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Tennessee's tea party declares war on public education

Ohanian Comment: I reported on Summerville's outrage before. Note the similarity between and among Summerville, Obama/Duncan and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They all tell teachers, "Mind your own business," while at the same time taking away bargaining rights and tenure--and turning public schools over to private charters. Obama/Duncan/Gates are Tea Party warriors out to bend public education to their awe.

by Mark Brandon

From the floor of the state Senate, tea party Republican Jim Summerville recently warned Tennessee's teachers to mind their own business where education reform is concerned.

"Make no mistake," he said, "the final responsibility is ours ΓΆ€” and we are warriors."

Lest his point be missed, Sen. Summerville added, "We will bend public education to our awe, or break it all to pieces."

This incendiary rhetoric -- combined with Republican plans to prohibit teachers from bargaining over conditions of employment, to impose even more stringent requirements for (and limitations on) tenure and to promote a charter-school take-over of some public schools -- suggests that some Republicans have declared war on teachers and on public schools.

This inspires me to tell about a teacher I know.

She paid her own way ΓΆ€” tens of thousands of dollars ΓΆ€” to get her master's degree and teaching certificate. She did this knowing that the pay in her new career would be paltry compared with what she could earn in other careers. But she believed she could make a difference in children's lives.

Although she could've taught in a private school, she chose a public elementary school here in Nashville, because she believed every child ΓΆ€” even one born into crushing poverty and ignorance ΓΆ€” deserves an equal chance to learn at school and to flourish in life.

She's spent hundreds of dollars of her own money to provide a decent library for students in her classroom, because the children need the books, and the grown-ups who make decisions about supplying classrooms have apparently decided it's too expensive to provide books for children.

She's spent uncounted (and uncompensated) hours to try to get her school certified as an International Baccalaureate School because that's the kind of tangible reform that can make schools even better places for children to learn.

She spends hours outside class every day and on weekends grading papers, preparing lessons, performing evaluations, and -- more generally -- trying to provide her students the best education possible.

She's bought snacks for her students, because their parents can't or won't. As I write, she's baking cupcakes so a little girl, whose mother is poor and disabled, can celebrate her birthday with her classmates.

This teacher is not a composite. She's a flesh-and-blood individual. Full disclosure: She is my wife.

As much as I admire her, and as much as I believe she's special, I have to confess that she's not alone. Take my spouse and multiply her by thousands of teachers, and you'll get a quick glimpse of the difference teachers are making every day in Metro classrooms and beyond. In short, education reform is their business.

Sen. Summerville is angry. Well, I'm angry, too. I'm angry that some politicians are so cheap and short-sighted that they're willing to sacrifice the prospects of the rising generation for the sake of a delusional crusade against teachers and public education.

Maybe Summerville and others in his camp will save a dime. But at what cost?

Mark Brandon is professor of law at Vanderbilt University Law School.

— Mark Brandon
The Tennessean





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