Thursday, January 21, 2016

Teachers and the President: Love Meets Indifference and Condescension

Yesterday, I was sent a photo by an engraged teacher from the state of Michigan who I have been communicating with regularly for the last few years It showed a picture of President Obama with a huge smile on his face in a Detroit pizza shop preparing to visit the auto show in that city. it was dated January 20, 2016.
To my teacher friend, a picture of a smiling President visiting a city where there was an ongoing sick out of teachers protesting intolerable conditions in the schools they work in was like a huge slap in the face. Did the President care that thousands of teachers were putting their jobs on line to fight for decent conditions for their students? Did he have anything to say about the desperate conditions in Detroit schools? What kind of President visits a city in crisis and not only refuses to acknowlege that such a crisis exists, but has a huge smile on his face amidst the turmoil?
The sad thing about this is that this is exactly the behavior that my friend would have expected from George W Bush. It was the behavior he displayed during Hurricane Katrina. But from Barack Obama, who was swept into the White House with teacher votes in 2008? This came off as a complete betrayal
Yet unfortunately, it is part of a pattern
Did President Obama say a word during the great Chicago Teachers Strike of 2014? Did he come to the defense of teachers who lost their collective bargaining rights in the state of Wisconsin a few years earlier? Has he ever said or done anything to let the nation's public school teachers know he appreciates their efforts, or encouraged them to play a major role in shaping education policy?
If the answer to these questions is "No" there must be a reason. Why, given the overwhelming support he has gotten from the nation's public school teachers at the polls, and the love many feel for him as a leader, a husband and a father, has he supported policies which weaken the nation's public schools and refused to reach out to teachers as a positive force in the nation's political life and the bulwark of its middle class?
While the President has never spoken to directly to these issues, we may have enough information from the President's close friend, Arne Duncan, to get some clue to his underlying attitutdes
What Arne Duncan said, over and over again, in his official position of Secretary of Education is that the nation's public schools teachers were not up to the challenge of preparing children for global economic competition because they were weak students from lower level colleges who entered the profession by default. Not only did hey not deserve respect, they had to be REPLACED if the nation is going to progress.
This contemptous view of public schools teachers has guided every single education policy of this administration, from test based teacher accountability, to support for charter schools, to efforts to revamp teacher education. Basically, this administration doesn't want to support public school teachers in cities like Detroit in Chicago, it wants to get rid of them! If you think I am exagerrating, just remember what Secretary Duncan said about New Orleans- that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to education in that city because it allowed city officals to fire so many teachers and start over again
Now it is true that it was Secretary Duncan who said that, not President Obama, but whose policies was the Secretary carrying out? At the very least, the President is responsible for the Secretary's statements by default. At the worst, he might share the contemptous attitude toward teachers they embody