor Bloomberg’s idea that it is hard to whittle (pardon the pun) them down to a few, but here is a representative sample:
How do you decide which teachers should be eliminated?
The kneejerk reaction of the people who have made it their mission to destroy public education (and teacher unions) in the U. S. is to choose which ones go by using standardized test scores.
Even under this system, if you accept its premise, you will eliminate a number of excellent teachers.
Contrary to what the advocates for groups like Teach for America think, it is almost impossible to tell who is going to be successful in the classroom at the beginning of a teaching career. All of the training in the world does not truly prepare someone for that first time in front of a classroom. First year instructors learn from their mistakes (and from their mentor teachers), but they do not arrive as master teachers. Under Bloomberg’s scheme, young teachers (and those who come to the teaching field later in life) would never have a chance to develop into top-flight professionals.
When I look back at my first year of teaching eighth graders how to write, I only wish I had known some of what I do now and I could have provided them with a far better learning experience.
I am in my 13th year as a classroom teacher and I look back to my 12th year and think the same thing. Teachers, just like the young people who sit in their classrooms, do not stop learning,
It is that combination of veteran savvy and youthful enthusiasm that has served our public schools well.
How will education improve with 60 students in a classroom?
For Mayor Bloomberg to suggest that doubling classroom size will improve education is an indication that he is divorced from reality.
My biggest classes (that is if I would even still be teaching once they eliminated half of the teachers) would have 60 students. And we are not talking about Stepford children who sit quietly, bring their pencils and paper, raise their hands politely when they have something to say, and would never dream of talking back to a teacher. A 60-student class would almost have to either have a teacher lecturing for the whole period (something that simply will not work in today’s classroom with students whose attention spans can sometimes be measured by seconds) or by having the students sit in front of computer screens and expect that they will not be surfing the net the moment the teacher’s head is turned.
Handling 60 students would be a nightmare, even for the best of teachers.
Are we assuming that 100 percent of the problem in schools is bad teachers?
As long as we allow the demagogues and their billionaire enablers to libel the teaching profession by claiming that bad teachers is the only problem affecting Americaneducation, we will never be able to do anything to help the students who most need help.
Focusing on the teachers has absolved politicians of any responsibility for dealing with the problems that prevent teachers from being able to reach more students.
To these politicians, poverty, crime, and physical, emotional, and sexual abuse are not factors in a child’s performance at school.
To these billionaires, whose sole claim to knowledge is that they have deep pocketbooks, parents who do not take an interest in their children’s education are not a factor- the learning process only begins when students step foot in the classroom.
The idea that eliminating half of the teachers in the United States would improve education is laughable.
Eliminating the billionaires who buy access to our politicians (or in Bloomberg’s case, buy their way into office), voting out the politicians who buy into this type of nonsense and electing politicians who are willing to take on the interconnected demons of crime and poverty- those are the true paths to improving education in the United States.