The 22 years I spent as a reporter before entering the teaching field left me with a healthy skepticism for any words escaping the lips of politicians.
That being said, I was encouraged by President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night.
My optimism had nothing to do with the president's kind words about teachers and his statement that we should not be "teaching to the test."
As long as Arne Duncan is his secretary of education and Race to the Top is his blueprint for improving American schools, I will have a hard time believing those words.
It was the sizable portion of the speech dedicated to improving the lot of America's middle class that provided the most hopeful words for teachers, students, and parents. Especially the following passage:
First, if you're a business that wants to outsource jobs, you shouldn't get a tax deduction for doing it. That money should be used to cover moving expenses for companies like Master Lock that decide to bring jobs home.
Second, no American company should be able to avoid paying its fair share of taxes by moving jobs and profits overseas. From now on, every multinational company should have to pay a basic minimum tax. And every penny should go towards lowering taxes for companies that choose to stay here and hire here.
Third, if you're an American manufacturer, you should get a bigger tax cut. If you're a high-tech manufacturer, we should double the tax deduction you get for making products here. And if you want to relocate in a community that was hit hard when a factory left town, you should get help financing a new plant, equipment, or training for new workers.
My message is simple. It's time to stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas, and start rewarding companies that create jobs right here in America. Send me these tax reforms, and I'll sign them right away.
For years, our system has been stacked against the middle class and the public educational system that has been the heart of that segment of our nation.
Jobs are shipped overseas, and we are told that schools are failing because we are not preparing the displaced workers for the new and different jobs.
Meanwhile, as the number of those without jobs increases, the poverty level skyrockets, and as everyone except the so-called "educational reformers" understands -- poverty, not "bad teachers" has been the number one problem in our failing inner-city schools.
By targeting teachers, those who have made millions by outsourcing jobs have effectively turned the conversation away from their own role in America's current economic situation, including their sizable impact on public education.
With this has come a push to send students to college who, quite frankly, have no business going to college and would never have needed higher education in the past. College and university officials complain about students who come to their institutions lacking basic knowledge and those who bash public education use that as evidence that our schools are failing.
It seems far more likely that we are sending students to our college campuses who in past years would have made a comfortable living doing decent-paying work in our plants and factories.
Higher education should be available for everyone, but it should not be an absolute requirement to live a successful life in this country.
At the same time that more students are being pushed into higher education, the shell game continues. Many of the white collar jobs that we have been told repeatedly would be available are being outsourced and as more and more Americans are sinking tens of thousands of dollars into higher education, their reward could well be a lifetime of debt and either long-term unemployment or richly rewarding work greeting Wal-Mart customers or handling drive-through orders at McDonald's -- useful jobs that should be available to the young who are getting their start in the workplace, not to those who have diplomas that don't mean a thing in our diminished workforce.
As the people at the very top of the totem pole become wealthy beyond their wildest dreams, those of us who choose to criticize their selfishness and lack of patriotism are castigated and accused of practicing "class warfare."
Public education is, and always has been, a reflection of society. We teach the value of hard work and instill in the children who come into our classrooms every day the idea that with that hard work they will be able to accomplish success.
With each day that we hear national, state, and local candidates preach the gospel that we must cut taxes on job providers who never seem to provide any jobs and eliminate services for the people whose jobs have been cut out from under them, it becomes harder for teachers and students to buy into those traditional American values.
What President Obama promised Tuesday night in his State of the Union message was a return to an America where the hard work and patriotism are prized and where those who contribute the most to the American dream, not those who consider it just another commodity to be exported, are those who will reap its rewards.
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