Sunday, December 9, 2012

Dressing Up and Dressing Down Teachers

Much ado has been made about a proposed teacher dress code for my school district as non-teacher leaders formulate a new employee handbook to replace the expiring teacher contract.

A few weeks ago, school leaders unveiled a three-page draft of a proposed dress code for school employees to replace the current one-line (“wear appropriate dress”) policy. The proposed draft has been met with some push back from educators. The push back has been met with some push back. The teacher dissent is viewed as much ado about nothing by some school leaders. The dressing up of teachers feels like a dressing down.

Undoubtedly, the current employee handbook discussions distract all of us from the eight ball of school reform. Nonetheless, between nothing and the eight ball is a worthwhile discussion about professionalism in public education.

The local push to “codify and standardize” the teacher dress code syncs with the national trend to make public education more like the business world. Understandably, the external image is important to those in market-driven fields. First impressions are essential for repeat business. Encounters with repeat customers and clients can be sporadic. Even in markets frequented often by repeat customers--like grocery stores or coffee shops--relationships with customers can be superficial with the focus on the exchange of goods. I do not cast stones at businesses and other professionals that follow a prescriptive dress code.  In a money-goods/service exchange, the exterior image is essential to survival.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Not a Waterbed Without Water

Chiming in this week is Bill Conway--a world traveler, an acclaimed social studies teacher, and a colleague.

Recently, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has been touting his balanced budget and the surplus money he put into a rainy day fund. I have a hard time celebrating this news as our school district continues to face dire economic issues.  

Have we gone too far with these hatchet-style budget cuts?  Have we passed a tipping point?  Wisconsin’s Superintendent asks more for schools that are in need, while our Governor is promising to deliver less. Can we work with less? Can we deliver what our communities and children deserve with what we are being given?

I had an economics class in college, way back when. My professor used a waterbed analogy that I am reminded of often. Granted, I went to UW-Madison in the 80’s and a waterbed analogy may be hard to explain to today’s youth, but I think our adult readers will know what I mean. His point at the time was simple: Things cost what they cost. If you push down in one area of the bed, it will just force another area of the bed to rise. If, instead, you let out the water, it will stop being a bed.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Another Distractor: School Report Cards

Thrown under the school bus this week by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) were 76 Wisconsin schools, which "Failed to Meet Expectations" as calculated under the state's new-fangled school accountability system. 

DPI's new school report card system is pay off to Arne Duncan's Department of Education so most Wisconsin schools can avoid federal sanctions imposed by the poorly-designed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. 

Trying to spin this federally-mandated school accountability farce, the well-meaning State Superintendent Tony Evers stated, "These preliminary report cards provide valuable information for parents and educators as a foundation for helping all of our schools improve and I encourage looking beyond the score or rating. Whereas, the majority of schools meet or exceed expectations, detailed report cards provide data that will help them get even better."

Friday, October 19, 2012

Soul-Friendly Capitalism

This past week, an old friend and one of my former professors celebrated his 50th Jubilee as a Franciscan priest. Much of my recent critique on Paul Ryan's economic philosophy derives from Fr. Joe Zimmerman's compassionate reasoning.  Zimmerman agreed to let me repost his fine essay on soul-friendly capitalism, which is also published in Zimmerman's blog, Ivy Rosary.
Soul is story. My soul is my story, with its sorrows and its joys. Soul-less capitalism has no concern for the stories of individual human beings.
The problem of soul-less capitalism is not only greed. Its greatest problem is idolatry. Soul-less capitalism says that an abstraction, a number on a bottom line, is more important than beauty, more important then love, more important than health, more important than worship. If the bottom line drives beauty and love and health and worship from the lives of billions of people, that is okay. In the long run and in some places things are better. The problem is that billions of people do not live in the long run or in the right places. “The long run” story is an abstraction. It is idolatry.

We need soul-friendly capitalism.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

McCarthyites Take Up Teachers

More than any of my posting, my take on Paul Ryan and Me has drawn lots of attention from all over the country. Many middle class Americans, Wisconsinites, and Janesvillians share my concerns about Ryan's devout faith in lassez-faire capitalism. Expectedly, however, my critique of Ryan's political philosophy irked those who share Ryan's blind devotion in the free market.

Through the recall season and this new age of scapegoating teachers, I have grown accustom to the constant push back. Nevertheless, justice necessitates a reply to Tim Probst’s questioning in the Janesville Gazette (Sept. 4th, p. 6A) of my professionalism and patriotism.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

One Cent Makes $ense

Now that Paul Thomas, Anthony Cody, Diane Ravitch, and others have reframed my thinking about school reform, it is time to begin practicing what these Social Context Reformers preach.

Consequently, I am excited to support A Penny For Kids legislation proposed by the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES)A one-cent sales tax for Wisconsin kids is vital and sensible. If passed, the sales tax will raise about $850 million annually to addressing the growing needs of Wisconsin’s children and schools hit hard by the recent state cuts. 

This is not an end-around to bolster public teacher pay. In actuality, a Penny for Kids could bring some healing to our divided state. Pay close attention to the bipartisan potential of this initiative. It does not increase property taxes. It is not a request for higher pay or better benefits for public workers. The proposal leaves intact all the recent cuts.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Paul Ryan Disappoints Young People on Gay Rights

Guest blogging this week is my nephew, Thomas Strieker, who shares a memorable 2005 meeting with Paul Ryan. Thousands have viewed my take on Paul Ryan.  Readers seem interested in perspectives from Ryan's hometown of Janesville. Thomas was raised in Janesville and graduated from Parker High School.

Janesville feels so far off the map that when someone gets any national attention my heart beats faster.  So I was excited when Mitt Romney tapped Paul Ryan as his running mate.  The all-seeing eye of American Politics gazes on my hometown.  Janesvillians want to share their encounters with Ryan and his family, and almost everyone has a story. 

My first and only interaction with the potential Vice President was in Washington D.C. back in 2005.  I was fortunate enough to be part of an audience with the then four-term congressman.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Public Education's Eight Ball: Student Poverty

As noted in an earlier blog, one of my summer reads was P.L. Thomas’ book, Ignoring Poverty in the U.S..  It is one of the most important education books I have read. He has reframed my thinking.

Contrary to what too many scapegoaters claim, I've never believed public education to be the cause of America's socioeconomic ills. However, I had fallen into the trap of repeating the mantra that quality public education is the cure-all for the poor. Thomas’ research highlights what all of us should be repeating in our communities and schools over and over. This is now my Thomas-induced mantra:

Reforming public education does little to reduce poverty. Reducing poverty does lots to reform public education.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Tale of Two Janesvillians: Paul Ryan & Me

Like Mitt Romney’s running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, I am in my early 40’s and live in Janesville, Wisconsin with my wife and three kids. Purportedly, Rep. Ryan likes the Pack, Spotted Cow, brats, Wisconsin cheese, and the great outdoors--like most Wisconsinites and me. Similar to Ryan, I am loved by my family and generally well liked by my colleagues and others. I, too, serve ably the People of my community and am full of big rambling ideas related to socioeconomic reform.

While I don’t know Rep. Ryan personally, our histories overlap with Irish ancestry, tours of duty at McDonalds, long-time interests in politics, and short (unsuccessful) stints at soccer. Further connected, Rep. Ryan and I both grew up in small midwest towns, attended Catholic schools, and served as altar boys. Most coincidental, Paul Ryan lost his father to a heart attack at a young age--just like me. We are two Janesvillians with somewhat similar stories.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Selling Public Education Feels Like Selling Out

Gen. George C. Marshall once said, "There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don't care who gets the credit." Purportedly, this quote was one of Ronald Reagan’s favorites and was etched on a plaque that sat on the late president’s Oval Office desk.

A plaque with this noble quote would be equally appropriate sitting on a teacher’s desk. Most educators realize from our own schooling that education is normally a no credit profession and rarely a deferred credit occupation. Most students do not mature enough to realize the amount of good teachers do until they have already outgrown schools. A supermajority of my colleagues and I do not care if we never get credit for the amount of good we do for our students. We teach because we recognize--even without the surveys and the quantified data--the limitlessness of learning. The lack of recognition is simply the nature of the teaching profession.

However, in this age of extraordinary advertising, it may be time for educators to ignore “the better angels of our nature” (like many do in times of crisis) and consider buying into the often insincere business of self-promotion.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Explaining the Failed Recall to My Preteen

Paid for by billionaires and millionaires
My perceptive and compassionate preteen daughter asked me in the wake of the failed recall of Governor Walker, “Why can’t it be like in the movies where the good guys always win?”

This was essentially my reply to her poignant question.

“Well, dear, unlike in the feel-good movies you watch—where  the grassroots efforts of the hard working, less powerful always triumph for a happy ending—in real-life Wisconsin big money can buy the minds of many so the good guys cannot win. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Diane Ravitch: It's Time for a Change in Wisconsin

Diane Ravitch, Education Historian
Our nation’s premier education historian, Diane Ravitch, graciously agreed to the posting of her latest essay on my blog. Ravitch is author of the best-selling book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (Basic Books).

If you are concerned about the future of public education in Wisconsin, vote to recall Governor Scott Walker. Since his election in 2010, he has proven himself to be a steadfast enemy of the public schools.

In the world according to Governor Walker, the best way to reform public education is to demoralize its teachers, attack the teachers’ union and hand over more taxpayer dollars to privately managed charters and voucher schools.

He is wrong on every count. In his role as governor, he has a constitutional duty to preserve, protect and strengthen the state’s democratic institutions. He has violated that trust by his ongoing efforts to undermine public education, which is a cornerstone of our democracy.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Teachers Cannot Be Bystanders to Walker’s Bullying

Anti-bullying Efforts
I have had my share of regretful experiences in my life. One of my high school era regrets was an incident where I stood as a petrified bystander while a bully punched my unsuspecting, younger brother in the head from behind. My guilt still festers deep inside.

Over a year ago, Governor Walker and his Republican/Tea/Libertarian Party cronies coldcocked unsuspecting Wisconsin teachers and public workers from behind with his union-busting initiatives. This blow to the heads, hearts, and pocketbooks of tens of thousands of public servants admittedly knocked us to the grass. From the grassroots, however, a million of us have pulled ourselves up to stand against Walker’s divisive ways and petition for his recall.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Teaching World Used to Be Sacred, Like Coaching

My writing rate dropped off this past week with the kickoff of my kids’ soccer seasons and my seasonal return to the coaching world .

Coaching now trumps writing as the single most therapeutic experience of my week. The anti-public educatorism brought to Wisconsin by outside money and outside forces (like the Koch Brothers, ALEC, and MacIver Institute) and subsequently adopted and implemented by Governor Scott Walker have caused terminal damage to my daytime profession as an educator. In the evenings and on weekends, coaching provides relief from Walker’s dichotomous creation in Wisconsin.

In recent years, my coaching has centered on my kids’ activities. However, I have been at the coaching game my entire adult life. In fact, I was a coach before I was a teacher. Under the wing of one of my former coaches, I started coaching as a college student. Of course, I then had no idea my coaching experience would be the blueprint for my pedagogy.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Thank You, Taxpayers, and You're Welcome

Professional educator Kevin Diece, from nearby Fort Atkinson, WI, steps in as guest blogger this week. The following posting is an adaptation of Diece’s Letter to the Editor published in April of 2011 in the Daily Jefferson County Union.

As a Tax Day tribute, thank you taxpayers for funding public education. Likewise, you’re welcome for the important and professional service provided our communities by professional educators across Wisconsin.
Sadly, the taxpayer-teacher symbiosis is muddied by conservative think tanks continually misleading many taxpayers to believe that professional teachers make too much.

The propaganda promoting this falsehood compares teacher salaries to those who do not have the same level of education attainment (degrees) that teachers do. My salary is approximately $55,000. To earn that salary, I have taught 13 years, obtained a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and 30 additional graduate credits. When comparing my salary to others, please take some time to research those professions/careers that have the equivalent degrees as I do.

Comprehensive research shows quite clearly that the pay of professional educators (and other public employee professionals) is not excessive. Some key findings from a study Comparing Public and Private Sector Compensation over 20 Years found:

·         Jobs in the public sector typically require more education than private sector positions. State and local employees are twice as likely to hold a college degree or higher as compared to private sector employees. Only 23 percent of private sector employees have completed college, as compared to about 48 percent in the public sector.
·         Wages and salaries of state and local employees are lower than those for private sector employees with comparable earnings determinants, such as education and work experience.  State workers typically earn 11 percent less and local workers 12 percent less.
·         During the last 15 years, the pay gap has grown: earnings for state and local workers have generally declined relative to comparable private sector employees.
·         Even after accounting for the value of retirement, health care, and other benefits, state and local employees still earn less than their private sector counterparts do. On average, total compensation is 6.8 percent lower for state employees and 7.4 percent lower for local employees than for comparable private sector employees.

Regardless of the pay discrepancy, teachers knew what they were getting into regarding compensation. We knew we would not get rich, but that we would be offered a benefit package that would offset our salary. Our Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS), considered a model pension system by financial experts, is a form of deferred compensation bargained for instead of taking salary increases. Teachers also have negotiated to pay less of a percentage of our insurance premiums as a tradeoff for lower salary increases.

Deceptively, Governor Walker likes to refer to our deferred compensation (benefits) as entitlements. This brings up a good segue into the reality of who pays whose salary. Last year alone, I paid for the salaries of the following local employees: the local hardwood floor guy, everyone at Sentry, Pick ‘n Save, Jimmy John’s, Subway, Ace Hardware, Fort Atkinson Park and Recreation Department, School District of Fort Atkinson, Madison Area Technical College, Blackhawk Fitness, Langer’s Trim and Style, Salamone’s, BP, Powers Tire and Auto Service, Daily Jefferson County Union, U.S. Cellular, and the list goes on and on. These are just a fraction of the local businesses/employees I support.

Looking across the state of Wisconsin, we could add Charter Communications, We Energies, Wells Fargo, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Brewers, and again the list goes on and on.

You see, we all "scratch each other’s backs." When I go to the grocery store and pay for my goods, I help pay the salaries of the employees that work there. With my family losing $7000 to $8,000 of disposable income this year due to Gov. Walker’s budget-repair bill, I am not spending that money at these local businesses. What do you suppose my cut in pay will eventually do to all of the employees that work at these local businesses?

So, for all of the taxpayers in my local community, I thank you for paying my salary. On the flipside, you’re welcome, since I pay your salary, too.

I encourage every taxpayer to keep an itemized list of how you spend your money in the next year. After doing this, set those numbers next to your tax bill and compare all of the numbers. I think you would be surprised how those numbers compare to what you pay for taxes in regards to the local school district portion. The money you spend on education seems like such a large amount simply because it is summarized as a one-dollar value on your property tax bill. If you spread that dollar amount out like your other expenses, it would not seem like so much. Perhaps the State of Wisconsin needs to list everything tax dollars pay for and the corresponding amount we pay for these services on our property tax bill.

As a final Tax Day thought, it is important to remind Wisconsin taxpayers that the attempts to link public educators and employees to the state’s budget problems is just a ruse. Do you remember when teachers and public employees crashed the stock market, wiped out half of our 401K’s, took trillions in TARP money, spilled oil in the Gulf of Mexico, gave themselves billions in bonuses, and paid no additional taxes?

Yeah, me neither. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Mildly Depressed Teacher's Perspective

On the 20th anniversary of my father’s death, my family had a remembrance weekend in his honor. That weekend, we did some important and healthy reflecting about the traumatic experience. The meaningful weekend validated how well our family had bonded through our shared suffering. However, what was most surprising was how our shared experience still resulted in such different perspectives about my dad’s death.

Sorting through a shared, painful experience can be complicated. Each person’s personality, past experiences, emotional state, educational background, sexuality, gender, life stage, philosophy, and much more plays into comprehending the communal experience.

Emotionally and politically charged experiences can make the sorting out all the more difficult.  This past year, all of Wisconsin has suffered through the passage and enactment of emotionally charged legislation designed to weaken the role of public workers and their unions in the state government, local governments, and public school districts. This Governor Walker-induced trauma has shattered the Wisconsin family. Numerous perspectives on this unexpected experience mire our state.
Even my hometown of Janesville, built largely on union-fought-for wages, has been sucked into the GOP-generated muck. Last week, an authoritative figure sent me a charged criticism of my  blog posting on the anti-public educatorism pamphlets, which are still being distributed around Rock County under the cover of darkness. The local leader took issue with purported effusiveness in my blog. The detractor also equated my recent posting to that of the bigoted pamphlet attacking public education. Moreover, the critic called on me to “practice a better ‘tone’” and balance my writings with accounts of unfair “hate speech directed at our governor and others.”
I have thanked my local critic and appreciate his expressiveness. His unique voice matters in this complicated public education conversation. My criticizer and I also share common ground in the vitriol we have personally experienced in the past year. However, his perspective on the offensive pamphlet and the shared, painful experience of Gov. Walker’s initiatives is vastly different from my own.

My critic’s advice would be sound advice for someone with the emotional psyche of Spock. However, I am no Vulcan man. I am a Teacher Man—complete with flaws, emotions, a critical mind, and a teacher’s perspective. Indeed, One Teacher’s Perspective is a reflection of my voice. Writing without voice is like living without a soul. A teacher’s perspective without candid sentiments and sincere thoughts would come across as disingenuous (like Gov. Walker’s  State of the State Address).

For review, I created One Teacher’s Perspective to provide another public school educator’s voice in a political climate increasingly pushing educators aside. In Wisconsin, it is ever more feeling like Thanksgiving dinner with the current power players segregating the professional educators to the kids’ table. Consequently, this blog has morphed into a push back to the politicalpreneurs and entrepreneurs trying to ransack public education in Wisconsin.

If my tone comes across as offensive, it is because public school teachers, like me, are rightfully offended. We are reminded increasingly and almost daily of the declining worth of public educators. We see how this adversely affects teacher morale. We are offended that the GOP’s reckless state legislation is sending our most experienced educators running for the retirement hills and driving promising young people from the teaching profession. Most of us are offended that too many local officials provided no support for local teachers and their unions in the wake of Gov. Walker legislation, yet paradoxically demanded union concessions as the local budget crumbled under Gov. Walker’s initiatives.

The millions of out-of-state dollars funding Gov. Walker’s ads that are full of mendacities offend us. We are disappointed by government leaders who ignore public workers as their constituents, important contributors to local economies, taxpayers, and valued public servants. We find it discriminatory that only public workers are forced to remedy the state’s financial troubles, while the reckless and wealthy investors responsible for our recent recession contribute nothing to filling the state budget deficit.

Furthermore, public educators are offended by Governor Walker’s gratuitous educational reforms that up the ante for public educator and school accountability, while Walker hypocritically slashes education funding and shields his favored public-subsidized private and charter schools from the same accountability measures. We are irritated by the relentless promotion of unproven public education initiatives, like merit pay and standardized testing.
Latest anti-educator pamphlet 
Public school teachers rightfully feel threatened by free-market school reformers (and known supporters of Walker) who seek to tear down the reputation of public education with clandestine plans, like "Operation Angry Badger," that "document the shortcomings of public schools in education."  Toss into this mix some anonymously distributed anti-public education flyers with bigoted and red scare messaging and the teachers’ tirade is more than understandable.

It is apparent a teacher’s perspective does not matter much in Walker’s Wisconsin. I do not run with the powerful politicalpreneurs and the entrepreneurs running public education (into the ground). I do not have the financial, business, and the GOP credentials to influence the governor and his GOP operatives. My little teacher blog certainly cannot counteract the barrage of the “It's Working” myth spewed out by the Walker propaganda machine.

Regardless, One Teacher’s Perspective is an attempt at right over might. I was comforted last spring after reading a psychology article with research showing how mildly depressed people generally have the most accurate view of the future for “they see the world as it is.” This blog is admittedly the perspective of a mildly depressed teacher. It is the public educator’s world as it is. Walker’s self-proclaimed “courageous” fantasy is a public school teacher’s nightmare. One Teacher’s Perspective serves as a reality check for those mesmerized by Walker’s fantasy.

While my perspective may sting some, formal and informal feedback indicates that most my readers have similar perspectives on the shared, painful experience under Walker’s reign. Like my family’s sharing following my father’s death, the victims of Walker’s initiatives have bonded together. The sorting out is important and therapeutic. Thus, I will continue to write for what is right.

Monday, April 2, 2012

From MLK's Playbook: Stand Against Anti-Public Educatorism

Pulled from the playbook of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and in the spirit of Joe McCarthy, some anonymous bigots disseminated an anti-public education propaganda pamphlet throughout Janesville, Wisconsin a week ago.

This fanatical flyer is layered with hatemongering. According to the pernicious pamphleteers, Rock County public educators are responsible for the “sexualization of minor children, anti-morality and anti-God messaging, false indoctrination, stripping of parents’ rights, and holding children hostage.”   

In addition, the discriminatory document is laced with overtly anti-gay and anti-union messages as well as covertly anti-women messages.  In true KKK-fashion, the flyer’s authors did not sign their names and have not shown their faces. Thankfully, this klan did not burn a cross, but the klueless krew dishonestly and unjustly associated the flyer with local private and Christian schools.

This anti-public education flyer, titled Indoctrination versus Education, also conjures up our state’s most embarrassing history—when Wisconsin’s Republican Senator Joe McCarthy led the national witch-hunt for American communists during the Second Red Scare. A half a century ago, Wisconsinites thought their national disgrace died with McCarthy, but some 21st century "patriots" have apparently summoned the ghost of the paranoid GOPer. In true red-scare fashion, the paranoid patriots cry out to Rock County taxpayers to “Stop the Marxist/Globalist Agenda in Wisconsin’s Schools.” The anticommunist flyer comes complete with a McCarthy-like, “enemies-from-within” blacklist of 29 entitled and traitorous public school administrators and educators—who allegedly bilk local taxpayers with their salaries and benefits.
None of this anti-public educatorism comes as a surprise to me. A review of history shows social and economic unrest often fosters the climate for scapegoating. Cognitive dissonance kicks in for the conflicted. America’s larger socioeconomic ills, the recent free-market induced recession, and the local GM plant closing have sent the paranoid patriots in search of a fall guy for their troubles. With overt racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism off the table—public school educators are apparently the acceptable target of the freaked-out pamphleteers’ vitriol.

Public educators are unapologetically a unique breed of professionals. Our collaborative mindedness, support for our unions, and disinterest in unproven, competitive business measures  contrast with the MBA-thinkers of the private sector. Further conflicting, public educators sometimes openly clash with politicalprenuers in shielding students from the volatility of free-market forces.  Unfortunately, like other scapegoats in history, nonconformist ways make public school teachers promising prey for those hunting for fall guys and gals.

Just this past week, Diane Ravitch brilliantly outlined the national history that has stirred up the state of discrimination crippling public education. Mix in Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s dichotomous creation and Rock County’s intolerant subculture and you have the perfect recipe for anti-public educatorism in our community.
Consider how just two decades ago, a KKK rally took place in Janesville. Remember just half a decade ago, attempts were made to shut down the Gay-Straight Alliance’s annual Day of Silence at the local high schools. Recognize that just three years ago, President Obama’s Back-to-School speech led to  “veiled threats”  in our local school district by more unidentified dissenters. Thankfully, most of Janesville rejects this discriminatory subculture, but one only needs to read the Janesville Gazette’s anonymous “sound off” or check out its readers’ online comments below any public education-related article to see the hatemongering simmering beneath.

Some of this recent public school hatemongering could easily be cooled by Gov. Walker. I have called on his office to do so, but have not yet heard back. Certainly, our Governor does not want his office or Wisconsin associated with the bigotry promoted by the anti-public education pamphleteers. However, the paradox is that the anti-public education McCarthyites clearly stand with Walker. They seemingly feel comfortable associating themselves with the Governor. Almost the entire third page of the pamphlet is a promotion of Walker’s ways. It is only right for the Governor to publicly disassociate with the paranoid patriots responsible for this filthy flyer.

The proper playbook for responding to discrimination has already been written by Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) and other activists from the civil rights era. Silent disapproval might stall a conflict, but it does not resolve it. MLK appropriately said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”  Left a void, bigots will fill it. Public education friends must leave no void for the words and actions of anti-public education bigots. Silence in the face of bigotry will surely make public educators this season's sacrificial lamb. 

As a parting thought, I am reminded how Janesville’s 1992 troubles with the KKK were transformed into great things by the thousands who stood against the bigots of the day.  Local civil rights activists, including my sister-in-law, formed a Human Rights Task Force and subsequently a counter demonstration was organized that dwarfed the KKK rally.

The racial tensions ignited by the bigots led to Beloit and Janesville school districts collaborating on tolerance initiatives. Most impressively, city leaders led a fund drive that resulted in over 2,500 donors contributing to the building of a state-of-the-art playground on the very location of the 1992 KKK rally. The anti-racist park is appropriately and symbolically called Peace Park and one of Janesville’s treasures made possible by those who stood against bigotry.
The suffering ends when the resurrection begins. Let’s stand together against anti-public educationism. Let's resurrect something beautiful in its place. Let's build well-funded, quality public school systems treasured by all who stand against bigotry.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Corporations, Governments, Public Schools, Unions are People

With the Republican/Tea Party presidential campaigns pandering to conservatives in Wisconsin this week, it is a tough time to try to shake loose from the entanglements of Governor Scott Walker’s dichotomous design. Nonetheless, the beautiful spring weather continues to soften my soul. Light and dark converge, once again, landing me in the twilight zone.

To the chagrin of my progressive friends—who continue to dog the dark-side’s presidential frontrunner for his most famous campaign comment--I concur with Mitt Romney’s remark that “corporations are people.”  However, as another Steve logically explains, if corporations are people, then “governments are people, too.” In the same vein, public schools are people, too.

When you put a face to them, hating corporations is hard.  While the dodging of taxes by many corporations has a dark-side quality, these organizations are comprised often of our neighbors, friends, and relatives. 

Recently, a good friend of mine’s workplace was occupied. While I support the Occupy movement’s exposure of the growing income inequality in America, my relationship with my friend personalized this occupy incident. Associating my friend’s corporation with the dark side is tough, when I am forced to think of her wonderful qualities. Like most my friends, she is an all-around great person, charitable, social-minded, and progressive. The corporation for which she works is notably large and powerful; however, her progressive-minded presence and interconnectedness with other like-minded workers at her workplace makes this corporation less scary to those of us on the outside.

While the previous two paragraphs might sound like I am prepping for a Romney rally this week, I would surely be hauled off by the Republican/Tea Party supporters if I applied this same organizations-are-people logic to governments, public schools, and public workers unions.

For those of us who have spent our lives in schools, we understand public schools are people. We embrace public schools as Professional Learning Communities of developing learners, sincere social workers, compassionate counselors, caring parents, dedicated professional educators, invaluable support staff, and well-meaning administrators.

Public schools are social constructs as aptly described by my local superintendent. "We aren't a factory model where we're dealing with things…We're not only dealing with people, but also people's most precious commodity—their children,” said Dr. Karen Schulte, in the face of a potential school closing made possible by a Walker-worsened school budget deficit.

The public educators sanctioned to guard these precious little people are your neighbors, friends, and relatives. Wisconsin public educators are willing members of vital teachers unions. These unions are people, too.

The Republican/Tea Party friends politicking in Wisconsin this week will continue to espouse the Walker myth of unions as scary institutions controlled by heartless bosses. Sadly, they will ignore that the public supports public workers and their right to collectively bargain. Wisconsin parents know that teachers unions are comprised of dedicated educators, like recently-recognized Hall of Fame teacher, Deb Tackmann from Eau Claire,  who deeply care for their children. Public school supporters know education is personal.

For Wisconsin to truly move forward, we must recognize the humanity of corporations, governments, public schools, and unions. We cannot build a state by dividing it. We must see the interconnectedness of all organizations and the people who make up these establishments (as a fellow educator fittingly explains). 

Our capitalist system must have a soul. We must value public schools and their educators, who nurture and develop job creators and the people who will service the job creator’s creations. We must not balance state budgets solely on the backs of public workers, which is proven to hurt us all.  We must also recognize the value of the corporations where our friends, relatives, and neighbors work.

Corporations, governments, public schools, unions are people. We, the People, in order to form a more perfect union, must embrace this egalitarian worldview.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Collective Bargaining is Vital to Public Education

Before February 11, 2011, I rarely discussed with my Wisconsin non-union friends and neighbors the merits or demerits of union rights. However, as noted in last week’s post, Governor Walker’s dichotomous creation leaves no room, short of his recall, for safeguarding public educators’ union rights. Securing the recall of defective governorship in Wisconsin requires public educators to garner support for their unions from non-union workers.

Admittedly, defending teachers’ collective bargaining rights is a challenge when the vast majority of private sector workers are currently not union members. I do not claim to know what is best for non-union laborers in their own lines of work. However, I unapologetically believe that protecting teacher union rights is vital to the long-term future of quality public education.

A year ago, I made this very point to my local school board members in urging local opposition to Walker’s union-busting repair bill. In response, one commissioner wrote,

We are going to have to agree to disagree on your statement – “...protecting teacher union rights is vital to the long-term future of quality public education.” I understand your fears of losing that document that makes you feel safe. What I don't understand is how that document is vital to a good education. We have excellent teachers in this district that would do a great job teaching and molding our children whether those teachers have a union contract or not.

This commissioner raises the essential question in the call to recall Walker and his union-busting supporters. Public educators must help Wisconsinites understand why our unions are vital to quality public education. We must teach.

Essential Question: How is the protection of union rights vital to the long-term future of quality public education?

Historical Background:

Walker’s pitch to demolish collective bargaining smacks of radical regressivism rather than moving Wisconsin forward, as he contends.

A study of history reveals that the development of teachers unions in Wisconsin gave rise to professionalism in education and, consequently, improved the quality of public schools. Before union growth, sexism was rampant in public schools, pay inequity was common for female and elementary teachers, health insurance for most educators was non-existent or inadequate, and many Wisconsin teachers qualified for food stamps (see WEAC history). Teachers unions fought against these injustices to improve the work conditions and the standard of living of professional educators. The growth of teacher professionalism, made possible by educators unions, empowered Wisconsin’s teachers to greatly improve Wisconsin’s schools.

The aforementioned board commissioner’s recognition that our school district has excellent teachers, in the least, is acknowledgement that unionization does not impede teacher development. More optimistically, the professional development of educators, made possible by unions, gave rise to excellent educators enfranchised by collective bargaining through the decades. 

The commissioner might be correct that excellent teachers can keep the public education boat afloat for some time after collective bargaining, but the eroding of teacher morale and the Walker- induced mass exodus of our most experienced educators shows the detrimental, if not terminal effects of teacher disenfranchisement.   

Educators Unions Provide Constancy

Like a revolving door, students, parents, administrators, superintendents, board members, venture philanthropists, and venture politicians gyrate through our public school systems. Often, each layer and new generation capriciously propose new and old unproven ideas for achieving their latest ideals.

In the private sector world, board members are usually paid and united behind a common mission to improve profits. In contrast, the complicated world of public education has unpaid board members with varying loyalties and sometimes personal and political agendas that trump the mission of public education. School boards, also quite often attract well-meaning individuals not schooled in public school matters and business leaders who hope to inject their business worldview into our uniquely educational world.

Most often, it is professional educators, aided by their unions, who keep the merry-go-round of school reforms and leadership from careening the entire public school system out of control or into the control of entrepreneurs and politicalprenuers of many sorts. It is professional educators and their unions that provide steadiness, perspective, and common mission to an otherwise erratic organization that sees a constant turnover of board members, superintendents, administrators, parents, and students.

Our students need stability. Teachers and their unions deliver this.

Unions Protect the Professional Educator’s Voice:

Shamelessly, I contend the educator’s perspective is the most important in the complicated conversation of public education. Most parents and certainly politicians cannot match the experience and expertise of professional educators in managing the learning and development of students.

Unions protect the voice of the experts. Governor Walker likes to distort this point and fabricate that teachers unions provide unreasonable protections (even to the exploitation of a promising teacher). “[Teacher tenure] is not the same in K-12 education, even though critics confuse the public by saying so,” historian Diane Ravitch recently wrote. “Teachers in K-12 schools do not have a lifetime guarantee; what they have is a guarantee of due process if someone wants to fire them. The right to a hearing, the right to be presented with evidence against them.”

These union-fought-for protections allow for dissenting teachers’ perspectives to be spoken, written, aired, or published. This is what democracy looks like. Without union protections, many teachers’ valuable perspectives will be silenced. Without collective bargaining, public schools and its students will lose again in Walker’s Wisconsin.   

We must keep making our case: Protecting teacher union rights is vital to the long-term future of quality public education.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Public Education is What Democracy Should Look Like in Wisconsin

Wisconsin would benefit from Governor Scott Walker taking some walks in nature, doing a little soul searching, and engaging in some intense study of public schools as a model for democracy.

As I enjoy the twilight of this premature spring day, nature reminds me of the beauty between opposite worlds. Between the cold winter and hot summer, we relish spring’s warm beauty. Between the brightness of the day and the darkness of night, we find rest in the calmness of twilight.

Sadly, I find no twilight in Walker’s Wisconsin. You either stand with Walker or stand against Walker. The folksy feel of Wisconsin has been abruptly ripped apart by Walker’s culture of competition. Regrettably, Walker and his devote followers have pitted collective bargaining rights v. taxpayer rights, public service v. private enterprise, conservationists v. big business, charter/private schools v. public schools, and Republicans v. Democrats. Polls confirm it is Wisconsinite v. Wisconsinite under Walker management. Wisconsin is a house divided. This is Walker’s dichotomous creation. There is no beauty in this creation.

Disheartening, I too have been snared by Walker’s trap. This past year my world has become teacher Strieker v. preacher Walker. I was reared Catholic, but rarely tapped into the apocalyptic good-versus-evil theme sometimes taught by the preacher men. More appealing was the Catholic refrain of social justice nurtured at home by my parents. “He has a deep concern for the poor and hungry,” my dad wrote of my seven-year-old attitude, shortly before his death. “We must have three mission banks at home that he’s trying to fill up.” From a young age, I soaked up the social justice message ultimately sealed into my soul.

It is hard to understand what lies in Walker’s soul when he says one thing and does another. However, I suspect that Walker, as the son of a preacher man, was fed plenty of good-versus-evil doctrine growing up. We see evidence of his binary worldview in his recent sermon to the CPAC congregation, “Lord help us if we lose. If we lose, I believe it will set acts of courage in politics back at least a decade if not a generation.”

For his own sanity, the self-righteous Walker must see himself as a courageous savior (a resurrected Ronald Reagan, he might say) destined to bring down the evil educators’ unions, which props up the wicked Democratic Party, which promotes malevolent, liberal ways. How else could he justify alienating over a million of his constituents?  Walker sees it as his destiny to bring in an age of right-wing righteousness.

In Walker’s mind, if you elected him and still stand with him—you are part of the elect. The rest of us—the hundreds of thousands of public educators and servants, like me—wear a scarlet letter in Walker’s Wisconsin. We are not part of the elect. In his words, we are the entitled. In essence, we have no worth unless we acquiesce to his worldview. It is a binary world.  It is good v. evil. There is no middle ground in Walker’s Wisconsin

Of course, teacher Strieker does not accept preacher Walker’s Wisconsin view. I am a flawed man, but I am a man. I have worth in Wisconsin. I stand for public education. I stand with tens of thousands of levelheaded educators—who temper the erraticism heaped on our profession by politicians. I stand with those who shield our students’ education from free-market forces and bring continuity to our schools and student’s lives. I stand for professional educators being empowered to evaluate and implement essential reforms. I stand for quality funding for all of Wisconsin’s public schools. I stand with our unions that promote democracy and the professional educator’s voice being heard in the public school discussion.

Walker could learn a lot about better managing Wisconsin’s democracy from public schools. It is always twilight in public education. Opposing worlds successfully converge in public education on a daily basis. Rich and poor, black and white, first-generation immigrants and sixth-generation immigrants, Christians and atheists, conservatives and liberals, English speaking and Spanish speaking, urbanites and suburbanites, and many more diverse groups come together in the public education setting every single school day.

Public schools are a reflection of a democratic society. Public educators do not have Gov. Walker’s luxury to dismiss those who are different. In contrast, public educators embrace the challenge of bringing all together in working relationships.

Public schools are America’s best attempt at meeting our American ideals of equality and social justice. Public education gives voice to all. Making this convergence of often opposite worlds work in public schools is, sincerely, a thing of beauty. This is what democracy is supposed to look like in Wisconsin.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Public Challenge to Privatizing Schools

This week’s guest perspective comes from Bill Conway—Wisconsin’s 2009-2010 PTA Teacher of the Year. Conway is a veteran social studies teacher at Parker High School in Janesville, WI.

I read recently, with great concern, a Janesville Gazette article about a private organization from Florida offering to keep two rural Wisconsin elementary schools open at a fraction of the current operating costs.

It sent chills down my spine to read how this private organization came to a school board meeting with a plan that only required a vote to move public education to the private sector. With one simple argument—cutting the costs per student from $11,000 per student to $7,000—all other debates seemed lost.

Never mind the fact that the new schools would no longer be compelled to accept  and fully service students with disabilities, second language issues, or special needs. Never mind that charter schools can hire non-certified teachers and pay them what they want. Never mind that these publicly-funded, privately-run schools would be exempt from standardized testing and other levels of accountabilityNever mind that they would not be subject to the wishes, needs, and votes of the community. Cheaper is cheaper.

As teachers, board members, concerned parents, and community members—we should be concerned with this move toward the privatization of education in our state. With a move to the privatization direction, we all stand to lose our voice in the "education conversation" in our communities.

This push toward privatization of education is an orchestrated plan. The first step of this scheme has been to systematically attack the integrity and successes of the current system. Apparently, to get ahead, the free-market school reformers must first tear down the reputation of  public education with covert marketing plans, like "Operation Angry Badger," that seek to "document the shortcomings of public schools in education." I want to challenge all to challenge what has become accepted spin.

When you hear someone say public education is broken, CHALLENGE that. Education is not perfect and not without room for change, but it is definitely not broken.  

When you read about our broken system and over-paid employees, CHALLENGE that. Our salaries are public knowledge and our successes are celebrated. We have graduates from our systems attending the finest universities in the world. We have graduates from our public schools serving our country in some of the highest positions in the land. We have graduates that have gone on to professional sports, stage and screen, and some that have devoted themselves to a lifetime of service to their communities.

When you hear comparisons to past budgets that were smaller, CHALLENGE that. Today's schools are not the institutions they were in the seventies. We now serve a larger community with greater needs. We serve students with disabilities, students at risk, students with different languages, and students with poverty issues to a much greater degree than ever in the past.

When you hear complaints about our out-of -control kids and system, CHALLENGE that. Those of us who spend our working day in schools know that the vast majority of students, at any given time and in any given classroom, are actively engaged and learning. Television and movie classrooms are not reality.

The move toward privatization of our schools is driven by money. Almost all charter school programs could be run within the existing public school system. The channeling of public money away from public education to support the private education industry is wrong for Wisconsin’s students.

CHALLENGE  those who promote otherwise.