United Against Teachers on Teacher’s Day

The Facebook statuses of some friends of mine who live in India acknowledge September 5 as the date for the observance of an Indian holiday, not, I think, ‘observed’ with any particular enthusiasm in the United States: Teacher’s Day. (A confession: I did not realize there was a Teacher Day in the US till I looked up Wikipedia and found, in the entry for that topic, the following note for the US: ‘National Teacher Day is on Tuesday during Teacher Appreciation Week, which takes place in the first full week of May.’ I apologize for this oversight, but the occasion does not seem to have figured on my university-based radar at all.)

Back in India, if memory remains functional, the observance of Teacher’s Day was occasion for some rather interesting role-reversal: our schoolteachers took the day off, twelfth-graders took on their role as keepers of the peace, and the rest of us dissolved into giggles. (Or whatever it is that young boys do to indicate suppressed hilarity.)

But if an American ‘Teacher’s Day’ were observed during this year’s election season, it would have a decidedly somber air to it. For if there is an issue that unites our two political parties, bringing them together in a frenzy of bipartisan agreement, it is that teachers are to blame: for the ills of the educational system and the trials and travails of public schools, for the seemingly never-ending tales of low student reading and math scores in the face of international competition, and if the spectacularly misinformed Waiting for Superman is to be believed, for poverty, crime and social collapse in inner-city neighborhoods as well.

There isn’t much, it seems, that cannot be solved by simply busting teacher unions, getting rid of tenure and making it easier to fire teachers. Everything would magically become better, negating the effects of broken families, poverty, inner-city crime, declining social services and the like. (The mysterious business of how, Finland, that over-achiever in the world of primary and secondary education, manages to maintain its head honcho position despite a completely unionized teaching force should be sidelined for a bit while we indulge in this pleasant fantasy.)

In this regard our political parties are united, with nary a hint of obstructionism. As Diane Ravitch noted in her critical review of Mitt Romney’s school plan (‘The Miseducation of Mitt Romney’, New York Review of Books, July 12, 2012, Volume LIX, Number 12):

Apart from vouchers and the slap at teacher certification, Obama’s Race to the Top program for schools promotes virtually everything Romney proposes—charters, competition, accountability, evaluating teachers by student test scores. If anything, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been as outspoken on behalf of charters and test-based accountability as Mitt Romney. And, like Romney, Duncan has disdained the issue of reducing the number of students per teacher. [Link in original connects to Ravitch’s critical assessment of Arne Duncan in the New York Review of Books.]

Obama had promised us a new ‘coming together’ of the American nation. Well, at least when it comes to teachers, we finally have it.

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