From Dennis Van Roekel’s speech at the opening session of the NEA RA.
July 2, 2012
We all know there are plenty of people who are eager to offer advice — or worse, try to impose their ideas on our profession. Bloggers, columnists, elected officials, and self‑proclaimed reformers, they are constantly weighing in about public education. I mean, they have an opinion on everything — the who, the what, the when, the where, and the how — all of that about public education. Always opinions.
The “who” they love to talk about and blame are teachers. As if this disjointed and underfunded system is somehow the fault of those who teach and the people who work in those schools. But the real problems are the profiteers and mega-rich Wall Street folks who created an economic crisis that has our country and the world reeling.
And the solution isn’t to attack educators, it’s to give respect. That’s what will attract talented young people to become teachers and education support professionals and college professors.
The other part of the “who” in education is the students, and the demographics are rapidly changing. The majority of America’s students will soon be ethnic minorities, and one in five children in our country today lives in poverty.
Instead of focusing on solutions to help these students, too many keep looking for ways to maximize profits.
And, by the way, educators can’t do this all by ourselves. We know we have to partner with parents, with business leaders, with people in the community, to create great public schools. We all have a role to play.
As far as the discussion on “what” we teach, that has changed dramatically. No Child Left Behind with its emphasis on standardized tests has distorted public education by narrowing the curriculum and eliminating programs. We spend endless time getting students ready for and taking standardized tests, all at the expense of literature that inspires students or history that helps them understand, or the arts that allow them to express themselves.