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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Continual failure of educators

--posted by Tony Garcia on 4/20/2006

(H/T: Professor X, frequent caller of RttR)
Yet another example of "educators" being "indoctrinators" instead.
An elementary school science teacher, who's a Democrat nominee for the legislature, got a slap on the wrist from school officials when he showed 8th grade students a vulgar slide show that repeatedly refers to President Bush, members of his staff and conservative personalities as "a--holes."

The teacher's presentation also included the "S-word" and showed someone "flipping a bird."

Steve White of West Limestone High School in Lester, Alabama, got off with only a "slap on the wrist," according to the Athens local newspaper, the News Courier.

The video is in a slideshow format accompanied by a song that repeatedly uses obscenities. Along with images of Bush, the show includes Secretary of State Condolezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, columnist Ann Coulter and Fox News Channel hosts Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly, according to reporter Landon Howell, who viewed the video.

One parent told reporters that she was shocked when she heard her 13-year old son and his friends talking about the video and using the "vulgar language contained in it." She said other parents were outraged that a science teacher was politicizing his class and using obscene language in a video created to denigrate the President and other Republicans and conservatives.
Slap on the wrist? I wonder if all that happened was a brief talking-to.
School board member Darin Russell said the board learned of the controversy a month ago, but it was handled only by Superintendent Barry Carroll as a "personnel matter," the News Courier reported.

But when reporters questioned Limestone County Superintendent Barry Carroll, he said Thursday that he talked with West Limestone High School teacher Steve White about showing the film.

"It's a personnel matter, and it's been handled," Carroll said. "Both I and Principal Stan Davis discussed the matter with him. He's not on suspension or anything like that."
I'm becoming a fan of opening up teacher's and their disciplinary records. I'm becoming a stronger advocate of teacher retesting and re-certification as well.
In the past, White also forced one student say "John Kerry rocks" before leaving class one day, according to students in his science class.
This is wrong...and I would say that if the student were being forced to say George Bush Rocks or Ronald Reagan Rocked.

School vouchers...that is the answer! Allow competition for the school dollars.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This teacher was wrong; I do not deny that. He should be seriously disciplined for this. But there are over 3 million teachers nationwide. You know what they say: "One rotten apple..."

I know several teachers who are active politically. Each one takes great effort to keep his/her political views out of the classroom. And each one does an excellent job at doing so.

School vouchers won't solve this perceived "indoctrination" problem. (After all, Karen Klinzing is a public-school teachers, and she has as great an opportunity to indoctrinate as other, nonlegislative teachers, if not a greater opportunity.) In fact, the problem that you exemplify with Mr. White has nothing to do with teachers as a profession. Like every other profession, this is one example of someone acting incorrectly in his job. That's it. I'm sure there is at least one private-school teacher who has allowed his/her political views to influence his/her classroom teachings.

April 20, 2006  
Blogger Tony Garcia said...

I understand your point about the lack of causality. However, given the growing number of examples of poor teaching (see MY comments on why Jay Bannish should have been fired) and poor testing results I believe there must be a monumental change in how public teaching is done. That change cannot occur until there is competition from the private schools and/or the teachers union dies.

I understand the "one rotten apple..." defense also. Using my own observations I would say that about 1/2 of the teachers in my high school were bad teachers. Their facts were questionable, their knowledge was highly suspect and the desire to teach HOW or WHY to think was not present. It was instead a desire to get to the end of the day, end of the week and end of the school year OR a desire to teach WHAT to think. In college the percentage of bad teachers in my own experience was even higher than 1/2.

So, I believe that the secrecy with which discipline and even curriculum are given hides the cases of bad teaching. Open it all up and you may be surprised to find that my experiences (from a school whose scores according to the accredidation boards ranked in the top 20% of the nation) is not uncommon.

April 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You know what they say: "One rotten apple..."

Would that that were the case.

"I know several teachers who are active politically. Each one takes great effort to keep his/her political views out of the classroom. And each one does an excellent job at doing so."

This may be your experience, but when I was running for the Saint Paul public school board I had the opportunity to speak to lots of teachers.

While I had many constructive discussions, all too often I found myself at the recieving end of a spittle flecked diatribe that was long on partisan nonsense and very short on facts.

Given the vein-popping vitriol I find it extremely hard to believe that many of these teachers so not use their positions of authority to inculcate their students with their lefty ideals.

Indeed, that seems to be one of the side-benefits that EdMN encourages it's members to make full use of.

"School vouchers won't solve this perceived "indoctrination" problem."

You're right. But true school choice will give parents the power they need to remove their kids from the grasp of such classroom idealogues of any stripe.

Or conversly I suppose they could shop for a school that includes such indoctrination in their curriculum as a matter course...if they so choose.

In either instance, the parent holds the ultimate decision...and that is as it should be.

April 20, 2006  
Blogger Tony Garcia said...

Swiftee, I like the idea of being able to shop the public schools to...as long as the money follows the kids.

Though, as I typed that I just realized a problem that would have to be worked out somehow. What if a MPLS kid was moved to an Anoka school...that would be a disproportionate amount of money that would follow the kid in relation to the other kids in the Anoka school.

Then again, maybe that is a good thing. School districts with high per pupil funding would be forced to improve or lose large chunks of cash while less costly ISDs would improve to court those expensive kids.

Agh, then imagine having to suffer through "Bring your kid to Timbuktu Schools" commercials each summer.

Now I'm really torn. School vouchers...and no commercials, please.

April 20, 2006  
Blogger bobby_b said...


I have three kids in various grades in a large SW suburban school district. Over the years, they have all come home (multiple times each) telling me that their teacher says "Bush sucks", "Bush is killing Iraqi kids", and, of course, "Bush doesn't want to pay for schools."

Not once has any teacher indicated dislike for any Dem person or proposal.

I know - (anecdote =/= evidence) - but, damn . . .

April 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think everyone can point to a poor teacher (or even several) that they have encountered. I know I can, and I believe I know an above-average number of teachers. But I also know a number of poor lawyers, mid-level managers, and store clerks. I'm not sure that pointing to X teachers (when in reality it is likely a miniscule amount of the 3 million nationwide, or the 70,000 in Minnesota) calls for a monumental change in public education. (I'll get to test results in a moment.)

I have no problem with opening disciplinary reports, but there would need to be some common way to report discipline between the districts (not to mention data-privacy laws). In terms of cirriculum, these should already be public. I imagine you can call a district's main office to review its cirriculum.


I think the context of your interaction makes a difference. I have read enough of your posts to know that you are not the most public-school-friendly person out there, and you certainly don't hide that fact. (Please correct me if I'm wrong, and, if so, I apologize in advance.) Public-school teachers are incredibly loyal to public education, which is good. And public-school teachers are continually mystified why everyone feels that they know more about teaching than teachers, who are trained to teach. After all, when you go to the doctor, you rarely question his recommendation. Or, to draw a closer analogy involving the spending of tax dollars, how often are the state's civil engineers, who decide public-road placement, verbally attacked for a road design?

Again, I know several teachers who are politically active and, in a nonschool setting, make their political views known. Yet each of these teachers is truly nonpartisan in their classroom. Take my first friend. He teaches social studies at a metro high school. He's very active with local politics and the teacher's union. I have had the chance to observe his class several times; not once have I sensed any attempt to political indoctrination. In fact, he tells me that his students routinely try to get him to admit which way he leans politically. He refuses to do this. (As a side note, I had an identical teacher in high school. I always tried to pin him to one side of the spectrum. I never could, and he refuses, even to this day, to tell me.)

I would guess that EM encourages its members to be politically active. That's understandable; it's one of the largest unions in the state. I don't find this to be a bad thing.

Tony and Swiftee-

First (and I address this to everyone), I'm not trying to quell criticism of public schools. In fact, I think criticism is a good thing - it helps schools improve. My only wish is that every critic would spend some time in their local public school to see for themselves how different schools are from when we attended. I have another teacher-friend who invites legislators who criticize public education to spend a day with him in his classroom. He has extended several offers to a metro senator who is highly critical of public schools. The senator has yet to accept.

Now, vouchers and choice. I'll try to steer clear of the policy debate - I'm certain that we will disagree and that we will always disagree. But, briefly, we do have a form of school choice - open enrollment. It's part of the reason Minneapolis is losing students. Now, I will assume that by "true school choice" (Swiftee's words) you mean some form of private-school choice or vouchers. The problem is that the evidence does not prove that private-school choice is any better at closing the achievement gap or increasing test scores. In fact, the MDE just released a report on Minneapolis's "Choice is Yours" program (http://www.education.state.mn.us/mde/About_MDE/News_Center/Press_Releases/009406.html), whereby students are sent to one of nine other public-school districts. Students in the program showed a significant increase in test scores. This proves that the problem is NOT public schools, as many voucher proponents claim, but rather public schools located in certain communities.

This leads to my next assertion. Teachers, staff, buildings, and funding all play a role in public education. But the largest role is played by parents. I was a good student not because of my teachers, or even some natural ability, but because my parents made it a priority. My public school was not great; in fact, in many ways it is "failing." But I turned out pretty well (you'll just need to trust me). Parents - not teachers - are the key to fixing public schools. The teachers in Minnetonka are, as a collective unit, no more talented than the teachers in North Minneapolis. The parental support in those two communities, however, is worlds apart. That makes the biggest difference between the test scores.

April 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's the link to the MDE report.

April 20, 2006  
Blogger Tony Garcia said...

I turned out pretty well (you'll just need to trust me)
I will concur that you turned out OK from what I am witnessing. You're engaging in the topic at hand and not some unrelated rant.

I should clarify what MY panacea is in the school choice discussion. If a parent wants their child to move to a different ISD they should be freely able to (no programs to register through, please). The money for that student follows the student.

If a parent chooses home schooling then they get a dollar for dollar refund in their taxes for schools as long as their kids are passing the standardized tests. This is because the school is not providing benefit towards the student/family and so the family should not be putting into that system.

If a parent chooses to send their kid to private school then the taxes should be refunded to the parents as long as their kids are passing the standardized tests. The theory being again that the student/family are not gaining from the public school system AND they are already paying into a system from which they receive benefits.

That is how I would like the system to be. I actually agree that a portion of the performance by a student body is based on the teachers AND the district AND the family.

How do you fix the system? The system has too many teachers (even 1/5 is too many) that are not teaching the kids properly. (Teaching them how to pass the standardized tests is not teaching the skills needed, btw.) I still think that in order to fix the system there are 2 things that must happen before anything else. The teacher's union must die (they stand in the way of things that help/protect teachers at the cost of education) and ISD must be given incentive to improve the whole product of the school. The latter will be accomplished through vouchers, refunds (what do you call my panacea?), credits, etc.

After that the tweaking and adjusting can have a better impact.

Two last retorts: Why single teachers out while not worrying about bad lawyers, etc. Bad lawyers do not affect the education of the children which is a necessary social investment (in the abstract sense, not in the financial sense necessarily). Bad mid-level managers affect their employer and most will soon be fired...something that cannot happen to teachers.

Open disciplinary reports...I think it should be of public record what happened to Jay Bannish for example. Privacy may be an issue, but I would prefer finding a method around it. The curriculum should be public record as well. It should not be as difficult to get as a school's budget (I have tried in the Princeton School District with complete frustration). A school levy I would vote for is for equipment to record at least the audio for every class. Disciplinary actions would be severe for skipping to many recordings.

Why? Because the heat that Bannish received may have been justified. If he were teaching his class with such an abuse of facts on a regular basis he should have been fired on the spot. OR the heat that Bannish received may have been unjustified. Maybe he spends a week advocating one side and then a week on the other side. One class recording would not show us that. And who can you trust to record the class when it needs to be? Noone, honestly. If a teacher is indoctrinating they will record selectively. A student looking to bust the teacher would do the same. If each class is recorded then there is not a question on the indoctrination.

I just thought of another benefit of recording classes. Performance reviews could include these recordings.

Hope that clears up something.

April 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I have read enough of your posts to know that you are not the most public-school-friendly person out there, and you certainly don't hide that fact. (Please correct me if I'm wrong, and, if so, I apologize in advance.)"

I am the most public education friendly person you'll find anywhere. I, and people like me are the only hope that public education has of surviving.

But public school friendly? Not so much, nor should I or anyone else be. See, that's the whole crux of my fight; it's the service that is important, not the system or the innfrastructure.

"Public-school teachers are incredibly loyal to public education, which is good."

To (mis)use the same blanket statement you did, public school teachers are incredibly loyal to public schools. Many of them could really give a shit less about education..and the lack of academic success endemic in the system proves that.

"Again, I know several teachers who are politically active and, in a nonschool setting, make their political views known. Yet each of these teachers is truly nonpartisan in their classroom."

Heh, I imagine that they may actually believe that themselves..

"I would guess that EM encourages its members to be politically active. That's understandable; it's one of the largest unions in the state. I don't find this to be a bad thing."

Then you don't understand what a trade union does.

Education Minnesota's job has nothing to do with educating children, or improving the teaching profession. It's mandate is to ensure that it's members recieve more money and to limit the amount of work they are contractually obligated to provide..period, end of story.

And unless teachers decide as a group to claim their vocation as a profession by dumping their dependence on a blue-collar trade union that operates under the exact same model as any "brotherhood of drill-press operators" they are dooming the "factory" in which they work.

April 21, 2006  

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