April 16, 2013

What's with the Witch Hunt?

So I have been reading various posts and books about culture.  There is a lot of talk about the culture of Fear in our school systems right now.  There is a wave of change sweeping the education system in the US and there is a strong voice of reform and anti-unionism that accompanies it as well.  The media for years (ever since good ole Ronny Reagan) has supported the hysterical talk of the demise of the US education system.  So maybe much of that culture of fear isn't as imagined as some would like to think. 

As a school administrator for the past 9 years, I have sensed it growing in the 4 districts I have worked in.  And the fear is growing. But why shouldn't teachers be feeling fear? The Ed Reformers slather the headlines with rants about how teachers are failing our students. They find all the incidents of poor practice, student apathy, bullying, US testing comparisons, bullying, and whatever else they can find and sensationalize the events. While we all are ready to admit these things do happen in our schools, they are not a rampant plague that is dragging our system into oblivion. Many people forget we have the Largest Public Education System in the world. It is HUGE!! So are these isolated cases being blown out of proportion? Yes....and No.  Our media is one of the most watched sources of information around the world. Our media includes newspapers, TV stations (including cable networks) and increasingly, the internet.  While mainstream media used to temper the flames of heated debates, sources like 24/7 news channels that are loaded up with opinion journalists only help add fire to these isolated cases.  
It becomes easy to enlarge an incident, and with the correct verbiage (or maybe distorted verbiage) bring it to a scale that seems catastrophic.  So as the "fair and balanced" media portrays the US educational system as failing and the Teachers Unions as the money hungry devils that protect themselves from parents that just want the best for their kids, the story spins out of control and every teacher sees themselves with a target on their back.  It may not matter how much I try to defend them, how much I pat them on the back or try to let them know it is okay to fail or to take risks with me as their leader, their bigger concern is a Governor, a Congress, a School Board member, or even a disgruntled parent may be the one to say, "you are not cutting it."  How would they possibly know that?  They are not in those classrooms.  They are not viewing their lessons, seeing how they try multiple ways to reach their students.  They're not witnessing the hours they put into planning, practicing, reading or learning the book they have been asked to read or becoming skilled in the latest technology hoped to boost student interest, engagement or just make their work more efficient.  While I may have their back on the numerous things I want them to be willing to try and to develop strengths in, they are simply wanting to survive.  This is a scary time in the US Ed System.  We are creating all sorts of new ways to provide parents and taxpayers with accountability measures, so that we can be assured that all students can do well on a Standardized Test that will mean nothing to a student when they leave school, and that I have seen often enough has no measure of how successful you will be after school.  


We have recreated the Salem Witch Hunts here in the US (since we seem to be good at not learning from our History) and begun to blame all of our woes on the US Ed System, or more precisely, our Teachers.  The very people who have given of themselves to try to provide the very thing we know will help kids be successful.....an education. The people who work tirelessly to to try to reach all of our students, the people who care deeply for the students that receive little care or even abuse in some of their home situations, the people who use their own money to find food for those students who come to school hungry.  These are the people that Ed Reformers try to vilify by exposing the rather rare incidents of poor choice that take place in our schools and then ballooning them into a catastrophe that can make the headlines or the top stories by Radio whack jobs.  Yeah, these same people that reach into their own pockets at on Thanksgiving to make sure that our needy families have real Turkey Dinner or at Christmas, when they go out shopping for the students that will most likely get nothing, yeah these are the people we should be hunting down and holding accountable.  Why should we bother to look at the legislators who create policies to keep the poor in their terrible situations?  Why shouldn't we compare our students performance to a country that only has 3% poverty?  Why don't we question why they choose to close schools in poor black neighborhoods instead of sending them more money to improve their buildings, professional development, practices and resources?  Why don't more people ask these questions?

Instead of complaining about it to people that already feel the same way I do, I think I will start to change the focus, and start to heal the teachers that have been so beaten down.  I will stand by them and protect them, but mostly I will help them to make such a difference, that if you were to speak negatively of Teachers and Education that it would only make you look ignorant.  I will stand tall with them, I will shout out what great things they do, and I will answer those naysayers with, "Really, because maybe you haven't seen or heard about this....."  Get ready reformers and naysayers, because I am about to show what AMAZING Teachers we have here in the US and more importantly, I will show you what they have taught our kids to do.  What have you taught them to do?


  1. Well said Tom. Love your thoughts on helping the healing first.

  2. The tail is wagging the dog, as the media and pundits exploit many negative situations, while overlooking the multitude of good news opportunities in education. There is no more important time than now, to empower students of all ages with the skills of critical thinking, especially in relation to media literacy.

  3. Well said. I am also tired of the bashing of all things related to education. There are more outstanding educators than we could begin to identify - as well as exceptional educational practices. Despite the media hype, students continue to achieve and thrive. I'm confused as to why there must be someone to blame. I do not understand why powerful public servants have become the popular targets. I am unsure of why educators are blamed for all the ills of the world. I'm perplexed about why individuals who have little connection with the complexities of education - other than an occasional soundbite - feel the solution is so simple. In the meantime, I am proud to share the success of my colleagues! Thank you Tom!