Contributor Beth Srigley: Libertarian Public Schoolteacher Speaks Out

Grosse

Amy Lawson, a fifth-grade teacher at Silver Lake Elementary School in Middletown, Del., helps student Melody Fritz with an English language arts lesson Oct. 1, 2013. Silver Lake has begun implementing the national Common Core State Standards for academics. Remembering the plot of a short story is no longer good enough in Lawson’s fifth-grade classroom. Now, students are being asked to think more critically -- what, for example, might a character say in an email to a friend. "It’s hard. But you can handle this," Lawson tells them. Welcome to a classroom using the Common Core State Standards, one of the most politicized and misunderstood changes in education for students and their teachers in grades kindergarten through high school. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)
Amy Lawson, a fifth-grade teacher at Silver Lake Elementary School in Middletown, Del., helps student Melody Fritz with an English language arts lesson Oct. 1, 2013. Silver Lake has begun implementing the national Common Core State Standards for academics. Remembering the plot of a short story is no longer good enough in Lawson’s fifth-grade classroom. Now, students are being asked to think more critically — what, for example, might a character say in an email to a friend. “It’s hard. But you can handle this,” Lawson tells them. Welcome to a classroom using the Common Core State Standards, one of the most politicized and misunderstood changes in education for students and their teachers in grades kindergarten through high school. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

Pointe Woods, MI – There are more of us than you know.

Quietly, we sit in the staff lunchroom with our friends and colleagues. In the beginning of our careers, we voiced our opinions and were glared at and talked about by our colleagues, who made any expression of opposing viewpoints uncomfortable. We are forced to join unions as a condition of our employment when we would prefer to negotiate our own contracts, or at least try to do so and see how it goes. We silently cheer on and envy Miriam Chanski’s bravery when we hear about her lawsuit with the Mackinac Center challenging prohibitive union membership rules. We wish we could be strong enough to take a stand and risk our relationships with those who one day – the day we are part of the union – would be our friends, and the next – the day we quit – would shun us as betrayers. We are forced to accept contract-destroying, retroactive pay cuts or distasteful contracts because others in our non-voluntary union have voted to support them, when what they were supposed to do was fight as unions say they will.  We actually think we’re paid pretty well considering that we have 3 months off a year, but keep that to ourselves. We look at each other in anguish when yet another presenter unabashedly talks about “conservatives who are trying to ruin education” when we know it has little to do with conservatives or liberals, but statists, lobbyists, and backroom deals between politicians and corporations.

We believe in homeschooling and charter school experiments and other school choice options if they lead to better educations for children, but we don’t voice these opinions because to do so means that we support less funding for the district for which we work. We know that, logically and ethically, choices for families lead to more involvement and more local control over a child’s education, but to say this out loud means that we risk hearing the anger of the union reps in the lunchroom, so we have learned to just keep quiet.

If we are ambitious and desire to move up in the ranks as ambitious people do, we know that we will move closer to the bureaucracy, and farther away from what teachers actually do every day. We fear that we will have to tell teachers that they must teach an approved curriculum, when what we want to tell them is to teach what they think is best based on their professional experience. We know that we will have to worry even more about standardized testing and state requirements than we did as teachers, and bow down to people who don’t know what they’re talking about. We fear slowly becoming more of a part of the machine of education and less a part of the education of humans. So we are stuck in our careers and see no desirable path forward. We can shut our doors and our mouths and just teach alone, but that doesn’t support the collegiality that we believe in as professionals.

The libertarian schoolteacher works in every public school, in every city, in every state in America. At the heart of libertarian public schoolteacher’s dilemma is the fact that we care deeply about the future and education of American children, but firmly disagree with the direction that public education has taken. We are on a hurtling school bus being controlled by people who have never driven a school bus before. These planners were on a bus once and therefore think they know how it should be done, just as central planners went to school once and therefore know everything about how children should be taught. We became teachers before the Common Core, before Race to the Top, before No Child Left Behind, when local school districts largely controlled curriculum, and now we feel terror and sadness at the knowledge that we might want to leave the profession so we are not a part of the inevitable failures.

So we teach.  And we fear the system, and we look for non-education jobs, and all the while our hearts are breaking and every day we feel like we betray ourselves and our beliefs…except when we see a child inspired because of an amazing lesson that probably doesn’t prepare that child for any standardized test, and thus is not authorized by the curriculum.

But we’re here. Never believe that the classrooms of America are only filled with statists who seek to spy on families and report back to the state. We are here, and we are trying to find a way to fight back and at the same time support our families.

There are more of us than you know.

Follow Beth on Twitter: @MsBethMS

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