09/11/2014 09:42 am ET Updated Nov 11, 2014

Education Reform: Adding Insult to Injury


It's a fair question. There have been plenty of reform movements imposed on education -- why is the current wave of reforminess evoking such a severe reaction among teachers.

It's not just the injuries that No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and Waiverism (RttT Lite) have inflicted on education. It's the insults that have gone with them.

First, there's the professional insult.

Imagine a family member is having car trouble. You're a trained, experienced mechanic, but instead of asking you for help, your family member calls your sibling, the butterfingered one who has never done anything with a car but drive it. That's more than just a snub -- that's an insult to your professional skills.

That sort of insult has been the story of reforminess every step of the way. Really Important People decided that it was time to bring some standardization to education in this country, and so they made certain NOT to call on the large body of professional educators that work their whole lives in the field. And when teacher dared to speak up about brilliant reformy bits like the Common Core, they were dismissed, as if their professional acumen was a detriment to a discussion of American public education.

That's a huge professional insult. It's the kind of thing a wise person would never, ever do to someone whose cooperation they wanted or needed. Think about it. If you need your boss's support to accomplish a project at work, the last thing you ever say to your boss is, "No, I don't want any input from you. There's nothing you know that could possibly be any help." Lord, no. Even if you plan to ignore every piece of advice that boss gives, you still make your boss feel included in the process so that you can get the necessary cooperation.

So the professional insult of reform is not just a slam on teachers' ability and experience, but a sideways statement that teachers are not important to education, that their cooperation will not be needed to make all these nifty reformy gimcracks run properly.

So, a double professional insult.

Then, the personal insults.

But reformsters went beyond the professional insults. With the various "accountability" systems, they have repeatedly made one point abundantly clear -- they consider teachers to be terrible human beings.

Yes, it may look like teachers have devoted themselves to a relatively low-paying often thankless job because of some sort of devotion to the ideals of American public education, but reformsters know the truth -- teachers are lazy slackers who don't particularly like children and only took a teaching job because they felt certain they'd never have to actually do it.

Tenure, we are told, must be destroyed because teachers will only do a good job if they know that they can be fired at any time. If we have job security, the reasoning goes, we will kick back and do nothing, because apparently that is our aspiration as teachers.

High stakes testing must be used, we were told, because schools have been lying to parents about how well students are doing, because schools are all about being big lying liars.

The accountability systems are all built around one simple premise -- that teachers will not do a decent job unless threatened and co-erced and outed to the public through regular revealing of our scores. Without the threat of job loss and the prospect of public humiliation, teachers would crawl under their desks and let chaos reign. One can only conclude from these systems that teachers are the most indolent, incompetent, unmotivated, uncommitted people who ever walked the earth.

So there you have the source of the extra anger over and above the anger about the dismantling of American public education. But please keep in mind, teachers, that as we are being routinely insulted both professionally and personally, reformsters would like us to respond in dulcet, measured tones of civility. And please don't be insulting. That would be rude.

Cross-posted from Curmudgucation.