A recent editorial in The Star-Ledger declared the state administration of the Newark school system “may soon be forced” to fire its “highest performing teachers” because of seniority rules. That is utter nonsense and it’s impossible to believe whoever wrote it doesn’t understand it is utter nonsense. So that makes the statement a lie, and a defamatory one at that. Why is it ok to defame teachers?
The writer could not possibly know who, among those who might be laid off by the hermit-like superintendent Cami Anderson, belongs to some sort of category of “highest performing teachers” because there is no such category. It scurrilously presumes, however, that, if teachers are experienced, they must perform less well than inexperienced teachers.
In what other profession—or vocation or job, if The Star-Ledger won’t admit teachers are professionals—are more experienced practitioners automatically considered less capable than amateurs? Airline pilots? Surgeons? Lawyers? Plumbers? Editorial writers? I’ve written about teachers for more than 50 years and I know teachers themselves believe they need years of experience to be effective.
The editorial is built, without evidence, around the canard that all teachers with experience either are, or soon will become, “dead wood” that ought to be cleared from the forest of public schools by—in the case of Newark—administrators with virtually no (and, in some cases, just plain no) teaching experience. As if experience teaching was itself the cause of poor teaching–what naïve drivel.
How convenient it is for these non-experts to decide that the problems of urban schools are caused by a phantom band of dead wood teachers who, because they are experienced, are thereby at fault for the dismal performance of urban public schools. Does anyone believe urban crime is caused by veteran police officers? That illness is caused by experienced doctors?
By reaching such a wildly unsupported and naive conclusion, the editorial writers—really writing more as flacks for their corporate owners and managers than as smart analysts—make these corollary, if implied, arguments: Protections for school employees also contribute to poor schools; money doesn’t make a difference; because inexperienced teachers are cheaper teachers, the schools can cut budgets without impunity if veterans are fired; unions serve only to preserve failure and, therefore, should be eliminated; and this is the most risible—politicians like the anti-public employee union Steve Sweeney are owned by public employee unions and should be shamed into voting against due process for teachers.
This editorial is simply a rewrite of dozens of editorials in The Star-Ledger and other media outlets that endlessly blame school employees who are set up to fail—when they do fail, and they don’t always—by a system steeped in the isolation of the poor and black and brown in woefully underfunded and overwhelmed urban school systems.
Underfunded? Yes. And yes again. Chris Christie sent his sons to Delbarton, a school with a tuition of $36,000 a year and a real per student cost closer to $40,000 a year. Most of the children attending Delbarton—or Lawrenceville or Kent Place—already have family and community support systems that are worth—what?—tens of thousands of dollars per student per year.
The media often praise ventures like the privatized Harlem Children’s Zone—which spends about as much as Delbarton on their students to create those family and community and support systems where there were none.
Educating chidlren is highly labor intensive. Educating the poorest children—children born into a history and culture of neglect that has never fully been addressed—costs even more.
If The Star-Ledger had a heart or a soul or even just a brain, it would look honestly at what is happening in cities like Newark. With the full endorsement of the newspaper’s editorial board, outsiders are destroying neighborhood schools their children would never attend anyway–destroying, too, real communities the employees of the newspaper couldn’t possibly understand. Or live in.
These hypocritical missionaries from the middle class–funded by hedge fund managers and others with great wealth (think Gates, Broad, Walton)–have fashioned what they call “reform” out of a toxic mix of ignorance, libertarian ideology, personal arrogance, anti-union animus, racism, and anti-spending politics. “Reform” means creating a privatized system for a few students believed to be educationally remediable while casting the rest into warehouses of despair. In Cami-land there isn’t the money to buy enough lifeboats, so some children will be saved and some will drown.
That has nothing at all to do with teachers–high-performing or low-performing. That is Social Darwinism made public policy by an embarrassing buffoon of a governor, his sycophantic followers in the executive and legislative branches of government, and media outlets in search of the ever elusive clicks. Hate for public employees always generates more readers than support.
Hey, editorial writers–instead of repeating the same lies and canards that never stop, just look at Newark. Look at its children. Look at its history. Look at its streets. Look at its needs for health care, safe streets, welcoming parks and playgrounds, a workable justice system, and housing.
Stop the blaming, stop the defaming, of thousands of men and women who—unlike you—spend every day of their lives in Newark working against impossible odds to do their best for children who have been abandoned by the rest of the state.
Damn it—look at the children and their parents. Really look at them. Look at their circumstances as they exist, not as you imagine them to exist from the lenses of your middle-class, suburban theories of what is and what should be.
Stop lying. To your readers. To yourselves.
Please, help if you can but, if you can’t, just, as the governor you endorsed would say, shut up and sit down.