Susan's Blog

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Walk the Walk: Train Lawmakers Like Teachers

I think that lawmakers should have to go through training, just like teachers do.  Teachers are required to have many courses in education strategies, child development, special needs; and then they also have to do internships, and learn on the job before they take charge of a classroom.  Lawmakers, on the other hand, are simply elected, and they serve based on whatever their experience or record may be.  When I was on our Board of Education (School Committee) a few years back, not one of us was an educator; we were laypersons elected for what we believed and had done in the community.  We were there as representatives of “the people” in town, and not as experts.  We had to meet with and listen to the experts’ recommendations (the superintendent, the assistant superintendents, department chairs, etc.) as well as to weight what we knew the parents and students felt (ideally) and make our decisions based on all of that.  A lot of responsibility and not a lot of expertise, but that is representative government.

What made a difference for me back then was whenever we were invited to take part in an activity of a particular group or issue. For example, we would read to a random classroom anywhere in the school system, on Dr. Seuss’ birthday; it was kind of a symbol of how reading is important.  The kids gathered around me; the teacher sitting off to the side, smiling.  Me, trying to make this children’s book come alive to them.  All in all, a small gesture, certainly one for the newspapers, and yet, not without its actual merit.  Just the half hour I spent in that first grade classroom at a nearby school taught me so much that I didn’t know about teaching.  It made it real to me.  It made me stop and think next time anything to do with “first grade” or “literacy” or “large classrooms” or “challenging children” came up.  However much more a School Committee member could attend events and meetings, made that much of a difference in our ability to represent because we had learned something firsthand, or at least, first fingertip.

Training does not have to involve actually going somewhere like I did.  I am reading Precious, based on the novel Push, by Sapphire, and getting a tiny but vivid training in what it’s like to live around crack addicts, survive child abuse, navigate the Welfare system, become homeless.  I thought I knew something about this just by reading newspapers but the thing is, reading Precious’ story is making me feel what it is like, just a small painful slice.  I caught myself remembering some quick, summary judgment I had made about how “of course, a victim of rape should get an abortion,” and then thought about how Precious feels about baby Abdul, her child and her brother(!), and how she fights to keep him with her.  This is the first time I understood how that could be so.  I also realized how much our social programs helped save her life.  So easy to talk about Waste and Big Government in the same breath, but do we ever stop to think about the millions who are actually helped by Big Government?  Precious was a victim, whose life would have remained shit in a swamp if she had not been able to collect Welfare, go to an Alternative Public School, and live at a halfway house.  All funded by the US Government.  That right there is a modern-day miracle of how the system works. And your tax dollars are going towards repairing the world.

So I got to thinking about how legislators have to vote on item after item with little knowledge about it, and certainly without any training around it.  They come to power with their beliefs already intact.  Often based on ignorance, or worse, on hatred.  But imagine if legislators were made to teach a class for twenty minutes, or work in an adult residence for a little while, or sit behind a Welfare desk.  What if they had to meet with the parties that would be affected by their vote?  Cutting the education budget?  Before you do, come in and teach in that overcrowded classroom, just for twenty minutes.  Against healthcare for all?  Live with an autism family whose insurance refuses autism therapy coverage and who cannot afford any interventions and whose child is in one of those overcrowded classrooms.  Against environmental protection?  Spend a little time in a country where there are no EPA controls and have fun breathing.

The legislator’s life would become much fuller; he’d have less time for meetings with wealthy and powerful lobbyists.  His schedule would be much more finely drawn.  His brain would be stretched and tired; his heart would be soft and worn.  And his votes would be infinitely more intelligent and compassionate.


Teacher’s here have to have a 4yr degree in something, most are in Sociology or Psychology… nothing relavent to teaching… They hate us Engineers who can do Math much better than they can and explain it better….

Then 1 yr of Teacher’s college… WOW!!!

Then 2 classrooms… double WOW!!!

Then they believe… b/c the Union – Ont Teacher’s Union is one of the biggest there is – tells them… that only they can teach and Parents know little to nothing about education. Don’t ever dispute it… they get really upset when you do… I know, I’ve had more than one friend, online/RL tell me I know NADA… Problem is… now I know the “game” better than they do and that doesn’t go over well either.

Problem is, we live in a society where we no longer have to think. Where we no longer act as if we are part of the whole. People are rigid, we have raised and entire generation (since the 1980’s) who are told from the 1st day of school they are “owed”, that there are no consequences for their actions, that reach adulthood and can’t figure out why they can’t immediately become “boss”. On top we’ve instituted a “their fault” behaviour policy, the adults caring for them refuse to take responsibility for teaching them appropriate behaviour… they should just know what is right or wrong.

Debt is currently out of control around the world. Something is going to have to give… and when it does finally, the recession we went through… will be nothing compared to the next. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable are going to get hit the most… how to prevent it.. I truly have no idea.

— added by farmwifetwo on Sunday, May 16, 2010 at 8:55 am

No argument that debt is out of control, and that teacher training and unions are imperfect. But — at least they are trained, exposed to research and practical, hands-on experience. No doubt you are also right about how many feel they are “owed.” My ideas here will not change that. But if lawmakers were expected to know and feel their issues the way we expect teachers to — I am certain that would make a positive difference.

— added by Susan Senator on Sunday, May 16, 2010 at 9:14 am

I think the problem is that it costs a lot to run a campaign and the way office-holders get that money is by promising big corporations and very, very rich people, that they will pass laws to help them. The lobbyists are the middlemen: they tell the lawmakers what laws should be passed and they make sure the lawmakers are amply rewarded so they have the money to run/win again. And then the cycle continues.

As Molly Irvins (of blessed memory) would say, You dance with thems that brung you (or something like that).

— added by Ohio Mom on Sunday, May 16, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Psychology is not relevant? I beg to differ. Understanding that all kids come from different backgrounds, knowing how to teach kids from different backgrounds, knowing how to offer an education in emotional and character development as well as the academics, are for me perhaps the most important part of teaching. Book stats can be learned later; character development , not so much.

— added by Kate on Monday, May 17, 2010 at 3:24 am

I sometimes think that it doesn’t matter what we do, as teachers, therapists, caregivers, consultants. It will never be enough for some people. I work with adults and kids with mostly autism and other severe disabilities. So does my daughter. I’m not going to apologize for getting an education, for spending years and years and years in the field. I will never have the perspective of a parent of a child with any of the disabilities I mentioned. That is just how it it. I am grateful for my daughter and her lack of said disabilities, but I am not sorry she is as she is. I didn’t end up where I ended up for any reason other than that fact that autism was like a magnet to me. I’m not in it to make a fortune, obviously, but I know I’ve made a difference in lives of many as they have made a difference in my life. We are not perfect, but most of us are committed. I’ve seen good teachers work tirelessly for years and give up, because they were hit one too many times by a family or politician who, either close up, or through rhetoric expected them to be all and give all, and when they had done as much as humanly possible, were told that it wasn’t good enough. Respect all around in important; when we all respect each other, we can be more open to learning from each other. Susan, as always your words resonate with your measured and thoughtful approach. I am learning from you and so many other parents I meet.

— added by michele on Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 11:56 pm