Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and once in a great while, conservatives must face the harrowing prospect of siding with liberals—even Barack Obama. Fortunately, the source of Obama’s latest criticism, Bill Maher, makes the idea a little easier to swallow.
You may recall Frances Gallo, the Rhode Island superintendent who fired the entire staff of a failing school last month. Maher was outraged that President Obama took the superintendent’s side over the teachers’ union’s. Maher took up the usual leftist education line that it’s never the teachers’ fault:
Yes, America has found its new boogeyman to blame for our crumbling educational system. It’s just too easy to blame the teachers, what with their cushy teachers’ lounges, their fat-cat salaries, and their absolute authority in deciding who gets a hall pass. We all remember high school – canning the entire faculty is a nationwide revenge fantasy. Take that, Mrs. Crabtree! And guess what? We’re chewing gum and no, we didn’t bring enough for everybody.
To Maher, the parents are really to blame, and the school’s staff was simply the most convenient scapegoat. After all, “according to all the studies, it doesn’t matter what teachers do.” But if “all the studies” say so, surely Maher could have easily found one to cite, couldn’t he?
Never mind the fact that the teachers in Central Falls were making far more than the town’s median income, or that Gallo didn’t even fire them for the 50% failure rate, but for refusing to accept a plan “for teachers at a local high school to work 25 minutes longer per day, each lunch with students once in a while, and help with tutoring.” That was too much to ask our heroic teachers to sacrifice for the sake of their students?!
Obama supporter John Legend also smelled something fishy in Maher’s argument, and penned a response for the Daily Beast:
However, a child’s academic success does not only depend on parenting. Parents control what happens at home. But parents do not control what happens at school where students spend a large portion of their day being educated. Parents don’t determine whether the books are woefully out of date, whether the school and surrounding neighborhood are safe, whether there are too many kids in the classroom, and whether the teacher leading the classroom knows what they are doing. Individual parents can’t always influence those factors, especially when they themselves may be struggling in poverty or working double shifts just to make ends meet […]
We should hire teachers who are hard working and passionate about education—and we should do everything to properly train, compensate and support them. It’s our responsibility to provide teachers an environment where they can thrive, their needs are met and their voices are respected. But we also need to measure student performance and hold teachers accountable when their students aren’t learning. We should not be afraid to say that some well-meaning individuals are simply not effective teachers. If a teacher cannot help students learn, he or she shouldn’t be teaching.
A recent New York state estimate showed that, between the legal and other expenses, it costs the school system about $400,000 to remove a bad teacher. An L.A. Times investigation described the same problem. School systems can’t afford to go through the hassle of removing poor teachers and wind up deeming teacher incompetence as a problem they simply have to put up with. The end result is that too many mediocre and truly terrible teachers are allowed to remain in classrooms.
I’ll be the first to agree that parents bear some responsibility for failing schools, but not in the way Maher thinks. Their failure is in being overly deferential to, and uncritical of, their local schools. In America today, the teacher’s public image as an overworked, underpaid paragon of virtue and wisdom has been so elevated and reinforced that it is now socially unacceptable to suggest any educational problems might lie on their end. Suggesting such things is enough to get you branded as a heartless monster who hates schools and doesn’t want children to learn anything. Don’t believe me? The next time a funding referendum comes up in your community, publicly ask whether or not the district looked at cutting any of their existing costs before opting to raise property taxes, and see what kind of response you get. A word of warning, though: it won’t be pretty.
And it’s Maher’s seething hostility to anyone who deviates from the “teachers can do no wrong” mantra—even The One (who, admittedly, probably decided he couldn’t take the PR heat of siding with such awful performance)—that reinforces this climate. This is another manifestation of leftist identity politics at its worst: every interest group in the Democrat coalition—women, minorities, teachers, you name it—gets total insulation from criticism. Every objection to individuals falling into any of the “right” categories gets twisted and condemned as an attack on the entire group.
Of course there are lots of great teachers. Sure, many of them deserve a bigger paycheck. But the same can be said of many professions, and just like every profession, there are good members and bad members. In what other walk of life do we exempt people from responsibility for their conduct so fully that we assume a 50% failure rate has absolutely nothing to do with the people being paid to do the teaching?
Maher’s knee-jerk impulse to circle the wagon around the faculty and staff of Central Falls High School beautifully illustrates one of the key differences between the Left and the Right: they look at humanity and see monolithic groups, within which apparently no variation is to be acknowledged; we see individuals, all of which deserve the opportunity to sail or sink on their own merits, and to be judged accordingly. In light of this controversy, which worldview do you think works better?