If I could create for you, as voters, an apt metaphor for public education, it would be that of public schools as a sentient being. And, as such a being, it would have a body, much as we do, with a heart, with a brain, and with hands. The heart of public school, in my metaphor, is the loyalty, passion, and dedication of its teachers. The brain of public schools, the part that has foresight, is the knowledge of those teachers in pedagogy, in content, and in current thought. The hands of public schools, to complete the conceit, are the resources teachers have available to them, with time being the most important resource of all.
And so, you have in your mind the living, breathing body that is public education, and, like all such entities, it requires sustenance and nurture. To extend my metaphor, this entity takes its health advice from an appointed physician, the state government of North Carolina. This government, these legislators, have as their task the maintenance of public education’s health. This is a task that normally involves frequent checkups, occasional tests to indicate the lack or presence of pathology, and advice on how to improve public school’s wellbeing. However, rather than finding our physician to be a friendly family practitioner with 21st century skills, we find instead an overly ambitious, scalpel happy pseudo-surgeon well-schooled in 19th century vivisection, longing to begin cutting away at what was once a largely thriving body.
With the most recent cut, the mandate that all superintendents select the top 25% of their teachers, our surgeon cut directly into our heart, into teachers’ passion for the classroom and loyalty to a shared profession, because the mandate requires that these top 25% of teachers be offered a $500 a year raise in exchange for giving up tenure. Five hundred a year, about $35 a month after taxes, is the cut that feels more like a stab, and asking us to relinquish our tenure is the salt in the wound. Tenure is the one aspect of teaching that allows us to consider ourselves professionals whose value is worthy of protection over the course of our career. Tenure is what allows thinking teachers to produce thinking students without the fear of losing our positions to someone powerful who merely disagrees with us. This slice, made with a dull scalpel, is of such offense to the body that there is a real danger we will be bled of what is best about us—our passion for our profession and our loyalty to each other.
But the inept and experimental procedures do not stop there. The brain is also fair game. And since public school’s brain must be the knowledge teachers have of content and pedagogy, and since, in every other profession, holding degrees is valued, when our governor and general assembly decided to stop rewarding financial incentives for masters degrees and higher, what they did was a poorly performed lobotomy because any teacher wanting to know more is being told that knowledge is worthless, that, in our profession, we need not look to the future either for ourselves or for our students.
And, finally, before the surgical procedures have ended, the surgeon, now with the villain’s smile, will have amputated the hands of public schools. In setting the class size higher, as high as 29 to 1 in the high school classroom, and in removing numerous teachers’ assistants, and in cutting teaching positions, the time a high school teacher will have to devote to individual students in a 90 minute class period is only a little more than three minutes. In three minutes per student, little information can be explained, little dignity can be offered, and little humanity can be afforded.
If my metaphor, my conceit, is correct, then when voters put in place in the last election the legislators who now walk the halls of power, I would like to think some part of those voters actually believed they were electing an innocuous Dr. Jekyll. However, when we go to the polls in the next election, I, for one, along with my colleagues, will be going to those voting booths with one goal in mind: to vote out the diabolical Mr. Hyde.
These remarks also appeared in Dawn’s column in The Smoky Mountain News.