Unchartered Waters

24 Mar

Charter Schools in Wisconsin

For the back story on state Senator Alberta Darling’s new bill to allocate money from public schools to charters, please start here.

So now we want to…

1) lower the bar for teachers’ credentials and aptitude;
2) stick the cost of private schools onto the public taxpayer; and
3) entrust a board* of know-nothing know-it-alls in Madison to dictate how a local school district a couple hundred miles away decides how to run things.

3a) * The members of which are appointed by the governor, a college dropout, and the do-or-dynamic duo Fitzgerald Brothers, the majority leaders both in each of the two houses of the State Legislature (neither of whom have any professional background in education beyond their bachelors’ degrees from UW-Oshkosh.  In other words, none of these dingbats, as my father would say, have any qualification whatsoever in choosing a board of pedagogues.

How doesn’t this fly in the face of traditional Republican ideology?  I honestly don’t get it.  The whole state has been torn in two over taxpayers footing the bill for public employees and how workers should have a right to decide whether to belong to a union or opt out, of which arguments this charter school bill seems to me to be in total contradiction — by the very person who also had a seminal role in SB11, Senator Alberta (“she’s nobody’s”) Darling.  And whatever happened to that old libertarian standby of letting locals figure out how best to run their own shows without being told how to by government oversight?

I don’t even have kids, and this incenses me.  Why aren’t Republican parents outraged by this?  I don’t mean to sound partisan, but the silence is strange and estranging.  These are your kids whose educations are at stake here.  Since when did that stop mattering?


Let’s be generous and optimistic by assuming (fingers crossed) these teachers will have degrees in education and (fingers crossed).  That doesn’t prepare them for specific teaching methodologies or an understanding of child development, which makes the difference between night and day in a classroom.  Just about anyone can stand before a class and explain the difference between igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks, but only a teacher knows how to translate that to a child and inspire her to care.  That is both a skill, an art, and a vocation.  It’s not punching a clock like a job; it’s a passion of the type seated at the same table as priests and hospice nurses.


Would we be so eager to oust that veteran coach of the basketball team who keeps leading the kids to the playoffs, brings titles and trophies back to the school, because a younger kid just graduated from college who played a little hoops himself with no coaching experience would cost the school less money?  Would we prefer inexperienced mechanics to fix our cars, electricians and plumbers and carpenters in our houses?  Would we opt for an eager but premature lawyer for a big case?  Would we be willing to cut corners on our medical bills by choosing the cheaper surgeon just finished his residence to perform the quadruple bypass for our aging parents?  That’s what’s being proposed when laying off veteran teachers whose gaps will be “filled” by rookies whom the district or charter or whatever can pay less in salary and retirement.  It seems like there’s an unexamined assumption that veteran teachers are not amongst the best performing, but why?  Because they’re older, more settled?  In some cases, perhaps, but by no means all.  That’s just irreverent and ungrateful.  Again, it just boggles my mind — and again, I don’t even have a child — that so many of us can be so complacent and just roll over belly up to have our kids’ futures raided like this.

Tenure is not some kind of inherited right lorded over by a privileged caste of pedagogues agog with power.  It is earned.  It is earned after years of continuous oversight and monitoring, parental and administrative input, test results and merit.  A school board will grant tenure to a teacher when it has been demonstrated as deserved; it’s not granted capriciously, because it would not be in the board’s best interest.  It’s simply illogical to think otherwise.

Teachers’ Unions

Ah, the most beloved bête noir of them all!  It amazes me that the public has bought hook, line, and sinker that it’s the teachers’ unions that are the cause of [fill in the blank — I’ve heard everything lately], and not reduced budgets or No Child Left Behind, or taking art and music or recess out of the curriculum, or the changing dynamic of children’s households, etc.  The sheer antipathy projected onto the teachers’ unions is truly a feat of bait-and-switch propaganda that would impress Goebbels himself.  What do the unions do for teachers — which is to say, what do they do for your kids?  They prevent a classroom from becoming an overcrowded sweatshop of rote-regurgitating test takers pushing English and Math so as to do nothing more in life than be semi-literate  workers making money for others.  They prevent a teacher from being fired for daring to speak against the diktat and druthers of the school district or some pea-brained principal.  They thank teachers and reward their endearing work like the V.A. honors vets for their self-sacrifice and…oh wait — like the VA should.

Education is not bean counting; it’s planting seeds and fostering their growth to open minds and inspire a wild fecundity of curiosity and creativity, imagination and ingenuity, independence and critical thinking.

We should be supporting all our troops, and by troops I don’t mean the armed forces overseas; I mean those who’ve dedicated their own lives to something and someone beyond their own lives.  Be they teachers or social workers or nurses, where are their ribbons?

If you can read this, thank a teacher.  If you are reading this, fight for their rights.


If you’re interested, here’s a link to the public hearing at the Capitol on Wednesday; just click on “watch.”
Note: it’s long, very long (ten hours and change).  That said, there are some great moments around the 3h 30m, 3h 45m, 7h 03m, and 7h 08m marks.

(At the 3:45, your favorite hated senator and mine, Glenn Grothman R-West Bend, turns off his microphone to make a cheap shot at teachers so that it can’t be heard on the WI Eye video feed (if you turn up your computer’s volume to the max you can hear what he says).  His remarks are so flippant, captious, and offensively irrelevant that he gets admonished not only by his Republican colleagues Luther Olsen, the chair of the Education Committee, and Alberta Darling herself, who is testifying on behalf of her own bill, but they actually address him as “Glenn,” not the otherwise formal etiquette of “Senator Grothman.”  How one man can be so vile is, well, kind of impressive actually.)


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