Dear Santa Claus: I am going to forego my usual letter requesting snarky gifts for the humor-impaired. I expect there will be other opportunities in the future to gig them. One thing about the humor-impaired, they are like houseflies. They never go away.
Instead, I am going to ask you for something that may not be possible for you to stick in your goody bag, but I’m not sure where else to go. I would like to see our public school teachers have a little peace on Earth. If their job wasn’t already hard enough, now they are caught up in an elephant fight not of their own making.
On one side are the deep-pocketed, out-of-state, special interest ideologues who care not one whit for teachers. They just want to get their greedy talons on the dollars being spent on public education. On the other side is the status-quo crowd, whose intransigence has been fueled by a suspicion that public education is viewed as one big experimental laboratory in which the mad scientists are not held responsible for their results, just the school teachers who are caught in the middle.
School teachers do not go into the profession for the money. They become teachers because they believe they can change young lives for the better. I suspect every teacher in our state can look back on a school teacher in their own past who made a difference in their lives and perhaps inspired them to want to do the same for the next generation.
You and I have been in correspondence over the years, but I’m not sure we ever talked about the teachers who influenced us. I’m not familiar with the education system at the North Pole, but someone must have given you the inspiration to want to fly around the world delivering toys to good little girls and boys. I would guess it was a teacher.
In my own case, I had a number of school teachers back in East Point who taught me things that still resonate, lo, these many years later. They taught me to spell; to add and subtract; to not only write a declarative sentence, but to diagram it as well (a lost art); to find Belgium on a map; to dissect a frog (that one I’m not sure about); basic Spanish; typing; the Pledge of Allegiance and English literature, among other things. Despite my teenage resistance, most of it seems to have sunk in.
I am trying to understand what has changed from those ancient times until today, where second-guessers in the media decry our "pitiful public schools" and politicians rail about the absolute necessity for "school choice," a euphemism for abandoning public schools and making them, as one current legislator intoned, "the schools of last resort."
Have school teachers become so incredibly inept in the decades since I was a lad that they are incapable of imparting knowledge to the current generation as did my teachers?
Or could it be that our society has gone to hell in a wheelbarrow and policy makers won’t accept the fact that poverty, drugs, child abuse, bureaucratic red tape at every level of government, navel-gazing policy wonks and apathetic and/or absentee and/or permissive parents have made the schoolteacher’s job nigh impossible?
Since teachers can’t close the schoolhouse door on society’s problems — and policy makers don’t seem inclined to — the next best thing in the eyes of our intrepid public servants is to run away from the problem and blame it on our schools. This is like blaming the current federal deficit on the Founding Fathers.
I don’t think the school teacher’s life is going to get easier anytime soon. President-elect Donald Trump has selected Betsy DeVos to be his secretary of education. She is no friend of public education. DeVos and her family have poured millions of dollars into "school choice" initiatives with scant positive results. As Atlanta newspaper education columnist Maureen Downy observed recently, "The U.S. Department of Education was once seen as an ally of public education. It may now become an adversary."
I don’t know how our school teachers do it, Santa, and sometimes I wonder why they even make the effort, given of all the obstacles thrown in their path, but I am grateful they continue trying to make a positive difference in young lives. That is why I strongly suggest that we all get off their backs this Christmas and give them some peace on Earth. If anyone deserves it, our school teachers do.