Educators are not perfect, but it is rare to find one who does not care for children and have their best educational interests at heart. They devote themselves to years of rigorous training to become knowledgeable education leaders in the classroom as well as knowledgeable school administrators. Yet, some politicians would have the public believe Mississippi educators are not equipped or competent enough to make educational decisions for what is best for Mississippi children. The recent comments by Governor Phil Bryant and Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves promoting kicking the Common Core Standards out the door and setting up a task force composed of parents and legislators to rewrite the Standards is a prime example of their lack of confidence in the expertise of Mississippi educators. While educators across the state from the State Superintendent of Education down voice their support for the Standards, Bryant and Reeves have turned a deaf ear to them. When asked to clarify their opposition to the Common Core Standards, Bryant and Reeves point to the failed argument that the Standards are Obama’s standards and not the State of Mississippi’s standards. Although it has been pointed out again and again that the President had nothing to do with writing the Standards, Bryant and Reeves refuse to dismount that dead horse. It is unfortunate that their Obamaphobia blinds them to the promise of a better education and future that the Common Core Standards hold for the children of Mississippi.
These two politically motivated self-proclaimed education gurus also claim the Common Core Standards are too confusing and frustrating for parents to understand, so the standards must be thrown out or at least dumbed down – excuse me I meant to say amended. However, as anyone with any common sense knows, the truth behind the frustration with the Standards can be directly linked to Mississippi’s failed education standards of the past. Maybe if Mississippi teachers had all along been teaching to standards half as rigorous as the Common Core Standards, there would be far less confusion and push-back against the Standards. Teachers who have embraced the Common Core Standards say it is the adults who are having the biggest problem with the Standards – not the children. But, maybe Common Core Standards are not really the issue at all; maybe the only real issue is Obamaphobia. I wonder if George W. Bush was still in office if the Common Core Standards would be an issue at all.
In another recent example of education sabotage, Governor Bryant openly doubted the authority of the State Superintendent of Education and subsequently the State Board of Education to make decisions about education policy. In his clueless overreach of his own authority, he said the power to make educational decisions and policy lay with the public and the state legislature and not the State Superintendent of Education. It is ironic that the Governor cries out against the tyranny of federal intervention in state affairs every chance he gets, yet he has little problem exercising his own brand of tyranny over the Mississippi Department of Education and educators in general. His lack of support for educators and the whimsical support of education by Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves are knives in the backs of educators who blindly voted for them in the last election. Unfortunately, if the Governor and Lieutenant Governor have their way, the real bloodletting of public education in Mississippi may have only just begun.
With the negativity and abuse continually directed at educators, it is a wonder anyone still wants to be a teacher. The ones still teaching are a testament to their dedication to the profession, their abuse repelling thick skin, and their love for the children they teach. Of course, educators know from the start that the life of an educator is not easy – never has been nor will it ever be. They enter the profession knowing they will never be paid adequately for the long hours they devote to their students, and that they will spend more time with other people’s children than they do their own. Despite their sacrifices, teachers understand they will rarely receive the respect they deserve; however, they should at least be able to count on the respect and support of a governor and lieutenant governor they helped elect and not be cast as a scapegoat for political gain.
Educators work in a society where education is undervalued, and the political and public perception is a student succeeds in spite of the teacher and fails because of the teacher. Such views are disrespectful and are a major reason at least half of all educators leave the profession within the first three to five years. Why stay in a profession where the political and public opinion is so sour toward your profession? Why stay in a profession where the opinion of every local yokel holds more educational clout than the opinions and expertise of educators? We trust our automobiles to the expertise of a mechanic; we trust the construction and safety of the many bridges we travel to the expertise of an engineer; we trust our physical well-being to the expertise of a medical doctor; so, doesn’t it stand to reason we should trust educational decisions impacting the future of our children to the expertise of educators? After all, the mechanic, the engineer, medical doctor and educator are the experts in their fields. If an educator’s expertise is always in question, why should a young educator stay in the profession? Why stay in a profession where the Governor and Lieutenant Governor believe they know more about education and what is best for children than the education experts? I wonder if any of the education naysayers in this state ever stop to think about what they are doing to public education. By itself, the number of educators leaving the profession is enough to show the crippling impact of negativism on public education in Mississippi as well as on the nation.
The Governor and Lieutenant Governor’s low regard for Mississippi’s educators is appalling, especially their total disregard for the constitutional authority of the State Board of Education and the State Superintendent of Education to make educational decisions and policy. Also, their disdain for standards designed to teach children to reason and think on their own is absolutely beyond comprehension. However, just as appalling and beyond comprehension is that Mississippi educators tolerate their disrespect. The words and actions of the Governor clearly demonstrate he regards educators as second class citizens not worthy of an equal voice with the general public. When he speaks about the public, he is referring to the public who will re-elect him for a second term and not educators. He understands politics and knows historically educators, due to their lack of unity, are not a threat to him or his policies. Why cater to the lambs when there are so many hounds and the wolves prowling at his door?
The perception of educators as second class citizens is not likely to change unless educators are willing to take a stand against political hypocrisy, and Mississippi’s two-hundred year love affair with ignorance! Sometimes in Mississippi, we seem to be so proud of our legacy of ignorance and so in love with the past that we are blind to the future passing us by. Thankfully, educators are in the business of stamping out ignorance, but ignorance is like a forest fire. Once out of control, it is almost impossible to get it back under control until it has burned itself out. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that the “good ole boy” induced ignorance that has engulfed education in this state is anywhere near burning itself out. That is indeed unfortunate since Mississippi’s children can no longer afford to lose ground academically to the rest of the nation and world.
So what can be done? The first thing that has to happen if educators are to get the respect they deserve is they must stand up for themselves! The Governor believes education belongs to the public, so educators must show him they are an integral vote casting, tax paying part of the public as well. Educators need to unite and speak out LOUDLY! They need to speak out until they are heard and changes in attitudes and policies are made that provide a healthy education system for the children of Mississippi as well as respect for the state’s educators. There is more good happening in education in this state than “good ole boy” politicians such as Bryant and Reeves would have people believe. Regrettably, teachers do such a poor job of marketing themselves and the good they do that the good is often lost in the ever swirling clouds of political smokescreens.
Politicians such as Bryant and Reeves continually manipulate and create their own press by telling the people what they want the people to believe. When it comes to what is happening in education, the majority of the public knows only what they hear on the ten o’clock news and read in the newspapers. They believe the negative about education because that is what they hear and read the most. So, for public education to survive, it is critical for educators to create their own press. They must use every means available to promote the positives about their profession and themselves. They must make a concentrated effort to ensure the public hears and sees the good that is happening in public school classrooms. It is time for Mississippi educators to shed the lamb’s skin, and take on the mantle of the lion. It is time to tell Bryant and Reeves to leave their politics out of education, and let those who have the credentials to teach and make decisions about education do their job. If educators do not unite and speak out for themselves, there will be no end to the present Common Core carousel until it crashes and burns along with our children. If educators do not unite and speak out for themselves, there will be no end to the constant political bullying they receive at the hands of politicians such as Phil Bryant and Tate Reeves.
©Jack Linton, December 12, 2014