I know what Mississippi teachers want for Christmas. They want Santa to haul politicians who think they know how to teach back with him to the North Pole and feed them to the reindeer or something… anything to keep them out of classrooms.
Do members of the Legislature go over to Highway Patrol headquarters to instruct troopers on how to make a traffic stop? How about the medical center? Do you reckon our state’s elected elite scrub up, waltz into surgery and give doctors pointers on a liver transplant?
But what began as a trickle of officious intermeddling with education has become a torrent.
The capper came when Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves issued a statement saying that while he once supported using the Common Core methodology in Mississippi public schools he has changed his mind. President Obama has co-opted the program, he said, and Mississippi must abandon the approach with all deliberate speed.
The next day, if not within hours, Gov. Phil Bryant issued a statement expressing how glad he was that Reeves (his fellow Republican on paper and frequent rival behind the scenes) had come around to Bryant’s viewpoint.
This seals the deal.
There is now, fully and officially, a Republican way to teach and a Democratic way to teach.
The gifted cartoonist Marshall Ramsey, whose work appears in The Clarion-Ledger, and another state editorial artist, Ricky Nobile, seized the moment.
Ramsey’s cartoon featured a frantic teacher sitting at her desk, arms flapping and hair sticking straight out. On the chalkboard behind her is written, “This year we’ll be teaching …
– No Child Left Behind (crossed out)
– MCT 2 (crossed out)
– Common Core (crossed out)
Whatever the governor and lieutenant governor create on a napkin.”
The caption reads: “After four years of teaching, Miss Smith snapped and joined the circus.”
Nobile’s cartoon made a similar point. It features Professor Phil and Professor Tate tossing the Common Core book into the trash in favor of the three R’s. “Readin’ ‘Riting and Re-Election.”
This state trains, tests and licenses public school teachers, requires continuing education and allows those trusted to staff classrooms to teach only the subjects for which they have obtained certification. The state refers to teaching as a “profession” and then treats teachers as dolts.
Be clear: There are lousy teachers on the public payroll, probably some crummy state troopers and doctors, too. There are poorly administered districts. But the way to deal with problems such as this is to improve hiring and retention, not to confound effective teachers with gimmickry.
Here is a fact political personages seem so unwilling to grasp: There is no one-size-fits-all approach or method to effectively teach young people.
Adding classroom techniques and tools is or can be a good thing. To this end, hiring high-priced consultants and deploying expensive copyrighted programs and materials has been the trend for several decades. The process of teaching and learning, however, has not really changed in thousands of years.
As the latest cure-all, Common Core has met hostility in social media and elsewhere mainly because a portion of the curriculum presents math as a language, not a fixed or static subject. It shows different methods — some really obscure — to solve problems. It invites students to think about options every time they encounter a challenge.
Sadly, this has been seized upon as a bad thing. Why, it’s even a threat to state sovereignty!
Initially, Common Core was embraced by Haley Barbour, by almost all other governors and by Mississippi and other state boards of education as an alternative, a route to independence from federal No Child Left Behind methodologies.
But it really doesn’t matter whether Common Core works or doesn’t work.
The reason is that something else will be along soon. There will be a rush to adopt the next big thing, more specifically the next big Republican thing or the next big Democratic thing.
Mississippi has some great schools, great teachers and great students. Maybe we deserve the bottom-of-the-pile rankings we get for education; maybe we don’t.
In any event, there’s no denying our elected elites look rather awkward as they speak from the end of the rankings about what should be going on at the front.
The state needs to select competent people to create and manage education policy. State and local governments need to provide school buildings, pay for utilities and books and to pay educators a living wage — and then leave them alone.
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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