Bad politicians outnumber the bad teachers

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has really ticked off teachers in New York state. It isn’t that he needed to do it — he just did it. Not only was it unfair, it was a bad strategic move and he is paying for it. He got a million fewer votes in his second election than the first time out and many of those people were teachers, their families and their friends.

We are talking about good people here. Our teachers are the best of the best in our society. Some mean-spirited politicians have characterized them as lazy, indolent folks who work from nine to three and whose ranks are riddled with incompetent practitioners. These critics ignore the realities of trying to teach kids who all too often live in single parent homes and who are “latch-key” in every sense of the word. The stereotype of uncaring, incompetent teachers is just nonsense. Teachers are not the problem — clearly society is the issue. When kids are left to their own devices and don’t have the help that they need at home, the results are predictable.

I am married to a wonderful woman who put in years as an elementary, middle school and high school teacher. She was at her desk by seven. She taught five or six classes a day. She brought home reams of papers to mark and somehow, she managed to raise two accomplished and wonderful children, create the country’s first Holocaust unit that every high school student had to take and, of course, put up with me. And, oh, by the way, she managed to drive over an hour each way, three nights a week, to earn her doctorate. When she went to teach college she really did have survivor’s guilt about the colleagues she left in the trenches.

So it is bewildering as to why a governor disrespects these folks. Our rank and file teachers are hardly “political” in the Albany sense of the word. They are good people, so when politicians like Cuomo come along and single out the few bad teachers, claiming they are representative of the tens of thousands of good teachers, they just don’t get it. They are hurt. They see the governor as a bully who is unfairly threatening them with a myriad of tests and outside observers. They fear that he is doing an end run around the tenure that has protected them from arbitrary and capricious school board members who all too often would just love to fire at will. His contention that failing schools are the result of failing teachers is nothing short of nonsense and any right thinking American who owes everything to the wonderful people who brought us along knows it. Sure, there are a few bad teachers. There are a whole lot of bad politicians. My bet is that the bad politicians outnumber the bad teachers.

He has a few points but he is off the wall on things like charter schools, clear attempts at union busting, and vouchers that would allow the state to indirectly pay for religious education. These are terrible ideas.

The conservative press, and we know who they are, won’t let up. They keep egging the governor on to do his damage. For generations, New Yorkers have adhered to the principle that if your kid goes to public school the state will pay for it but that if he wants to go to a religious or other private school, that’s on him and his parents. Cuomo has already dropped some of his worst ideas on education from the state’s budget. We are told that he may resurrect them in bills that will be traded with legislators for other things that they may want. Fair enough, but at least for now the governor’s attack on teachers and education has slowed down. Congratulations to Speaker Heastie and his Assembly members for putting a stop to the worst of them.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 3/31/15

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