More teachers should be politicians. Let me explain.
Growing up in North Carolina, my senator was Jesse Helms. And Lauch Faircloth -- probably doesn't ring a bell. Oh yeah, and John Edwards. Maybe you've heard of him.
So when I moved to Massachusetts, I was thrilled to have Ted Kennedy and John Kerry as my senators. This beat having to hear Jesse Helms say things like, "Homosexuals are weak, morally sick wretches."
The election of Scott Brown was disappointing, though certainly he does not compare to the infamous Senator No. Still, some of Brown's votes have been appalling, particularly his deciding vote against the DREAM Act.
I think about one of my former students, an A student in an Advanced Placement course, who might never get the opportunity to shine since he was brought over undocumented at the age of two. When you ask him what he plans to do when he graduates, his eyes are filled with the deep, terrible knowledge of the limitations of his birth. Of knowing that even as the sergeant of his JROTC battalion, even as someone who loves this country more than any Tea Partier, his fate is as flimsy as a Washington whisper.
Nevertheless, I was heartened when Elizabeth Warren decided to run against Scott Brown in this year's election. I have volunteered with the campaign -- my first time volunteering for a political campaign, ever -- and have heard her speak several times now. But I had the privilege of seeing her in a smaller venue this time around at fundraising breakfast in downtown Boston. Hosted by partners and associates of a prestigious, large law firm, the event was attended primarily by lawyers -- I may have been the only non-lawyer there, actually. And as a teacher, I certainly couldn't have afforded to donate at their level.
Warren must have taught some of the attendees. Despite this home team advantage, I was struck by her absolute humility. She even had the gumption to apologize for the necessity of such an event -- the need to raise obscene amounts of money, thanks to Citizens United. And let me tell you, you don't see that every day in a politician who's in front of a room full of rich people.
As Elizabeth (it feels odd to refer to her as Warren, even though I don't know her) told her life story, I realized that the Brown campaign attacks on her were no different than the attacks on education that are happening all across the country. Calling her "Professor Warren" is somehow an insult. She's a teacher, and she deserves the respect that teachers so rarely get these days. I don't care if it's at Harvard Law and she makes a good salary. If she had made $100 million as a venture capitalist, she would get to champion her business credentials, but somehow being a brilliant academic who can actually teach is something to shun.
Not to mention that she taught elementary school special education before law school. I tried that for a few summer months. Extremely rainy, dark summer months. Sometimes, I still have nightmares.
These attacks on teachers are having a real effect, and the distinction between teachers and teachers' unions is lost on most people. Look at The University of California system, fast losing its status as a global beacon for public education. TRIO Grants have been trampled -- we lost ten Upward Bound programs in Massachusetts alone, including one at MIT for first-generation college students. Pell Grants. I could go on and on -- don't get me started on the Ryan budget.
We now live in a country where financial success trumps all. Money is everything. And at breakfast, Elizabeth reminded us that it wasn't always this way. Perhaps this is nostalgia, but opinion polls back this up -- we used to believe in our government. That our government, our democratic ideals, would help us do together what we could not do alone.
Now, it costs someone 350% more to attend college than it did their parents. That's if they can get there at all, much less afford to stay. College is fast becoming a commodity, not a democratic opportunity for those who work the hardest, regardless of income.
I'm not sure that we will survive unless we change the parameters of this debate. Education spending should be our non-negotiable, regardless of party. How dare we allow our politicians to cut services to some of our hardest-working, neediest students for the sake of "job creators" and defense spending? Our priorities are completely, utterly backwards.
84 out of 100 current senators have a background in either law or business. We need more teachers -- not just in the classroom, but in Congress to remind us that we are the hard-won, nurtured, loved or unloved output of our childhoods. And if we don't invest in our children, we will have nothing left to cut.
Follow Adam Kirk Edgerton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AdamKirkEdge