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High school teacher: Republican attacks on public education are bearing rotten fruit

Aaron Katchen
"The teaching profession is now in full-blown crisis, yes, but the very institution of the public schools is also under attack by both Michigan and federal officials."

Back in March of 2010, I did a commentary on Michigan Radio about the animus being directed at teachers.  I expressed a common sentiment among educators at the time that we were bewildered by this development. 

A year later, I followed up with another one, an update if you will, where I expressed surprise that the situation had actually worsened.

Now, six years after that follow-up commentary, those concerns seem quaint in light of more recent developments. 

The teaching profession is now in full-blown crisis, yes, but the very institution of the public schools is also under attack by both Michigan and federal officials. 

Horace Mann, the oft credited founder of our public school system, is not only turning over in his grave, he’s doing somersaults.

Nationally, enrollment in teacher prep programs has declined by more than 30 percent, and in Michigan it’s even worse. It seems young people are not attracted to the teaching profession, let alone our best and brightest.

Gee, I wonder why?

No, it’s not just a matter of low wages. Michigan and New York, the two states where I’ve taught, are among the higher paying ones in the nation, though I would not teach in Mississippi or Oklahoma, who pay the lowest.

(Read more: This charter school pays teachers a starting salary of $125,000 a year)

But as the old saying goes, no one becomes a teacher to get rich. Thus, good health care and a pension have always been key drivers in attracting people to the profession.

Of course, these are exactly what the Republican leadership in Lansing have been trying to greatly diminish, if not destroy.

Just as important, if not more so, is the disrespect – it feels like hate, quite frankly – being directed at us by that same leadership.  As a government teacher and former union leader in my district, I get that they always disliked the Michigan Education Association, or MEA.

Get over it, I say, and do what’s best for the people, but I understand that politics get heated and people hold grudges.

Still, the Republican leadership’s relentless drive to take out that anger on our union and its members is illogical, at best, and perhaps pathological. Their recent attempt to dismantle the teacher pension system, for example, simply makes no sense. 

$46 billion just so you can screw teachers and the MEA? A retirement system that encourages people to leave the profession? Really?

They are educational jihadists, forcing their views on others to the point of undermining, even destroying, our public schools.  I know that’s strong language, but their extreme rhetoric and actions justify the comparison.

Worse yet, they have one of their own as the Secretary of Education -- Betsy DeVos, who recently would not agree to bar discrimination at private schools that receive federal funds.  If that’s not hate, it is surely not compassion. 

The DeVos family has been attempting to undermine the public schools for decades under the guise of choice. Now, they possess a new, profoundly more powerful stage from which to carry out their crusade.  Vouchers, college debt forgiveness, sanctioned discrimination – fresh attacks surface at a disheartening rate.

Seven years ago, I tried to warn people of the path this could take us down.  Then, a year later, I tried to warn you again.

Sadly, the harmful effects of this campaign to undermine the public schools are bearing rotten fruit.

(Read more: Teachers report class sizes are getting bigger in Michigan)

Teacher shortages abound, and not just in urban and rural districts, nor in only hard-to-find subject areas like special education.

Funding for public education, K-12 and colleges alike, is down markedly.

School infrastructure, especially in urban and rural areas, is crumbling.

The list goes on, but so does their effort to dismantle public education or, put another way, to privatize public education so they can have their vouchers and their corporations can make huge profits.

I know public schools have all sorts of problems, but 90 % of our kids attend K-12 public schools.  And education is still the best route toward a successful life for your children, personally, and our nation, collectively. 

The time for warnings has passed.  If you care about public schools and colleges, you need to take action.


Keith Kindred teaches social studies at South Lyon East High School. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or its license holder, the University of Michigan.

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