School Is About
the New York City mayoral race heating up, the public is being
deluged once again with political rhetoric on what the candidates
will do to improve the schools. Perhaps it is unduly cynical to
call it rhetoric, but past experience with political generalizations
makes a person skeptical.
Take the case of President Bush. After reducing taxes, his most
important campaign issue was education, with his commitment “to
leave no child behind.” His education bill has hardly reflected
this promise. The party change of Senator Jeffors was probably
due more to this failure than any other issue, and that defection
may serve to motivate the President where his own promises have
failed. Perhaps he should recall his father’s request “to read
my lips,” and what his failure to live up to his promise cost
It is a good thing to remind ourselves periodically what education
is really about, and what it is not about. As always, it is easy
to confuse cause and effect. It is not about training students
to enter the labor market. It is not about religious training.
It is not about providing jobs to administrators, teachers or
aides. It is not even directly about patriotism and citizenship.
And, it is certainly not about political rhetoric on these issues.
What it is about is giving kids the basic tools to live a full
and satisfying life, instilling a love of learning and teaching
them how to learn. It is about socialization and respect for others.
If we give kids these things, they will be good citizens, and
they will be able to find meaningful and rewarding employment.
New York City teachers are in the midst of negotiating a new contract.
Contract negotiations tend to reduce professionals to the basic
roles of employer and employees. But in this case, we cannot lose
sight of what teaching is about. A contract with the teachers
should not be about protecting incompetent teachers, but it must
provide teachers with the security to teach without undo pressure
from the community or the administration. It is not about maximizing
compensation, but it must provide adequate pay to attract and
retain qualified teachers. Teaching, after all, has to be more
than a job, and the UFT must acknowledge this if it is to regain
the support of the general public.
With each question about our schools, we should ask how do we
achieve the real objectives of education. There must be an overall
plan, and that plan must be based on what it is we want to achieve.
I suggest that all those involved in education keep this in mind
while they debate the details. #
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