In the song Russians by Sting, from the album The Dream of the Blue Turtles (1985) he posed the famous statement "if the Russians love their children too." Obviously Russians, Americans and ethnicities all over the world love their children. However at the height of the Cold War, or as we know now, near the end of it, the question was not too off base.
In reality, at the time of the release of this song, the statement was seen as offensive to some, an un-American sentiment from a British artist who had benefited tremendously from being an American pop icon.
What does this pop culture history mean for public education? To riff on Sting's lyric, let me post the question in this form; do our public servants love our children too? Specifically there are two sectors of public servants I want to highlight, teachers and police officers.
First the hypocrisy. Those who have highlighted the extremely small portion of teachers, who do not perform up to their duties, have been derided in public schools and public forums across the country. The response from those who deny "bad teaching" exists usually resort to; how dare you contribute to "teacher bashing?" Tenure isn't a "job for life," there is due process. However, in reality there are those, both young and veteran, who, for various reasons, do not belong in the classroom. To deny this is to deny the complexities of teaching -- which is often highlighted correctly as being both an "art" and a "science." In comparison, in the wake of the recent horrific deaths at the hands of police officers of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner (just to name a few), it seems to be in vogue these days to paint the totality of police officers with the brush of "bad cops."
My question is why is it so easy to leap to the conclusion that there are "bad cops" and at the same time, not draw the same conclusions about "bad teachers?"
Being a public servant is extremely difficult. We (as a former public high school teacher and now Professor at a public institution, I include myself) must face public scrutiny at every turn. We are under the microscope when it comes to serving the "pubic good," but yet in too many instances are not at the table when it comes time to define specifically what the "public good" means. Our decisions are questioned and scrutinized by those who are not "one of us" and as such we question authority, question policy and question practice. What we do not question is our commitment to the public -- for law enforcement officers, that means putting themselves in harms way to "protect and serve." I would argue, that the same could be said for teachers. They too are put in "harms way" when it comes to teaching in some of the most persistently dangerous schools which exists in many school districts across this country, from being exposed to the punitive oppressive to down management styles of administrators, and yes, bearing the brunt of public condemnation that we are not educating our children to compete with the rest of the world. While I do not prescribe to the notion that teachers are "bashed," I do acknowledge that we are at times strongly questioned at every turn by the preponderance of the public and specific stakeholders.
Let me also add an important, yet often unspoken underlying ethos that exists within both public servant communities, "no snitching." Both in the ranks of police officers, as well as public school teachers, there is an unwritten code that we do not snitch or report when we see our colleagues engaging in unprofessional activity. The dichotomy is that the majority of us want to affect structural and institutional change, but at the same time we are unwilling (or unable) to turn the lens within to those negative actors who are among our ranks. The question is how do we change this ethos?
So where does the promise of change lie? It lies in the popular mainstream media, social media and the public in general stepping up and demanding an end to the oversimplification and bifurcation of public servants. We as a society are extremely quick to condemn that with which we do not agree, or that which seems to be at face value an either or proposition. It is far easier to say that "all" teachers, cops, public officials, administrators, etc., are "bad" than it is to ascribe to the more complex notion that while it is difficult to quantify, there does exists a certain number of "bad people" in any profession.
What is at issue is who gets the spotlight, those who are serving and protecting in an honorable fashion, who love their jobs and doing the right thing, or those small numbers of outliers who are up to no good (or worse killing our children)? The media and others tend to err on the side of exclusively highlighting the bad. We have to demand better. Not just to create a safer world for our children and us, but to bend the arc of the moral compass back towards being more socially just. We must tone down the hyperbole and finger pointing, and refocus our efforts towards the difficult task of eliminating structural and social inequality. Then and only then can we truly honor those public servants who "serve and protect" as well as society at large.