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.

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