Sunday, December 28, 2008

We Have Met the Enemy, And He Is Us

On the day before Christmas vacation, euphemistically referred to in our district as "Winter Break," my colleagues and I received in our mailboxes multiple copies of letters apparently written by our superintendent and addressed to the parents of our students. Although the superintendent's name was included in the closing, the letter was not signed and was not written on district letterhead.  Furthermore, the letter included no instructions or explanation as to its content or the motivation for distributing it other than a couple of cryptic and arcane references to something called No Child Left Behind:  Title I, Part A, Section 1111, Parent Right to Know/House Bill 212: 22-10A-16 (!!!).  
The body of the letter in its entirety reads:

Dear Parent:  
On January 8, 2002, President Bush signed the new federal education act, titled No Child Left Behind.  This new law includes many new programs and changes for all public schools in the United States.
The new laws permit you, as a parent or guardian, the right to request information about the licensure and other qualifications, teaching assignment, and training of your child's teacher and any paraprofessional (instructional assistants) who may work with your child.
If you are interested in requesting this information, please contact:  [school name and phone number].  
The Superintendent [unsigned]

Excuse me?  The federal government, using our district's superintendent and possibly our school's principal as conduits, expects me to pass on a letter to the parents of my students calling into question my teaching credentials as well as those of my assistant and the rest of my colleagues!?  
What could possibly be the motivation for sending such a letter?  Does the federal government suspect the district failed in its duty to adequately verify the credentials of its teachers and assistants upon employment?  Did dozens of unqualified, unlicensed, or untrained teachers or assistants accidentally slip through the cracks, requiring the district to deputize a  vigilante corps of parents to help root out the rogue educators in order to prevent further damage to their children's education?  
It is worth noting that the letter conveniently fails to call into question the credentials of school administrators, such as the superintendent and the principal, whose job descriptions include—or should include—verifying the credentials of the people they hire.  If the government suspects there are unqualified educators among us, shouldn't the letter first call into question the credentials of the administrators who hired them?  
It is also worth noting that the words "Title I" are included in the heading's citation.   This implies that parents are receiving the letter because their children are attending a school whose free and reduced lunch population is high enough that the school qualifies for supplemental federal dollars not allocated to wealthier schools. Does this mean that the government is only questioning the credentials of teachers in "poorer" schools?
Beyond these and other questions, to which we will likely never get answers, the ulterior intent of the letter remains:  It amounts to yet another attempt by the federal government to lay the blame of all that is perceived lacking in public education entirely at the feet of educators.  Yes, unqualified, untrained teachers are the cause of what is bad in public education. This goes hand in hand with a myriad of other moves by the Bush administration, too numerous to list here, to dismantle public education altogether in order to promote private schools and their attendant vouchers.   (If all this sounds eerily familiar, remember we went to war in Iraq because the Bush administration had no faith in the credentials and the training of career weapons inspectors who, as we now know, were correct in their conclusion that Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction.)
But what hurts as much as the letter's contents is the timing of the letter.  While teachers and other school staff were scurrying around during their short potty breaks, leaving holiday wishes in each others' boxes, cooking and baking for the staff holiday potluck, writing out thank you cards to the students who gave them a modest gift, or stealing precious minutes from the scripted math, reading and science curricula in order to help their students make holiday gifts for their families, the federal government, by means of its local surrogates, sent letters to the parents of kids in poorer schools implying that the reason their children may not be doing so well in school is not because family income, nutrition, level of education or access to books and computers is inadequate, but because their child's teacher may be unqualified.  
And a very Merry Christmas to you, too!