In recent weeks there have been reports on NBC Nightly News, National Public Radio, and in the New York Times, to name a few, about the shortage of teachers at the beginning of the school year in public schools in several states. Some school districts are now staffing classrooms with teachers who are not certified in their subject, or even student teachers. How can this be? Please allow me to explain why this is happening, in a way that no news organization has dared or tried to describe.
There was a time when teachers were respected. Along with doctors, dentist, attorneys, the police, and other professionals, teachers were the pillars of a community. Never as well-paid as some of the other professionals, teachers were never-the-less considered essential individuals in an educated and well-functioning society. That is no longer the case. When state budgets are tight, who are among the first ones to go? Teachers. Oh, no, politicians will not lay themselves or their staff off, but they gladly toss teachers, especially those considered to be “not so important,” like music, art, theatre, etc. (curiously, sport teams are ALWAYS important and football programs are NEVER cut). The politicians then turn around and blame the teachers for the poor state of education. Look at governors, like Scott Walker (Wisconsin) or Andrew Cuomo (New York), who openly or covertly are hostile to the profession. Governor Christie of New Jersey went as far as to state that he would like to punch teacher unions in the face. Schools are burdened with ever-increasing amounts of meaningless and useless bureaucratic nonsense. Teachers are spending more and more time documenting inane rules and regulations instead of teaching. One of the stupidest things to come along, although couched in benign and admirable terms, is “No Child Left Behind.” Anyone with an ounce of brain can see that in practical terms this means that “All Children Are Left Behind.” So, it is not surprising that many young people no longer consider teaching as a meaningful, respected, and adequately protected profession.
But there is an even bigger problem. Our public schools are failing miserably in educating our youth, even though as taxpayers we keep throwing more and more money down the drain. Again, the onus is on teachers. Surely, it must be the fault of teachers that Johnny can’t spell, add two numbers without a calculator, or read cursive writing. Now, I’m going to tell you in one word what is the biggest cause of this dismal record: PARENTS.
From welfare queens to self-important, self-absorbed professionals, parents are increasingly looking at teachers as babysitters or substitute parents. Children are not held accountable for their actions, and parents do not spend the time to instill the values of hard work, discipline and responsibility into their children. We have become a nation of “deservers.” Just look at TV commercials and how many times the phrase “you deserve” is used in selling products. I personally know of cases, where Johnny doesn’t come to school half the time yet, somehow, it is the school’s (i.e. teacher’s) responsibility to make sure that Johnny is promoted to the next grade.
Charter schools, parochial schools, and home-schooled children tend to do much better than their public school counterparts. It is not because our public schools don’t get enough money. It is not because public school teachers are less caring, less knowledgeable, or are less involved. It is because hard-working parents who send their children to schools that charge tuition (and here I’m not talking about the rich-bitch private academies of the wealthy, who farm out their spoiled little creeps to expensive baby sitters) or parents who involve themselves at home in their child’s education, take responsibility for their children’s actions. This is the key. As a college professor for 25 plus years, I could always easily discern the difference between home-schooled children and some of those socially-promoted high school graduates who failed themselves on the first day of class because they didn’t have the necessary skills or the will to do well. Both kinds of students possessed the intellectual capacity to do well. The difference was in their attitudes and willingness to do the work. In most cases, parents’ income or social standing had little to do with their child’s ultimate success or failure. The difference was and is in the values (or lack of) and attitudes instilled in these students. It is extremely disheartening and disappointing for a teacher to do everything within his/her power, and yet be blamed when Johnny refuses to do the work. As much as anything else, I believe that this is the main reason why our public school systems struggle, and why young people are discouraged from going into the teaching profession. Today’s average teacher lasts 5 years in the profession before changing careers. The struggle simply isn’t worth it, or it is too emotionally and physically exhausting.
We hear a lot about “values.” It is often a hackneyed term, or a code for some conservative or religious canon. The values I am talking about are straightforward practical ideas that are universal in all cultures, religions, and backgrounds. They are the values of what I think means to be a libertarian: freedom, opportunity AND responsibility.