In defense of our public schools

By From page A6 | January 22, 2013

By Peter London

“California gets a failing grade on its school policies” is the lead headline in The Davis Enterprise of Jan. 8. But that headline itself deserves a failing grade for journalistic inaccuracy, another failing grade for being tinged with “yellow journalism” and yet another one for providing its readers with headlines that defame (wrongly) the character of  one of the most important “characters” in our nation‚ our public schools.

The subsequent headline on Page A5 even more incorrectly and misleading blares: “Schools: Calif. is given an ‘F.’ ”

Who was it who gave California’s public schools a failing grade? An academic council, a federal educational agency? A respected nonpartisan research foundation? A scholarly society? No. The grade was assigned by a start-up, (2010) already controversial,
conservative, partisan, anti-teachers union, self-appointed, non-vetted, privately funded, group of “concerned citizens” whose first
sentence of their mission statement reads, “American schools are failing our kids.”

As Richard Zeiger, California’s chief deputy superintendent, who is quoted in the same article states, “This (StudentsFirst) is an organization that frankly makes its living by asserting that schools are failing. … This group has focused on an extremely narrow, unproven, method that they think will improve teaching … and we just flat-out disagree…”

The article does go on to detail the many controversial positions of this group and the many states and parent and educator groups opposed to its policies; but the headlines of The Enterprise proclaim a decidedly different state of affairs: “Schools: Calif. is given an ‘F.’ ”

That is bad journalism, it is misleading, a corruption of even the reporter’s own story. It is telling its readers a “truth” that is not
“true” at all, but merely an opinion of a small, recent, but very politically savvy and well-funded partisan outfit of a very particular
political persuasion.

I happen to have another opinion about the quality of American public schools from that of StudentsFirst and its president, Michelle
Rhee, herself plagued by lawsuits and scandals concerning doctored test scores and other abuse of office (See “Frontline” of Jan. 8 for details of Rhee’s career as a school administrator).

Being an educator for more than 50 years — training art teachers, art therapists and artists, visiting and lecturing in hundreds of public schools in more than 40 states and eight countries — I have come to my own considered opinion. This half-century in our public schools, preschool through higher education, has led me to believe that American public schools and especially their teachers, are the most professional, intelligent, dedicated, caring, honest, decent, highly educated, servants of the public good that I have known.

And, and, despite the vast inequalities, racism, sexism, classism and downright pugnacity and mendacity Americans all too readily engage in, all too gladly suffer, our schools and our teachers create the safest, most thoughtful, polite, honest, hopeful, home for intellect, merit and decency in America.

And one more thing: Our public schools are doing a fantastic job given the children they are given to educate. Want proof? How about just this: Be honest now, aren’t your children smarter than you were at their age? Don’t they know more about their world than you did about your world? Aren’t they more nimble in research, aren’t they more friendly with a wider bunch of diverse races, genders, ethnicities and intelligences than you were? Aren’t they less prejudiced than you were (are?)

Whom do you think you have to thank for this step up in evolution? You bet; it’s your public schools and the teachers who have put their lives into in their great work.

— Peter London is a Davis resident. For more information, visit www.peterlondon.us

Special to The Enterprise

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