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Waking the sleeping education giant

The 1970 film, "Tora! Tora! Tora!," ends with Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto sullenly observing that his nation might have "awakened a sleeping giant" in attacking Pearl Harbor. The quotation's historical accuracy hasn't been verified, but I've been thinking the same line could apply to slumbering public school teachers in Indiana.

A Facebook page, Support Indiana Teachers, has drawn close to 16,000 friends in just over a week. Granted, it takes little effort to click a computer key, but comments on the page indicate that teachers and other Hoosiers have finally taken note of the current anti-public education agenda and are angry enough to act.

Hundreds of educators and public education supporters showed up at the Statehouse rally Tuesday. We're receiving an ever-increasing number of letters to the editor critical of the legislative assault.

Still, it's probably too late. One lawmaker tells me that the newly elected majority in the House is so far to the right that support for public schools doesn't register. The Senate GOP majority has been drifting further to the right with every election.

The teachers also made a serious tactical error in targeting the charter school bill as Enemy No. 1. The majority of lawmakers represent rural areas and they see charter schools as an urban issue – not their problem. Teachers would have been better-served by a broad defense of public education and a reminder of Indiana's constitutional requirement to provide one.

The truth is that the array of education bills filed will adversely affect every public school classroom, every public school employee and every university or college offering a teacher education program.

I wish I could be more optimistic about the eventual outcome of the session, but I think it was determined last Nov. 2. The "sleeping giant" will have to wait until 2012.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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