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Tomorrow, America heads to the polls to elect a president—one that will set the educational agenda for the next four years. President Obama and Governor Romney are so eager to tackle education that although the last presidential debate was about foreign policy, domestic education policy kept coming up. Moderator Bob Schieffer was even forced to interrupt Governor Romney's soliloquy about how much he loves teachers by quipping, "I think we all love teachers."
The second I heard Schieffer say that line I prayed that not a single teacher in America would be played for a sucker and hoodwinked into believing it. As a 17-year-old student and author, they sure aren't fooling me, and they’re not fooling many of America’s educators, either.
A few days after the debate, I came across an essay on the site Students Last. They usually write education satire, but all the teacher love made them post a serious editorial. "America itself has, at least as of late, quite the abusive relationship with teachers—claiming to love teachers but repeatedly disrespecting them in a myriad of ways," they wrote. If I may, let me continue their brilliant narration and extend it to how the candidates discount the voice of students and teachers.
To Governor Romney:
When you tell me that there is no better model than the current testing system and that you would expand testing in ways that haven't been thought before, you are not showing love to students and teachers.
When you declare that class sizes do not matter, you are not showing love to students and teachers.
When you say that you would push Congress to reauthorize No Child Left Behind and when a dozen of your top education advisors worked for President George W. Bush, you are not showing love to students and teachers.
When you are running on a ticket with a man whose budget would gut a third of spending in schools and early childhood education, you are not showing love to students and teachers.
To President Obama:
When you blatantly ignore over 400 letters from parents, educators, and students expressing grave concern over your education policies in this nation, you are not showing love to students and teachers.
When you treat education as some competition or "Race to the Top," you are not showing love to teachers and students. When research concludes that in a time of cuts to education budgets your Race to the Top program is too costly, you are not showing love to students. When your Race to the Top program has caused teaching to the test, billions of dollars in standardized testing, teacher evaluations tied to test scores, and the killing of creativity and the love of learning, you are not showing love to students and teachers.
When your Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, says he encounters no public opposition to the administration's policies, you are not showing love to teachers and students. When Duncan remarked, "Students know what's working and not working in schools before anyone else," without having a comprehensive and transparent plan to involve students in his administration, you are not showing love to students and teachers.
Of course, Obama and Romney aren’t the only ones disrespecting students and teachers. They take their cues from the corporate reform crowd—I have a few words for them, too.
To the corporate reformers:
When you advocate for Teach For America corps members—recent college graduates whose only experience is a tee-ball league-style five-week training program—to teach in our country's most disadvantaged schools, you are not showing love to students and teachers.
When you shut out the voices of teachers, parents, and students, in conferences, television talk shows, and panel discussions, you are not showing love to students and teachers.
When you push for charter schools to hijack and evict public schools even though on average they perform worse overall than public schools, you are not showing love to students and teachers.
If Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney, and the corporate reformers they listen to love teachers and students, they should show it. Don't trot out feel-good lines and attempt to mislead the public into believing that you are on the side of teachers and the students they serve.
So what do we do after Election Day? While most of the money is with those who want to privatize schools, bash teachers, test students, and measure and label everyone, we have power in numbers—the millions of young people, teachers, parents, and administrators who are fed up and waiting to be fired up.
Umair Haque in the Harvard Business Review puts it this way: "In status-quo preserving debates, both (or all) options are concerned with getting back to square one; how to maintain the status quo ante. Status quo-disrupting debates are concerned with getting past square one; not merely restoring a system to a previous states…" If we gut the old education regime and hatch a new renaissance of learning and creation, we will change history forever. The last thing we can do is punt the football and wait for government to act or the next generation to arouse change.
What we are yearning for is a movement of all the stakeholders in education—those who will opt-out of tests and will believe—as John Dewey did—that "education is life itself", that learning is about the learners, and the community is the curriculum. We need students, parents, and educators committed to, as Laurel Felt suggests, "school spaces that look less like factories and more like labs, libraries, coffee shops, and meeting rooms," and we need those stakeholders to unleash a conversation in their communities, places of worship, and schools on the future of learning.
We have to adapt, reinvent, and change the course of learning and thinking or go extinct. As John Lydon once declared, "Don't accept the old order. Get rid of it." Whatever happens on Election Day, it’s up to us to create a new order in education. Are you with me?
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