Dear Don Jr.,
Let me introduce myself to you, my name is Pat and I’ve been a teacher for almost 30 years. I couldn’t help but catch a little bit of your speech in El Paso where you referred to me and my colleagues as “losers.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2019/02/12/donald-trump-jr-you-dont-have-be-indoctrinated-by-these-loser-teachers-that-are-trying-sell-you-socialism/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.b73060dfc5dd) I have to admit that I was inclined to be angry about your assessment of my profession, but as a teacher I recognized that your lack of understanding comes from ignorance (as it often does).
I am guessing that, much like our Secretary of Education, you have spent very little time in public schools. Not having spent much time in our schools I am guessing that you get most of your information about them from the news that you consume. Fortunately, there is a term for most of what I am guessing you read about public schools, the term is…it’s right on the tip of my tongue…what do they call it? Oh yes, it’s called “fake news.” You have surely bought into the narrative that teachers are busy promoting our own special interests at the expense of what is good for kids. You believe that teachers unions have made it impossible for teachers to be fired, so we have no incentive to work hard. The narratives that you have chosen to believe have led to teaching becoming America’s most embattled profession. Author Dana Goldstein says this, “Today the ineffective tenured teacher has emerged as a feared character, a vampire type who sucks tax dollars into her bloated pension and health care plans, without much regard for the children under her care…the media repeats, ad nauseam, anecdotes about the most despicable examples of this type of person. …As a result, the public has gotten the message that public school teaching-especially urban teaching-is a broadly failed profession.” That’s the narrative you’ve been sold. If only it were true.
The late great Richard DuFour called this “The Phony Crisis” in his book “In Praise of American Educators.” Mr. DuFour pointed out that in recent years graduation rates have exceeded 80% for the first time in history. According to Education Week the improved rates of graduation for Latino and African-American students exceeded the national average. The College Board has found that students are scoring at all time highs on the College Board Advanced Placement (AP) exams. Educational scholar Diane Ravitch points out that “NAEP (The National Assessment of Educational Progress) data show beyond question that test scores in reading and math have improved for almost every group of students over the past two decades. …Students know more and can do more in these two basic skills subjects now than they could twenty or forty years ago.”
The narrative that you are selling is that teachers don’t care about their students, and yet teachers spend more than $1.6 billion (about $500 per teacher) out of their own pockets to provide students with classroom supplies (Lenbach-Reyhle, 2014, Shepard, 2014). Gallup polls continually find that parents are satisfied with their local schools. Data would also tell us that students recognize that teachers care about their well-being, treat them fairly, and offer extra help when needed (The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2013). There’s lots of data to suggest that public schools and teachers are doing incredible work.
But, in the end, those are a lot of statistics. What I think you, your father, and Ms. DeVos are missing is what is happening day to day in our public schools. There aren’t teachers “indoctrinating” students with any nefarious political agendas. Instead there are teachers lifting young people up every day in so many different ways. I have the great privilege of being in a lot of school buildings as part of my job these days and I’ll tell you a little bit about a recent day I had. I started out visiting a middle school where kids were at Jazz Band rehearsal at 6:45 am on a cold morning to get ready for an upcoming performance. They were working hard at getting better at improvisational jazz, one of our country’s most important art forms. I then sat in on a high school Language Arts class where the students were having collaborative conversations about how their unique backgrounds influenced their perception of a classic novel. That afternoon I observed a Kindergarten class using project-based learning to make water move across a sandy surface. My day ended in a high school business class where students were developing a marketing plan for a local professional sports team. I’m in a lot of classrooms these days and I have to say that I’m not hearing a lot of socialist rhetoric. I see teachers and students working together to learn.
Here’s the thing Junior, you seem concerned that the teaching force is a bunch of socialist “losers” who are busy indoctrinating the youth of America. It isn’t true, but even if it was, where is the army of better-qualified people willing to do this work? If you, or others who want to trash America’s teachers, really wanted to be a part of the solution, you would bring on this invisible army of great teachers who would solve the phony crisis you have articulated. But, let’s be honest, that isn’t happening. Highly qualified, hard-working, very smart people are going to continue to open our classrooms to ALL kids. We are going to drive our 2003 Windstar vans to work each day and do what’s best for kids. We will take a group of learners with increasingly unique needs and we will help them grow. We will make mistakes, we will get frustrated at times, and we will persevere as we face larger class sizes and diminishing resources. While you and Ms. DeVos are busy polishing the silver spoons you were born with, we’ll keep working. Just know that our days as your punching bags are over. We’re going to change the world by changing the narrative you are selling one student at a time.
Patrick J. Kearney