During this latest salvo of legislative attacks on public education and teachers, it’s been gratifying to see so many people utilize their rights to express their concerns to their elected representatives. Most people I know best have been busy signing petitions, writing letters and emails, calling offices, and texting their state representatives to let them know that they don’t like these bills which are so hostile to teachers and potentially damaging or even deadly to public schools. Lately, I’ve seen quite a few people publicly sharing the responses they’ve gotten back from their representatives, and I have noted some striking commonalities.
One is the fact that these responses are clearly being written by some central entity and shared out for individual elected officials to use as their template because they are all structured the same and are more or less identical point for point. This is not surprising since this is exactly how the bills themselves are created. If you read the content of these bills which are making their way through the statehouses of over half of the states in the Union, you’ll see that they too, are structured the same and more or less identical point for point as well. That’s because these bills were not drafted by elected officials. They were prepackaged and handed to them. These pieces of legislation are sometimes called “model bills,” and they are written and funded by a Koch Brothers backed organization known as ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council). Investigate what this group is about and the people who fund them. As with most nefarious goings on in this world, when it comes to these terrible education bills, follow the money to find the root of the evil.
One of the first commonalities you’ll find in these email responses that state representatives are churning out is this: “The ultimate goal of (fill in your state’s bill number here) is to increase transparency and parental involvement in their students’ education.” Hey, that sounds great, doesn’t it? I don’t think you’ll find a teacher in the country who wouldn’t support parents being more involved in their students’ education. But that’s not really what this is about. Clearly, these bills are really about giving one certain group of parents control over what’s going on in public schools. Now let’s talk about transparency and parental involvement in public education.
Let me make this perfectly clear (said in my best Richard Nixon voice), we already have more than enough transparency. According to the dictionary, transparency is the condition that allows light to pass through so that objects on the other side can be distinctly seen. The funny thing about transparency is that in order for it to be useful, someone has to look through to see the other side. In public education, one of the first things any teacher will tell you about what frustrates them is the fact that precious few parents and guardians truly keep tabs on what their students are doing in school. We get this all the time because if little Johnny gets an F on his report card, his parents act sideswiped and often blame the teacher for somehow keeping this information from them. Meanwhile, the entire time, everything little Johnny was supposed to be doing in class was available for his parents or guardians to monitor—daily standards and objectives, agendas, assignments, needed resources, all of it. Too few parents take advantage of the more than adequate transparency already available to them. This problem goes FAR beyond the daily agendas and homework assignments. Let’s dig a little deeper into the problem of transparency and parental involvement.
- How about back-to-school meet your teacher nights? Right off the bat, parents are encouraged to get actively involved in their students’ education before the school year really gets rolling. These are great chances for parents to look around the school, visit all their kid’s classrooms, meet teachers, discuss curriculum, etc. I’ve experienced 21 back-to-school nights in my career and if we could get even 25% of our parents and guardians to show up, it would be considered a roaring success. Most just don’t come.
- Let’s talk about Parent Teacher Organizations. Have you ever attended your school’s PTO meetings? If you have, you’ll probably be able to bear witness to the fact there is generally ample room to socially distance. Most just don’t come.
- The same can be said of School Board Meetings. Normally, the only time these get much notice from parents and guardians is if someone is hopping mad about something and they show up to scream at people. Otherwise, most just don’t come.
- Back in the days when we still used physical textbooks, when it came time for new textbook adoption, many schools would open the doors for parents and guardians to come in and go through the textbook options and weigh in with their opinions. Guess what? Hardly anyone would come.
Transparency is built into everything we do in public schools. If someone wants to know what I teach about in my history class, they can first stop by the Department of Education website and peruse the state standards for my class. It’s all right there. Have you ever read your child’s state standards? Perhaps if you did, you might see something that raises concern—perhaps you might have questions about how I teach certain sensitive subjects. Guess what…I’d be thrilled to sit down and talk to you about that. Guess how many times I’ve had those discussions over 21 years…I can tell you that one hand contains more than enough fingers to tally that number. I’ll even go you one better. Let’s say I’m teaching a lesson about Thomas Jefferson’s great paradox about being an outspoken opponent of slavery while having owned over 600 slaves in his lifetime. Does that make you nervous? Do you assume I’m going to trash one of our great founding fathers? Here’s an idea; why don’t you come in and sit in on that lesson. My door is open for you. Guess how many times that’s happened in 21 years…I’m still waiting for that to happen.
Here’s where teacher frustration boils over when it comes to transparency and parental involvement: Every time it comes up, guess who gets the blame…guess who has more work put on their plate to try to rectify the problem…I’ll give you a hint…it sure as hell isn’t the parents or guardians. When parents aren’t involved, the blame and the penalty is ALWAYS PLACED ON THE TEACHERS. This has been true within our own school society forever. Now it’s coming down on us from the highest levels of our government.
And you ask us why we are afraid of transparency?
Give us a break!
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