Sunday, February 19, 2012

'Tis a Shame, the Mastication of Education

In his 2006 memoir Teacher Man, the late, great Frank McCourt tersely wrote, “Teaching is the downstairs maid of professions.”

Just six years later, McCourt’s proposition is already in need of a rewrite. In Walker’s Wisconsin, teaching has been relegated from professional status to political fodder. I fear what will be excreted when the free-market reformers are done masticating education.
Professional distrust reigns in the wake of Gov. Walker’s union-busting legislation created without consideration of professional educators’ input. Too many state and local business-focused politicians and their supporters have promoted unjust resentment for teachers, their unions, their compensation packages, their work conditions, and their professional standing.

Just this past week, the leaked documents related to “Operation Angry Badger” show how this mastication of public education is deliberate, coordinated with groups outside Wisconsin, and aggressively funded. Understandably, many teachers fear what further awaits public educators in Gov. Walker’s Wisconsin.

Talented educators are prematurely retiring. Would-be educators are choosing new careers. Teacher morale is low. As a middle-aged educator recently joked, “Every year since college I wished I was younger--until this past year. Now I suddenly wish I was older.” Certainly, there is truth in this jest. Many of us are too young to retire and too old to start a new (more respected) profession.

Many midstream educators, like me, feel stuck in Walker’s muck. I have been trying to fight my way through this political sewage, but without much success. Last July (2011), one of Gov. Walker’s staffers, Alan Colvin, agreed to meet with me to hear my professional concerns related to Gov. Walker’s reckless education agenda. Despite my differences in opinion with Mr. Colvin on the direction of Gov. Walker's policies, he was a true professional and admittedly a positive representative of the Governor's office. As recommended by Mr. Colvin, I then e-mailed my professional concerns to Governor Walker’s chief education policy advisor, Kimber Liedl.  

What was intended to be a professional exchange about education policies was then reduced to political dribble by assistant education policy advisor, Michael Brickmanwho was ostensibly tasked out by Ms. Liedl to address my educational insights. Young Mike—a twenty-something with zero education experience—dived right into a debate on my concerns. I played along with Mikey for a bit and pointed out how Gov. Walker’s vision to “Recruit, Retain, and Reward Great Teachers” was failing miserably. Young Mike began patronizing me and positioned that Walker’s plan appeals to lots of educators who get into "education for the right reasons."

According to Mikey B, the tens of thousands of Wisconsin educators fighting to retain our professional voice are simply in education for the wrong reasons. I called Mikey out on this false implication and pointed out how divisive this approach is to public education and our state. Michael then insultingly looped me in with apparent protestors who have threatened Governor Walker (something I would never condone). As noted, the conversation was reduced to dribble.

Recognizing the poli sci graduate's diversionary tactics, I decided I would take this matter up with Brickman's supervisor. I had to ask Mike for his name three times before he provided his full name. I then made multiple calls and e-mails to Ms. Liedl (who I later discovered is purportedly also a career political staffer with no teaching experience) to address Mike’s inability to recognize my professional standing as a veteran educator. My repeated calls and e-mails were never answered.

This incident, along with all the rest of the angst from this past year, has left me wondering—is teaching a profession? Would, for instance, politicians like Gov. Walker employ advisors without professional business experience to advise on business legislation? Why is it acceptable to place non-educators, like Liedl and Brickman, in high-ranking education positions? We do not need a teacher to explain the answers to these questions. In Walker’s Wisconsin, education is not a profession. Education is impersonal politics. 

In my 16 years of teaching, I have, like many teachers, unknowingly evangelized and overtly advised dozens of promising students to join my noble profession. When I previously sized up prospective students for education careers, I evaluated their empathy, ethics, fortitude, leadership, maturity, interpersonal skills, and eagerness to learn before nudging them toward teaching.

With the current attack on public education, however, our next generation of professional educators will have to be seasoned young, impervious, and politically active. Otherwise, future educators will be doing more political initiatives in education, for less than professional pay, and with less professional liberties.

‘Tis a shame,” McCourt might add.

Follow up links:
Modified publishing of this blog post in the Washington Post, Answer Sheet.
Interview with WTDY in response to this blog posting.
Fine critique of this posting by P.L. Thomas of Furman University.

1 comment:

  1. I very much enjoyed this post. Thanks for the insight.