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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

An Open Response to Drs. Biggs and Richwine at the Heritage Foundation

Dear Drs. Richwine and Biggs:

I read the Heritage Foundation Report on Teaching this morning. I found it because it was referenced at Daily Kos and I read it through over lunch.

It had me thinking all day about my chosen profession.

Your facts weren't necessarily wrong, and your conclusions were predictable. You don't like the idea of public education -- you see it as a government intrusion into a marketplace that should be dominated by private industry -- and so it's really no surprise when you extend your distaste to us who do the dirty demon work of socializing and educating America's youth.

So yes. Yes we are compensated well in excess of our private school counterparts. Yes we generally scored more poorly on the SATs than our private sector counterparts. Yes we still have pensions and job security.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

But. But But But.

But I have mentored a lawyer and a transplant surgeon who were making mid-career switches. neither lasted a year in a job that I do with pleasure. Those coming from better-compensated fields are much less likely to stay.

But I have watched private school teacher after private school teacher earn their credentials so they could come join us in the pay-haven of public schools only to turn around and go back to where there's toilet paper, working copiers, student loads under 100, and students they weren't afraid of.

But, just like all front-line civil servants, we are exposed to the capricious and sometimes vindictive wishes of the populous. We have our job security because without it, we could not be effective.

But I did well on my SATs because I had parents who weren't willing to let me do poorly. They paid for special intensive classes. My 1340 was as much the result of money as it was the result of brains. Were yours so different?

And a special but for those of us who willingly work in places like Watts:

But without us, our country may never be able to recover from the damage that's been done by years of social and political neglect.

As we are seeing on the national and international scale right now with the Occupy Movement, the social contract that bind a people and their government has frayed in the middle class.

But there isn't an Occupy Watts because in Watts and neighborhoods and communities like it around the country, the social contract has already snapped. It was ripped asunder generations ago in a massive display of frustration and instead of being renewed, it was replaced with a simple detente.

For most of the rest of us, this detente has been easy to mistake for renewal, but it is not.

But the students I see everyday don't make that mistake. The children of the detente are not raised in a world where government provides safety and ensures the ability of its citizens to exercise the rights endowed to them by their creator. The children of the detente are raised to see authority with a skepticism that many of the middle class have only learned to adopt later in life and with a cynicism that is heartbreaking.

In the detente, social services are often viewed as entitlements instead of a leg up because in the detente, there is no easy foothold.

In the detente there is no Officer Friendly.

In the detente, the assumption is that teachers and social workers hate their jobs.

In the detente, nobody chooses to be a lifer.

But if we are ever to renew the contract with the urban poor, it is going to be the teachers, police, and social workers that do it. It certainly won't be politicians or Ph.Ds.

And unless the contract is renewed, the libertarian/conservative dream world where opportunity is a choice for all will never come to fruition.

With this in mind, I ask that you, Drs. Richwine and Biggs, reflect for a moment. If we are dumb and overpaid, then we should not be entrusted with the daily diplomacy necessary for renegotiating a broken social contract between a betrayed people and the government they believe has betrayed them.

Maybe you, good Doctors, and your friends at Heritage should be the ones who must always keep in mind that every negative interaction you have during the course of your day while you attempt to do good is a concrete confirmation of hopelessness.

Maybe you should be the ones to inspire change in bad habits that were years in the making. Our students are often a bundled soft core of fear and hurt wrapped in a cage of steel and covered with a soft, thin, skin, and I must warn you that you need to be careful on your approach because piercing skin means hitting steel.

But maybe you would be better suited to unbuckle the taught steel that has been forged inside our students by crime, poverty, hopelessness and the deep belief that nobody cares about them.

Maybe you will be willing to take the time to dismantle the metal-hard shields through long-term, honest, earnest, relationships.

Maybe you would better suited to the burden of knowing that if you make a promise, if you create an opening into the hurt underneath, that you had better be there to see it through or you will have destroyed an opportunity to heal a child and the country in which you both live.

Maybe you would be a better representative of the state than me and my colleagues who are dumb.

Maybe you know a better way to convince a child that the American Promise hasn't been broken.

But unless you are willing to unleash the power of your naturally high SAT scores to help us, you should probably shut the fuck up.

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