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Rita M. Solnet

Rita M. Solnet

Posted: October 12, 2010 12:47 PM

The spotlight beamed on discussions of education reform last week as it became the focus spanning prime-time slots on every network. This was a great idea. This was big!

As a concerned and involved parent, I expected this media blitzkrieg would generate unity. Yes, this will be very big, I thought.

I believed the dialogue on topics carefully selected for this highly publicized "National Summit on Education" would genuinely focus on resolution vs. blame. I envisioned the other prime time major shows covering education would produce some sort of result -- a consensus on an approach -- in its widely acclaimed group-therapy type style. Yes, definitely big!

Utter disbelief came over me as I listened to segment after segment of a one-sided clamoring chorus criticizing a population of teachers on cue. The big assault began to unfold. By the end of the weekend, I could parrot the lines echoed repeatedly from each panelist who traveled from show to show.

Chancellor Rhee's raw remark: "Oh, I know kids are getting a crappy education."

Secretary Duncan's remark: "Teachers must be held accountable for failing our students -- this is morally unacceptable."

Harlem Children's Zone CEO, Geoffrey Canada's remark: "It's just impossible to fire public school teachers."

AFT President Weingarten's remark: "Unions are working to resolve these issues in many states."

One more day I could have substituted as panelist for any one of them myself! I emailed a friend who refused to watch and I asked, "How will attacking the teachers vs. the problems improve the quality of education?"

I kept watching thinking soon I'll hear researchers, education historians, highly regarded and credentialed teachers intelligently discuss the fact that the foundation for these reforms are built on a wobbling house of cards. I reminded myself, this is too big -- genuine dialogue will begin soon.

Where was the discussion on the high stakes tests that brought us to this national crisis? Where was the discussion on a string of reforms being introduced which were proven failures? Those discussions never came; ergo, no consensus could be formed. Instead, this media frenzy converted the dialogue into a carpet bombing of debasing teachers and their unions.

In the aftermath of this frontal assault on our nation's teachers lies the casualties -- our nation's children.

I don't know precisely when this became a war on "them vs. us" -- "Feds vs. unions and an entire population of teachers"? I only know that it did. How do I know? I'm an involved parent -- a non teacher, non unionized, businesswoman volunteer who's had a front row seat in the trenches.

Within days the talk among parents during orientation nights, book fairs and coffee shops became frighteningly similar. "Teachers are the enemy. They are lazy, incompetent and ineffective. After all, a Chancellor and a Secretary of Education would not make such accusations if it was not widespread. And, let's not forget Oprah!" The residual effect of this slanted media extravaganza was the dismantling of a teacher as a professional and identifying them as the enemy we are battling in our war on education. That destructive attitude crept into the consciousness of parents, grandparents, businessmen, politicians and, most tragically, children.

If teachers' jobs were not difficult enough, they are now increasingly forced to deal with parents and children who enter their classrooms with a newly implanted chip on their shoulder. Demoralizing teachers, I'm sorry to say was just elevated as a national past time. Yes, oh dear God, this was big.

This "Summit on Education" created a stronger sense of divisiveness in communities. If you disagree with any policy of this Administration, you are instantaneously pigeon-holed into the category of status-quo clinger. Then you, your experience, and your opinion are tossed aside.

You are either for, or against teachers now.

You are either for, or against all charters (no stipulations allowed).

You are either for, or against one form of evaluation based on merit pay.

No one seems to be for a dialogue to implement the changes needed -- just for the heroes and the villains, who are interchangeable depending upon where you sit.

The collateral damage caused by this chilling rhetoric was immediate and will have a profound effect on our nation if not dealt with.

This is a horrific environment for any human being to work in and for any child to be placed in. We will see more behavioral problems in classrooms, I suspect, as children lash out in retaliation. There will be less learning, not more, in this environment.

As an organizational consultant, I can state with confidence that if respect for teachers is not re-instilled very soon, we will be on an unsustainable path as a nation in need of education reform. You must gain endorsement of the changes you propose from those you expect to implement them. You can never impose massive changes on others without seeking their input first. And now, you've made those who are tasked with implementing change, your enemy.

Yes, this was big. We are dismantling our democracy with deadly dialogue. Let's get back to the dialogue and demonstrate to our nation that we respect the teaching profession.

 

Follow Rita M. Solnet on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ritacolleen