The most disheartening conversation I have had in over 25 years of elementary education was with a mother of a student. She introduced me to her son in this manner: “This is Joseph (not his real name). He's a bad kid. I don't like him and I don't know what to do with him. He's your problem now. I go to court next week, and I think I'll just ask the judge to take him.”
Two things were clear to me after listening to these comments. First, Joseph was not a “bad kid.” Second, most of Joseph's problems were caused by his mother's actions. One may even be inclined to feel anger toward his mother. I know I did. I suppressed my emotions because I knew her son needed my full attention and support.
The mother's casting blame on a “problem” of her own creation is analogous to Republican state Rep. Jim Lucas's response to the results of Indiana's standardized testing scores: “What the hell are we doing, putting government in charge of educating our children?”
One would hope that Lucas' response is that of an outlier. However, since the tenured supermajority tend to vote in lockstep with Lucas, his words unveil an entity that seems to have a complete disdain for public education. Public schools should be viewed as a common good, but similar to Joseph's mother, the Republican-controlled legislature seems to have a distorted perspective of their duty and of the results of their decisions.
On educational policies, the Republican super-majority has voted to add layers of stifling bureaucracy, create departments to circumvent the state superintendent, and divest hundreds of millions of dollars from public school districts to support “choice” – an unfounded ideology.
Educators and students are finding it increasingly difficult to function in a state that continues to legislate as if they want to abandon our schools by giving them to private managers.
As with Joseph's story, two things are clear about our current legislature's stance. First, public education is not “bad.” Second, public education's problems are caused by our state legislature. One may even be inclined to feel anger about the decisions these legislators are making about our educational system. This anger is justified. Our public schools deserve our legislators' support.
Eventually, Joseph's mother admitted that some of his problems may be her fault and her son needed her support in order to succeed. Voters of Indiana, public education needs you to vote for legislators who will do likewise. A well-researched report card for current legislators based on their support of public education is found at www.icpe2011.com.
JohnStoffel has taught in northeast Indiana for 25 years.