As the school year begins, this recent speech by Texas Superintendent John Kuhn from the Save Our Schools rally in DC is worth reading (and watching) as a reminder of why the work of all our city’s teachers in teaching all of our city’s students is so important:
Let me speak for all public school educators when I say unequivocally: We will. We say send us your poor, send us your homeless, the children of your afflicted and addicted. Send us your kids who don’t speak English. Send us you special-needs children, we will not turn them away.
But I tell you today, public school teacher, you will fail to take the shattered children of poverty and turn them into the polished products of the private schools. You will be unacceptable, public school teacher. And I say that is your badge of honor. I stand before you today bearing proudly the label of unacceptable because I educate the children they will not educate.
Day after day I take children broken by the poverty our leaders are afraid to confront and I glue their pieces back together. And at the end of my life you can say those children were better for passing through my sphere of influence. I am unacceptable and proud of it.
The poorest Americans need equity, but our nation offers them accountability instead. They need bread, but we give them a stone. We address the soft bigotry of low expectations so that we may ignore the hard racism of inequity. Standardized tests are a poor substitute for justice.
So I say to Arne Duncan and President Obama, go ahead and label me. I will march headlong into the teeth of your horrific blame machine and I will teach these kids. You give me my scarlet letter and I will wear it proudly, because I will never cull the children who need education the most so that my precious scores will rise.
I will not race to the top. I will stop like the Good Samaritan and lift hurting children out of the dirt. Let me lose your race, because I’m not in this for the accolades. I’m not in it for the money. I’m in it because it’s right. I am in it because the children of Perrin, Texas need somebody like me in their lives.
Our achievement gap is an opportunity gap. Our education problem is a poverty problem. Test scores don’t scream bad teaching. They scream about our nation’s systematic neglect of children who live in the wrong zip codes.
Listen to me, Arne Duncan: It’s poverty, stupid. And that’s not an excuse, that’s not an excuse, it’s a diagnosis. We must as a nation stop assuaging the symptoms and start treating the disease.
Let me ask you a simple question: Where is adequate yearly progress for the politician? Will we have 100 percent employment by 2014? Will all the children have decent health care and roofs over their heads by their deadline? But wait. They don’t have a deadline. They aren’t racing anywhere, are they?
When will our leaders ensure that every American community offers children libraries and little leagues instead of drugs and delinquency? Lawmakers sent you into congressional districts that are rife with poverty, rife with crime, drug abuse and poor health care, but lawmakers will never take on the label of legislatively unacceptable because they do not share the courage of a common school teacher. I say let us label our lawmakers like they label teachers. Let us have a hard look at their data. Let us have merit pay in Congress.
Congressmen, politicians, if you want children that are lush, stop firing the gardeners and start paying the water bill. Politicians, your fingerprints are on these children. What have you done to help them pass their tests?
President Obama, why don’t you come and join me in a crucible of accountability. We have talked enough about the speck in our teachers’ eyes, let’s talk about the plank in yours.