It is undeniable that character matters greatly in public leadership. Women who recognize and call out sexism and the sometimes-subtle aspects of rape culture are correct. And it isn't until the moral rot is laid bare and understood that we have any chance of living in a better, safer, more equitable world. We're not there yet, as this election illustrates.

I have been to hundreds of school board meetings in my life, mostly in the district where I taught for 30 years, and neighboring districts. I have attended Board meetings in Detroit, Lansing and Denver. Recently--I decided to check out the board meeting of a local charter school. I did this because the charter in question had been co-opted by an unreliable and ethically challenged operator. Who was guarding the citizens' interest and tax monies?

While the ESSA unquestionably requires the states to administer yearly assessments in mathematics and reading, it does not actually require 95% student participation on those tests. Instead, as currently written, it requires 95% student participation on some other, completely different set of nonexistent assessments. Congress might want to consider hiring a few more proofreaders.

It seems that the promoters of "kids who fail have to be smacked upside the head with their shortcomings" have hit on a recycled tactical meme every educator is familiar with: using "social promotion" as a boogeyman to drive home the point that some kids just don't deserve to move ahead to a new grade. With their peers and friends.

I can't help wondering what would happen if the question were phrased as a constructed response. What if we asked parents, childless millennials or retirees: What's the purpose of public education? Why do we collect taxes and build buildings and elect school boards and argue about phonics vs. whole language? What's the end game?

We've got information and images a-plenty, if we want to look at states which might have some educational moxie. Teachers are now talking to each other across district and state boundaries, sharing information about how education policy is impacting their daily practice, where market-based reforms have the deepest roots and where teachers' judgment and experience is most devalued. Where would YOU go, if you could go anywhere, as an educator?

This seems to be the long-term outcome of being attacked on our own soil: more division, self-indulgence, and deepening racial fault lines. Winners and losers. To hell with unity or even civil behavior--dominance has become our national goal, our trickle-down response to all conflict.

Every school music teacher in America has wrestled with the national anthem. Hard to sing (covering an octave and a fifth), written in an unfriendly key signature, lyrically confounding and attached to a disreputable tune, it nevertheless maintains a strange hold on public sentiment. We expect to hear it, for some hard to trace reason, every Friday night at football games, and a raft of other occasions. We expect citizens to show reverence for this music (although singing the words is considered optional, even embarrassing).

There is no "right to teach," in a public institution, for compensation. None. Nobody has the right to decide--hey! I think I'd like to work with children, mold their little minds. I'm smart! I'd probably be great--with no preparation or experience whatsoever. The "right to teach" and "teacher shortage" blah-blah masks a darker truth. We're not willing to solve problems--health care, clean water, racism, rampant childhood poverty, neglected schools--with hard work and investment in our collective future.

I had a colleague who spent most of August sorting books into leveled baskets, going steady with the laminating machine, and running up colorful curtains for the door to her classroom. Her husband, conversely, would mark the beginning of the school year by wandering around the house, trying to find his thermos. This was immensely irritating to her, of course. But it's hard to say who was the better teacher.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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