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“Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don’t need little changes; we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government, and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense.” — Rob Lowe as Sam Seaborn in “The West Wing” episode “Six Meetings Before Lunch,” 2000.
Yes, it may be a little outdated (and, locally speaking, a little inflammatory) to be quoting anything from the fictional Democratic administration of “The West Wing.” Yes, the show was a little idealistic and one-sided. Yes, the thought of Martin Sheen running the nation was a little comical.
But isn’t there a little nugget of truth in that quote?
Education should be the silver bullet. Teachers know that a good education is the best answer to any problem, except perhaps white-collar crime (and those perpetrators probably weren’t paying attention in school anyway).
Yet we vilify teachers — and teachers’ unions, especially — as the enemy. They are the leech on the government body. They’re just those silly folk who were too short-sighted not to try and get a better-paying job, who only settled where they are because they “couldn’t do.” They complain about their salaries, but they get three months off in the summer. When a teacher is bad at his/her job, it’s impossible to get rid of him/her.
Some of the criticisms against teachers are valid. It is difficult to fire a bad teacher without significant cause. They do get three months off in the summer. And many teachers’ unions, especially the loudest ones back east, have made more than their fair share of enemies.
But we are not doing what we should be doing to support the educational system, especially here in Utah. Utah County is one of the lowest-paying areas in the entire country for teachers. Several Utah school districts, including Ogden School District, have shown significant distrust in the teachers through the employment of “enhanced” systems, made up of frequent observations and forcing teachers to teach toward standardized tests.
Ogden’s top-down change starts with District Superintendent Brad Smith. Smith was an Ogden School Board member promoted (by that same board) to his current position in 2011 after exactly zero years in the education system (Smith is a lawyer). He doesn’t have education credentials, but he’s a lawyer, and they’re smarter than teachers, right?
The fact is that most decisions made for teachers — and, subsequently, the students they teach — are not made by teachers. They are made by Utah legislators who resent the entire occupation, arguing that the only real education takes place in the home, or in the church, or in the workplace. They are made by lawyers and businessmen who wouldn’t spend an hour in front of a classroom for twice their current salary. They are made by school and district administrators who fled the teaching profession for more money and a chance to make names for themselves by shaking things up (which really just means scheduling more meetings).
Worst of all, this battle is fought by adults who care mostly about adults, and the children are merely ancillary. Money, jobs, test scores and educational preconceptions get in the way of making our children’s lives better. Education is the silver bullet, but all we’re willing to pay for is rubber.