Where is the single, national voice of the teacher in the United States decrying the fallacy that teachers and teachers unions are destroying American education?
I have been, for the last 40 years, a public high school teacher and English department supervisor in New Jersey. I am responsible for 29 teachers and 3,500 teenagers and their reading and writing. I've worked in rural, urban and suburban high schools, and I have personally witnessed the work of hundreds and hundreds of teachers in my career. They all graduated from college, and they all cared about helping children be better readers, writers and people.
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Haughty politicians who berate teachers graduated from excellent high schools and colleges. They must have seen some decent teachers lurking in those hallways.
Industry tycoons with their money blame teachers for the poor quality of student achievement. These dabblers in education have no idea about the quality of the 3.5 million teachers in America. Perhaps these CEOs attended exclusive private schools and universities. Perhaps they found a few good teachers hidden among those leather books and gilded reputations.
I've been to teacher conventions, given talks to teachers all over the country. I read the professional teacher journals. I have observed teachers coach teams, counsel students, conference with parents, collaborate with colleagues, use technology.
I've seen teachers building the confidence of their students, guiding them in their college choices, helping them with their homework, helping them see the possibilities of the future. As Christa McAuliffe said: "I touch the future. I teach." Politicians and CEOs across the country are blaming teachers for the ills of the economy instead of admitting to their own egotistical ambitions and greed. Teachers don't teach. Teachers unions are bad. Teachers don't work enough days. Teachers can't do anything else, so they teach. Bad teachers are causing the collapse of our economy. Teachers are the root cause of the ills in our society.
Scapegoats abound in our national myths. Let's blame the devil. A cow in Chicago started the Great Fire of 1871. And we all know that Rachel Carson with her book "Silent Spring" is to blame for the modern environmentalist movement and the roadblocks to corporate growth.
In ancient Greece, whenever there was a horrible natural disaster like a famine or an earthquake, a beggar or cripple was banished from the community, the sacrificial scapegoat.
Let's banish all the beggars and teachers. Don't you see? Where are the voices of the teachers standing up to this nonsense? Where is the national rally? Teachers are being cast aside with disdain. Teachers are being used in this next presidential election as pawns and scapegoats.
Remember Miss Temple from "Jane Eyre"? "Miss Temple has generally something to say which is newer than my own reflections; her language is singularly agreeable to me, and the information she communicates is often just what I wished to gain." Jo March knew how to teach in "Little Men." "Mrs. Jo sat smiling over her book as she built castles in the air, just as she used to do when a girl, only then they were for herself, and now they were for other people, which is the reason perhaps that some of them came to pass in reality for charity is an excellent foundation to build anything upon." Helen Keller's teacher, Anne Sullivan, said, "Keep on beginning and failing. Each time you fail, start all over again, and you will grow stronger until you have accomplished a purpose - not the one you began with perhaps, but one you'll be glad to remember." Teachers in America tell their students that they will grow stronger, and become men and women. They show them how the world wags, how to trust their conscience, and that age and wisdom don't often come hand in hand. Teachers in America build castles in the air for their students, and communicate just what children need to hear at just the right time.
It is time to return the respect teachers once had in this country. It is time to stop listening to falsehoods and finger-pointers, arrogant politicians and wealthy dilettantes.
"The search for a scapegoat," Dwight Eisenhower said, "is the easiest of all hunting expeditions." Teachers aren't the problem in this country; poverty is the problem. But politicians can't say this because they won't get elected. CEOs can't say this because their stockholders would kick them onto the streets. So let's just blame teachers.
Where is the loud, confident voice of the teachers in America saying with dignity and courage: "We teach!"
Christopher De Vinck is the language arts supervisor at Clifton High School in Clifton, N.J., and the author of "The Power of the Powerless: A Brother's Legacy of Love." He wrote this for the Chicago Tribune.