Monday, May 5, 2014

It's That Week Again

What week is it? Well, of course, it's "Stop Telling Me That It's All Arne Duncan's Fault And President Obama Would Totally Have Our Back If Not For His Evil Advisers" Week.

For thirty years, the PTA has celebrated this week as Teacher Appreciation Week, or as they say "Since 1984, National PTA has designated the first week in May as a special time to honor the men and women who lend their passion and skills to educating our children." It's a nice gesture, and it comes at a time of year when teachers are feeling all the feelings. Stress over testing season. Anxiety over trying to get as much education as possible into the few days left. Riding the tiger as students experience a huge burst of springtime energy. Sadness over soon saying goodbye to the small people in whom we've invested all this year. Knowing that someone has noticed you pouring your heart out into the classroom is nice; knowing they appreciate it is even nicer.

Meanwhile, in DC, President Obama has this to say:

At the heart of who we are as Americans is the simple but profound idea that no matter who you are, what you look like, or where you come from, if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can succeed. Our Nation can only realize this idea through the guarantee of a world-class education for every child. During National Charter Schools Week, we pay tribute to the role our Nation's public charter schools play in advancing opportunity, and we salute the parents, educators, community leaders, policymakers, and philanthropists who gave rise to the charter school sector.

The first week of every May under the Obama administration has been dedicated to celebrating Charter Schools, institutions that apparently achieve awesomeness without the benefit of actual teachers ("educator," as all educators know is a weasel word used to lump not-actually-teachers in with actual teachers, who are generally called "teachers").

This ironic train wreck of symbolism has been noted before (every year of the Obama administration, in fact) and is being noted this year, and while I try not to be redundant here, there are some things that just need to be noted a lot.

It's not that charter schools are innately anti-teacher or anti-public school. There are some absolutely awesome charters out there, doing great work for students and making teachers salivate at the prospect of working there. Charters done right can be an enormous boost to educational excellence in a community.

But what the current administration has fostered is not charter schools devoted to excellence, but charter schools as investment opportunities, and most ironic for our purposes today, charter schools that lead the nation in innovative ways to crush teaching as a profession. The modern charter makes money by cutting payroll costs ruthlessly, reducing teachers to at-will temps who can be easily churned and burned.

In short, the modern charter school is one of the most teacher-hostile environments for the modern-day school teacher.

The President could have made his obeisance to the charter school bosses any other week of the year (given the gift he's provided of federal pressure on states to raise charter caps, Christmas would have made sense), and that would have been enough of a slap in the face to our nation's public school teachers. But to use The Salute To Charters Week to upstage Teacher Appreciation Week is going the extra mile to slap every public school teacher in the face. I look forward to the administration's Labor Day Salute To Corporate Leaders and Job Creators!

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