© 2016 Jim Spence One of the most illuminating conversations I have ever had took place a few years ago. It was with a retired classroom school teacher. The subject of the conversation was all of the regrettable changes that have been undermining the effectiveness of public education for decades. I was reminded of the conversation just recently when I read a column in the Wall Street Journal about there being more orderliness in charter schools versus the lack of order and discipline at a typical public school. It seems that parents are lining up to get their kids away from traditional public schools in favor of charter schools, especially in the inner cities.
In our conversation this man repeatedly lamented to me how various court system rulings had gradually taken the tools of discipline away from the classroom school teachers. He also agonized over the way the onerous federal law on education, "No Child Left Behind," had ruined the education process by dictating that test after test be taken by students. He said the combination of rules and regulations from Santa Fe, bureaucrats in Washington D.C., and in the courts were restricting the ways a teacher could creatively address the needs of each class. He explained to me that each class is unique and methods that work well with one group won't necessarily work with another. He complained that there was very little if any room for individuality or uniqueness in the teaching process because of rigid one-size fits all rules imposed on teachers by all three branches of government.
I listened intently as he cited multiple examples of situations that suggested the points he was making were true. And I had absolutely no doubt in my mind that he was speaking the truth. After fifteen or twenty minutes of ripping the No Child Left Behind law up one side and down the other, he reverted back to the topic of discipline in the classroom and blasted the judicial system for allowing a litigious-oriented society and its army of trial lawyers to handcuff teachers and destroy good learning atmospheres. He said over-reactions to lawsuits had caused administrators to replace the classroom teacher's discretionary controls with tedious processes that allowed disruptive students, those with no interest whatsoever in learning, to hijack the entire educational experience.
I sympathized with the plight of the classroom school teacher, knowing full well, based on the input I had received from many other teachers over the years, just how right he was.
The trouble with this man and his thought processes was and continues to be that he lives in an absolute awareness vacuum. It never occurred to him, that the plight of the classroom school teacher is not unique. Somehow, in all my conversations with him, he could never come to understand that state and federal laws, rules made by far away bureaucrats, and rulings by the court system were having precisely the same deleterious effect on virtually every other professional in every other profession in America.
He was and still is a politically active man. Primarily, he socializes and networks with other partisan progressive Democrats. When it comes to politics he is blindly loyal. As such, he has always quickly brushed aside similar sounding complaints heard from other people, regarding the same inhibiting processes affecting other professions. Instead of recognizing the parallels with the teaching profession, as a matter of routine, he writes off these same complaints as simply partisan anti-Democrat pot shots. Sadly, in doing so, for decades he has deluded himself into believing that only the classroom teacher was being negatively impacted by extreme over-reach by all three branches of government.
Becoming more enlightened would not have been difficult for this man. All he would have needed to do was listen respectfully to doctors or nurses as they talked about intrusive impacts of HIPPA, medical malpractice lawsuits, or the mountains of new regulations dominating their lives. Listening to a broad range of dedicated professionals in our society could have helped him understand that the courts, in conjunction with legislatures and zealous bureaucrats enforcing hundreds of thousands of rules and regulations, were destroying their work environments in the same way No Child Left Behind was destroying his.
Alternatively, he could have listened to farmers and ranchers describe the heavy hand of the EPA. Or he could have asked bankers about bank regulators. The list is virtually endless, it includes construction companies, car dealers, store owners, realtors, etc. The story is pretty much the same regardless of the profession. Everyone is serving government more and more and customers less and less thanks to mandatory paperwork and compliance.
The great irony of my discussion with this school teacher is that every single vote he has ever cast empowered the people he voted for, to take control of virtually everything, including the discretion away from the school teacher in the classroom. Yet he, and millions of school teachers like him, who have become so completely handcuffed in their day-to-day duties, continue to indoctrinate students to support the party that puts the handcuffs on virtually all aspects of the classroom teacher's life.
We are all the poorer for what has happened to the classroom school teacher. Too many Americans including today's school teachers, are too blind to see the causes for their not so rewarding work environments. The causes are right under their noses. And they affect everyone with a customer to take care of.
Email Jim - email@example.com