I’m going to take a break from chronicling the Trump investigation saga. Instead, this week, let’s talk about teachers.
Throughout the 20th century, teachers were among the most admired and respected figures in America. These were people who made real sacrifices (most of them could make more money doing something else) out of a sense of principle: on the micro level, inspiring and nurturing individual children to achieve and have a firm basis to go out into the world, and on the macro level, helping produce good, knowledgeable, capable citizens to help our republic run more smoothly.
My 1st (and 3rd) grade teacher, Mrs. Geneva Cotten, passed away this week in her 90s. Until the end, she clipped out every newspaper article I was mentioned in and mailed it to me, saying how proud she was. Almost 50 years later. I learned she did that for many of her former students.
I would never in my wildest dreams have thought I’d see the day teachers were maligned, cursed, insulted, and mistreated the way they have been the last 10 or 15 years. It makes me sick.
I’m sure you’ve heard about Gov. Lee’s love affair with Hillsdale schools, in Michigan. He wants their private college to be the template for our state universities and to start 50 K-12 charter schools in Tennessee through their company that would be privately run, and therefore not subject to most laws and regulations that apply to public schools, and yet be taxpayer funded. And I’m sure you heard how he appeared on a stage with that company’s founder as he said that you don’t need to be smart or have a particular type of education to teach, that anyone can do it, and that public teachers are “trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges.” That they want nothing but to indoctrinate your children.
And Bill Lee did not say one word - then or since - to defend Tennessee’s public teachers or to condemn that guy’s insults. He has just doubled down - because he wants his privatized education, and he wants it publicly paid for. I hope you all realize that, if that happens, it will be taking money out of our public schools and giving them even less to work with than they have now, which is below the bare minimum. And all because of some conservatives’ paranoia about public education and how the liberals are coming to get your kids. This is why our own state legislature has passed laws mandating what public teachers are allowed to talk about and how they’re allowed to talk about it. I feel obligated to point out that very few of our legislators are trained in the field of education, and many barely have one themselves.
If the public teachers at White County High School are trying to indoctrinate your kids into leftist guerrillas, they’re doing a darn poor job of it. The fact is, of course, they are doing no such thing; they are trying to educate them by teaching basic reality instead of some politicized version of it, which is what your kids would get at Gov. Lee’s charter schools.
I can’t even begin to list the White County public school teachers who had a profound effect on my life, for fear I’d leave someone out because there are so many. And I can’t begin to list how many colleagues I have in the TTU college of education, who train teachers, that are tirelessly dedicated to producing the finest educators possible.
Do you know what would improve education? If you politicians left teachers alone and let them do their jobs. Stop trying to tell them how to do it, because you don’t know. Stop taking away their funding. Stop blaming them for all your imaginary problems.
Our teachers are heroes. And we will remember them longer, and much more fondly, than we do you.
--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.
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