Thursday, January 26, 2012

Governor Walker, It's Personal

Last night, I did my social studies duty and suffered through Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s State of the State Address. I agonized through Gov. Walker’s disingenuous thanks to public school teachers, his reiteration of his largely gratuitous education reforms, his excitement over eliminating the state deficit solely on the backs of teachers and public employees, and his self-promotion in ending collective bargaining for public employees.

Gov. Walker’s address chiefly pandered to his conservative colleagues and the Wisconsin business community. However, he did have some parting advice for angry Wisconsinites, like me. Gov. Walker’s final thought:  “Don’t personalize your differences.”  

Instantly, Gov. Walker’s concluding message reminded me of the often-repeated Godfather line, “It's not personal Sonny, it's strictly business.” Similarly, Gov. Walker might view this past year as strictly business from his distant perch, but for those of us directly affected by his radical initiatives—it’s not business, it’s justifiably personal. 

Public education is personal. Schools involve people—not products. Gov. Walker may be able to emotionally detach himself from the educational funding policies he implements, but I take Gov. Walker’s political agenda personally when I see my students (and my own children) going without important services and programs thanks to his radical shift in the public school aid formula.

It is understandably personal when Gov. Walker’s initiatives directly harm my family. The adverse effects of Gov. Walker’s cuts to education hurt my children—now serviced in factory-like class sizes. My wife and I (both educators) now have to manage more with less and for less in our classrooms. Additionally, the unexpected tens of thousands of dollars my wife and I will pay out over the course of our professional careers as part of Gov. Walker’s initiatives is a real hardship on our middle-class family budget—especially on the heels of funding our own professional development (graduate work).

Discrimination feels personal—especially when Gov. Walker talks of “shared sacrifice,” but targets only teachers and public servants to fill the state deficit. Gov. Walker is well aware that the state budget deficit was the direct result of a recession created by unregulated investors--who recklessly spurred and crashed a housing bubble. I take it personally when these same investors get out of paying one extra penny while hard-working, middle class public workers foot the bill for their mistakes. Equally egregious, Gov. Walker gushed in his speech about a $100 savings in property taxes for some Wisconsinites, yet he insensitively ignores the thousands of dollars individual teachers and public servants sacrificed to make this happen.

I am personally offended when Gov. Walker fawns over the ideas business leaders have for running our state, but then hypocritically ignores the insights and experience of educational leaders. It is personal when I see non-educators, like Gov. Walker and his bureaucrats, implementing unproven business measures—like merit pay, data-driven education, and competitioninto our collaboratively designed profession. I take it personally when my union rights--that have provide steadiness, perspective, and common mission to public education—are stripped for political purposes.  

Education is an intricate, intimate, and people-driven profession. Business-minded politicians, like Gov. Walker, must learn that public education is much more personal, complex, democratic, and multifarious than most business environments. A diversity of educators, taxpayers, parents, and students all have a voice in this complicated conversation.

This teacher’s final thought:  “Education is not a business Gov. Walker, it’s personal. To sincerely move Wisconsin’s schools forward—let’s use more personal touch.” 


  1. Well written, Steve. I have been thinking over the same concept of business/personal, though my inspiration comes from "You've Got Mail"-- which of course mentions "The Godfather." It is personal. And it is going to get more personal.

  2. How I wish that AFSCME would launch a public awareness campaign of what many frontline public workers actually do. Our story: My husband cared for residents at Southern Center when he first began a state service career over 28 years ago. These developmentally disabled Wisconsin citizens were cared for and given human dignity. I personally toured some of the more intensive units, I do not think most people even realize that someone has to care for people who are born severely developmentally disabled. I will never forget the set of conjoined twins that lay on the bed with very little awareness of what goes on around them. Someone cared for them and those people were public employees. I cannot see Scott Walker ever lifting a finger to physically care for anyone. My husband now works for the Dept of Corrections. He has never had anyone take him up on the offer to apply to work there. Perhaps some of these conservative supporters should offer to house an inmate one week, take care of the disabled the next and grade teacher's papers on the weekend. Moreover, I feel that the end result of this conservative rant will be the destruction of justice, law and order for citizens and put in place a structure that is sold to the highest bidder with the most power.

  3. My husband and I (both teachers) couldn't agree more. We took the hit for a crisis we didn't create and were simultaneously blamed for the very education problems we entered the field to solve. To have the man behind these actions attempt to appear "pro-education" after the damage he's done to our family and our classrooms is an outrage. And we can't help but take it very personally.

  4. Well written bro.

    As an accountant who deals with finances, I see the folly of Walker's budget inititatives. A budget is setting spending parameters, it is not actual financial results and does not factor in long-term consequences and future costs.

    It's clear that Walker is carrying out a political vendetta. In the process he is diminishing public education in Wisconsin, once an asset/strength for the state that would bring business to the state for the educated workforce, builds well-equipped citizenry (future taxpayers)...well, I don't need to tell teachers about the positives gained.

    There is no budgetary way to measure the costs of Walker's damage.

    leve, it was a privilege to read your testimonial. A bit of a tangent from this blog but worthwhile. The public workers' voice gets lost in the shuffle during this all. In trying to get a footing against the Walker propaganda machine, it often is just easier to focus on what is happening to education. As you point out, the costs of Walker's vendetta run much deeper. Best wishes, and thanks to you and your husband.

  5. Well written.

    ask this of the GOP -quality workers can pick or choose who they work for-who will work for a company, bring in their family to cities where schools and locals services are gutted?

  6. Jumping from The Godfather to You've Got Mail: Meg Ryan's character admonishes Tom Hanks. "What does that mean - 'it's business; it's not personal'? It only means it's not personal to YOU, but it is personal to me." I agree, Steve. This is very, very personal! Thanks for sharing.

  7. We will continue to serve the needs of our learners as Walker places the blame on the backs of teachers, public workers and the middle class. This is absolutely personal which is the real heart of our business! Steve thanks for posting and thanks for your leadership!

  8. Steve, I was a classmate of Ken's at QND and my dad is Doc Preston. He sent me the link to your blog this morning and I loved it. I, too, was a social studies teacher for fifteen years but I now work for the IL Education Association. I was sent to WI last year to show IL support for WI educators just as Gov. Walker pushed through his "reforms". I have no idea how anyone can look at what has happened in your state over the last year and claim it is not personal--except, of course, the dictator who takes nothing (except his own bank account) personally. Keep the faith and thanks for all you and your wife do for the students of Wisconsin.

    1. Sloan,

      Nice to hear from you. Your mom and dad are two of my favorite people from my days in Quincy and QND.

      Thanks for your interest and involvement in our worthwhile cause to save public education from radical political agendas.