Thursday, September 30, 2010

You Can't Handle The Truth

So, um, Oprah has really started her final year off with a bang. The queen of talk dared to present producer David Guggenheim's Waiting For Superman documentary to the masses. What the documentary intends to do is simpy present the story of five children hoping to escape their local public school in favor of their local charter school. How dare Oprah suggest that all children should have the same opportunity to escape undeperforming schools?
As the American Federation of Teachers, the union I reluctantly belong to (and only because they will take out my dues money anyway), ramps up their level of vitriol, I cannot help but wonder whether the unions have taken over as the "party of 'no.'" The AFT is about the financial success of its membership, as are all unions. That isn't to say that unions are completely evil. We must recognize that some good comes from a union's ability to collectively bargain for its members, and we must recognize that sometimes good teachers require protection from vindictive, incompetent administrators. Yet we cannot discount the reality of the union's failure to honorably advocate for the dismissal of failing teachers, and we cannot discount the reality of the union's failure to encourage success through merit pay in place of years of service.
If failing public schools are to find success, we must follow the business world's lead and innovate. Charter schools, like those displayed in Waiting For Superman and written about in Sweating the Small Stuff by David Whitman have found success. Sure, some innovation fails. Not all charter schools succeed. But that should not stop the AFT from supporting the creation of such schools in the models that have found success. Instead, the AFT would prefer to campaign against these schools using hurt feelings as the mask for its ultimate purpose--maintaining the status quo.
We teachers are a sensitive bunch, and for good reason. We are regularly told by politicians that we are the backbone of our contry's future only to be treated as general incompetents. We take the shots when a school fails. Though President Obama is quick to remind us that he regularly preaches the importance of parental involvement, as he did with Matt Lauer, he has yet to push for legislation which holds parents accountable for poor student behavior. And as the suits create feel-good legislation to limit the discipline available to schools, we are left to manage classrooms teeming with indifference and insolence. In the end, it will be our fault when that ill-raised fool skips class, because in minds of the suits, we should have been more engaging.
I had a student not long ago who, in a College Prep English class, demanded to know why we were doing so much reading. "This is English class mister, not reading class," she scolded me. With such ignorance having been allowed to make it to 10th grade, I wonder what the AFT would have to say?
Ultimately, I will continue to support charter schools. I am proud to have been a writer for the newly opened New York City charter school, Inwood Academy for Leadership. I believe that charter schools can have success. But I also will continue to support public schools. I am proud to be teaching the quasi-urban students in my classroom. We can have success.


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