Why do we look to Tallahassee for wisdom in Education?

By John Louis Meeks, Jr.

The most successful argument
that education reformers make is that they have to bring some common sense into
the field of education.  Teachers, after all, have no real incentive to do
the work that involves teaching our children.  These critics of public
education perpetuate the negative stereotypes of teachers who do the bare
minimum just to make sure that they pick up their paycheck, snag that beloved
tenure and while away the hours until summer vacation.

This school of thought
presumes that education is a profession that deserves the kind of scrutiny that
no other career deserves – that in spite of the fact that we indeed have
professionals who also work with children and other vulnerable populations but
do not have to face the attitudes that we teachers face from politicians and

For the sake of fulfilling their fiduciary responsibility to our taxpayers, our
state’s leaders will claim that they are helping the good teachers by making it
incredibly impossible for the so-called bad teachers to stay in the classroom.
 They would claim that it would be a bad idea to fund across-the-board pay
raises for educators because the bad teachers also benefit.  It is also
because of their zeal to root out the below par teachers that they crafted an
evaluation system that was rushed into place under the guise of serving our

In my opinion, it is irresponsible to design policy around what we do not want.
 There are indeed people who should not have gone into teaching, but we
underestimate their ability to game the very policies that are supposed to
winnow them out?

Let’s put this all into perspective for a moment and wonder aloud what this
world would be like if we treated other professions with the same lack of regard
that we have afforded public school teachers.

Firstly, let’s imagine if merit pay was applied to pastors.  I am not sure
if there is a standardized test other than our eventual day of reckoning, but
please humor me for a moment.  There is an array of centers of worship
where the faithful attend because they want to learn something spiritual or
religious.  If a good pastor was to really do his or her job, wouldn’t
there be a lot less sinning going on?  If a good pastor was to really earn
his or her pay, wouldn’t there be a lot more people living by the principles
that they teach?

Secondly, let’s pretend that we had an evaluation system that determined if
attorneys could continue with their work.  During closing arguments in a
trial, someone from the state bar association could sit in on the trial with a
clipboard and could offer ‘constructive’ feedback about how the counselor
engaged the jury in his or her argument.  If any juror was seen looking
bored or confused, this would be an obvious sign that the attorney was not up
to the high standards of appearing before any bench.  And let’s not think
about what would happen if the attorney actually lost his or her case.
 This would be a ripe time for a growth plan to help him or her shape up
or ship out to another line of work.

 Furthermore, let’s make sure that all dentists earn their
keep based solely on the results of their work.  I recently had to have
fillings and nowhere during this ordeal did I blame my dentist or the dentist’s
assistant for my sweet tooth.  After each check up, I know that I should
brush my teeth and floss more religiously but I end up taking the ultimate
responsibility for my own actions instead of claiming that my dentist’s office
does not care about my oral hygiene.  Think of the hell that there would
have been to pay if my dentist had to explain how I ended up having to get a
crown in spite of all of the free toothbrushes, floss and lectures I received.

And, finally, let’s not forget to include the men and women in Tallahassee
whose wisdom drives the decisions that affect our schools, students and
teachers the most.  Once upon a time, the state legislature decided that
it would be an excellent idea to require middle and high school students to
declare a major.  To implement this plan, dollars were spent on resources
including the online system to get all schools on board.  Hours of
training were spent to convince teachers that their time was best spent
moonlighting as guidance counselors during their day.  In Duval County
alone, social studies teachers faced the creation of new history/career
planning classes to get this misguided idea off the ground.  Thankfully,
we ignored those skeptical voices and soldiered on into the big muddy.
 Today, middle and high school students no longer have to declare majors
and their teachers no longer have to shoehorn career services into their work.
 What do I have to say to our state about this?  Apology accepted.
 Are we to hold these wise men and women in power for the errors of their
ways?  Don’t hold your breath.  We tend to forgive and forget on
Election Day anyway.  More than we can say for the abuse that public
schools receive from our elected leaders.

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