Teach­ers, still fight­ing up hill

The Covington News - - OPINION -

Dear Pub­lic Teach­ers:

As you head back to the class­room for the new school year, I would like to tell you that things have changed for the bet­ter, but I would be fib­bing. Bud­gets will con­tinue to shrink, class­room sizes will in­crease, and the ig­no­ra­muses among us will still ex­pect you to close the door on so­ci­ety’s ills and mag­i­cally ed­u­cate the next gen­er­a­tion.

Don’t ex­pect any help from the Leg­is­la­ture. The At­lanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion’s Mau­reen Downey, a long-time ob­server of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, said re­cently, “The Ge­or­gia Leg­is­la­ture has all but aban­doned tra­di­tional pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, adopt­ing the car­toon­ish rhetoric of ‘govern­ment schools’ where lib­eral teach­ers in­doc­tri­nate chil­dren to union­ism, ve­gan di­ets and elec­tric cars. In de­bates in the Gen­eral Assem­bly, teach­ers are of­ten seen as ad­ver­saries and im­ped­i­ments rather than as­sets and re­sources.”

Leg­is­la­tors will say all the right things at home about how won­der­ful you are and how they sup­port you, and then go to At­lanta and con­tinue to treat pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion like an il­le­git­i­mate cousin at a fam­ily re­union.

The truth is you are grasshop­pers in an ele­phant fight. On one side is the turf-con­scious ed­u­ca­tion es­tab­lish­ment, de­fend­ing the sta­tus quo. The myr­iad ed­u­ca­tion as­so­ci­a­tions in the state

School don’t seem to be able to get their col­lec­tive acts to­gether. They are pa­per tigers to most leg­is­la­tors, and their mu­tual an­i­mos­ity fil­ters down to you.

Then there are those who think ed­u­ca­tion can be run like a busi­ness. Ab­surd. I was an of­fi­cer in one of one of the largest cor­po­ra­tions in Amer­ica. I know a lit­tle bit about how busi­ness works. The “school choice” crowd makes no al­lowance for the fact that you have to teach ev­ery­body — rich and poor, black and white, English-speak­ing or oth­er­wise. A busi­ness can choose its cus­tomers; you don’t have that lux­ury.

In pol­i­tics, money talks, and there is a new deep-pock­eted spe­cial in­ter­est group an­te­ing up to get in the game — Cal­i­for­nia-based Stu­dents First. In the most re­cent fil­ings with the State Ethics Com­mis­sion, this or­ga­ni­za­tion has do­nated $2,500 to the cam­paign cof­fers of House Speaker David Ral­ston (R.–Blue Ridge); $2,000 to Ma­jor­ity Leader Larry O’Neal (R.–Warner Robins); $2,500 to Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (R.– Al­pharetta) (Jones also has got­ten $1,500 from the Ge­or­gia As­so­ci­a­tion of Ed­u­ca­tors, so she has both sides of the ed­u­ca­tion fence cov­ered); and $1,500 to Mi­nor­ity Leader Stacey Abrams (D.–At­lanta).

In the Se­nate, Stu­dents First has given Lt. Gov. Casey Ca­gle’s cam­paign $2,500; Pres­i­dent Pro Tem David Shafer (R.–Du­luth) $2,500; Ma­jor­ity Leader Ron­nie Chance (R.–Ty­rone) $2,000; and Mi­nor­ity Leader Steve Hen­son (D.–Tucker) $1,500.

Th­ese are the power bro­kers in the Gen­eral Assem­bly, and the chances of them hav­ing op­po­si­tion in the next elec­tion are about as good as Kim Kar­dashian join­ing a con­vent. So why does a Cal­i­for­nia-based spe­cial in­ter­est group con­trib­ute to their cam­paigns?

Ob­vi­ously, Stu­dents First plans to in­flu­ence ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy in Ge­or­gia, and to do that it needs ac­cess to the de­ci­sion-mak­ers. Con­tri­bu­tions give it both in­flu­ence and ac­cess, nei­ther of which you will have in the de­bate even though you are the ones in the class­rooms. Nice.

There is an ef­fort un­der way in Ge­or­gia to level the play­ing field with th­ese out-of-state groups. Em­pow­erED, led by Toombs County teacher Matt Jones, is a coali­tion of Ge­or­gia par­ents, ed­u­ca­tors and con­cerned cit­i­zens with 4,500 mem­bers and grow­ing.

Among other things, Em­pow­erED plans to is­sue “re­port cards” on how leg­is­la­tors vote on ed­u­ca­tion is­sues so that when your elected of­fi­cials come home and tell you how hard they are work­ing for you, you will know if they are walk­ing the talk.

Em­pow­erED has an up­hill bat­tle, but I wish it well.

Now, let’s talk about you. De­spite the “fail­ing schools” mantra of the out-of-state spe­cial in­ter­est groups, you and I both know you per­form mir­a­cles in the class­room ev­ery day.

You are any­thing but a fail­ure. Ig­nore the yap­pers. You don’t have to apol­o­gize for squat to this bunch or any­body else.

A reader opined re­cently that, when I write about pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, I should in­form peo­ple that I have four teach­ers in my fam­ily. I as­sume he has been re­sid­ing on an­other planet. Why do you think I feel so strongly about what you do?

I see it first-hand. I am proud of my kids, and I am proud of you. You’ve made a dif­fer­ence in a lot of young lives. And you will again this year.

So, hold your head high, teach­ers. There are a lot of us who ap­pre­ci­ate you.

I’m one of them, and I’m not go­ing away.

You can reach Dick Yar­brough at yarb2400@ bell­south.net or P.O. Box 725373, At­lanta, Ge­or­gia 31139.

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