Monday, November 4, 2013

Chris Christie & Public Education -- Symptoms of a Problem

This link appeared in my Facebook newsfeed. 
Brave Teacher Speaks Out in SCATHING Letter After Chris Christie Berates Her!
Posted by: Howard Crane 

November 3, 2013
During a campaign stop at a Rutgers football rally on Saturday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was confronted by Mary Tomlinson, a public school teacher at Buena Regional Middle School, who showed up to ask the Governor one simple question: “Why are you portraying our schools as failure factories?” 
Apparently, Governor Christie was none too pleased with the question as he lashed out at the teacher, violently pointing his finger and yelling, “You people! Just do your job!” 

Christie cut more than $1 billion in state aid to schools in his first year in office. Last month he gave a speech to the Orthodox Union in Teaneck stating 
“I would be happy to take as many dollars as possible away from failure factories that send children on a non-stop route to prison and to failed dreams, if we could take that money and put it into a place where those families have hope.” 
Melissa Tomlinson merely wanted a rational and much deserved explanation to her question. Unfortunately, all she received was the typical immature bullying we find all too often among Conservatives. This teacher refused to back down though, writing a SCATHING letter to Christie [which you may read here].

Christie is tapping into a growing theme in politics, an atavistic revolt against free compulsory public education, which has been the foundation of progress all over the world for generations. Without going into the origins of this grassroots impulse, I am disturbed, if not disgusted by a move to take the most promising students from public schools to attend ostensibly "better" schools. Private secular schools (or where I live, places advertised as "Christian" schools), magnet schools, charter schools, home schooling... all of these alternatives to old-fashioned free public education are having a terrible, self-fulfilling, toxic feedback impact on teachers, administrators and students being left out in growing numbers. Not only do students remaining in public schools become more challenging to teach as a group, they have the added disadvantage of not having as many high-achieving peers to serve as better role models. The challenge to teachers is that they are expected to get better results, even as their most promising students -- those with involved, supportive families, often the ones with the most important values of hard work, appreciation for learning and typically the financial means -- those most likely to succeed are being selectively removed from their classrooms. 

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had 
a heated exchange with a teacher 
on the campaign trail this  weekend.
The teacher penned a note to him.
I'm all for a few good private schools. I know personally both faculty and students from some of the best private schools, both secular and religious, in places where I have lived. There is no question that private schools offer a better educational product than the public alternatives. One of our children was in an excellent private school for two years where we as a family and she as a student, were given a golden opportunity to "learn how to learn" when a learning disability (and no, that does NOT mean a lower level of intelligence) is part of the challenge.

But what I am observing now is a contamination and destruction of public education from many of the very people who claim to be most concerned about the education of their children. We live in a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society. America is history's most ambitious experiment in determining how and whether people from all over the world can live together peacefully and productively. But driven by a desire to shield their children from alien ideas and values, fearful that the next generation will be somehow less successful, less diligent, less accomplished than they, a growing number of parents with good intentions are closing ranks with others who share those fears, and removing their children from public classrooms. This is a serious loss, not only for those left behind and their teachers, but the students themselves who are being robbed of the interpersonal skills and strength of character needed to live an prosper in a multi-dimensional social matrix.

I hope Chris Christie is wrong in his political instincts. But I'm afraid he may be tapping into a not-too-subtle trend to vilify public schools generally and public school teachers and administrators specifically. Last year's ugly confrontation in Wisconsin was symptomatic of a large and growing antipathy toward public service generally and school teachers as a group. My memory is that teachers were a big part of those demonstrations. Those events were not as violent as the demonstrations that marked the political landscape of 1968 but they reflected a similar level of outrage against a core of the political class. I am personally aware of a vague paranoia regarding the new national Core Curriculum and more people than I like to admit are trying to cause it to fail rather than look for ways to make it work. There is a Facebook page dedicated to what they term "inappropriate core curriculum" values or lessons with over two and a half thousand members.

My children became adults years ago and have children of their own. Thus far the grandchildren old enough to be in school are in public schools. But I know and appreciate the misgivings their parents have about what they perceive as a deterioration of the public school system. They make decisions about where they will live based in large part on the reputation and feedback they receive about the schools their children will attend. In fact, when we relocated from downtown to suburbia, it was the availability of advanced teaching techniques in the public schools that was the deciding factor. But that is exactly the point. We were leaving the private school environment and moving to a place where public schools had a good reputation -- not to a place where our children would be removed from their peer group and sent to the sheltered environment of a private, magnet or charter school.

Take a look at this video. It's three years old. Forget what Christie says -- that's already well known. 

Pay attention instead to the response of the crowd when he does his bullying act on a teacher.  No, I said that wrong. It's not an act. This man is a bully. He's not pretending. 

Here is another video featuring Melissa Tomlinson as guest on the Ed Show.
She mentioned the crowd's supportive response to the governor's behavior as well. 

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