Friday, January 17, 2020
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Movie preview: Passion to Teach

A new movie that’s critical of President Donald Trump, of US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and of their efforts to privatize the public schools through voucher programs of one sort or another has been reviewed by Mercedes Schneider, an educator, researcher, and blogger from Louisiana.

She gives the 90-minute movie high marks, saying it truly celebrates “the indispensability of the teacher-student relationship in fostering intrinsically-motivated, lifelong learning in students and the symbiotic nature of the teacher-student dynamic as one that contributes to lifelong learning in career teachers.”

Ms Schneider quotes Bart Nourse, one of the film’s producers, as admitting that “our movie is just a piece of the story of ed reform. The focus of the story of Passion to Teach is on an individual as a metaphor for timeless, passionate teaching. The context of the story is institutional reform. So, our movie is part of a work in progress, one for the long haul. But that work always begins with a teacher. …

“The state-by-state march of DeVos and other oligarchs and ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) amount to disastrous educational policies,” he continued, recognizing that the policies were “effective political strategies. We must fight fire with fire. We must organize second to none. Those who would strengthen public education must strengthen their own power and legitimacy vis-à-vis the public who elects its reps. This is how democracy works.”

An extensive history of the movement to privatize the public schools was published this weekend in the New York Times. It’s written by Katherine Stewart, the author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, who takes a long, studied look at the ideas behind vouchers that would decimate public education if allowed. She writes:

Before the Civil War, the South was largely free of public schools. That changed during Reconstruction, and when it did, a former Confederate Army chaplain and a leader of the Southern Presbyterian Church, Robert Lewis Dabney, was not happy about it. An avid defender of the biblical “righteousness” of slavery, Dabney railed against the new public schools. In the 1870s, he inveighed against the unrighteousness of taxing his “oppressed” white brethren to provide “pretended education to the brats of black paupers.”

The article is a true celebration not only of this nation’s excellent public schools but also the ideals of democracy in general. The bottom line is that public education is essential to the advancement of American democracy: it can’t be turned over to a profit-generating machine, which is what Mr Trump and Ms DeVos would have us do. If brought to its natural conclusion, that movement would make anything but the most rudimentary education only available to those who have the ability to pay for it. It’s precisely the wrong direction in every way.

Just today, for instance, the Times reported that they had documentation that the Trump administration was “preparing to redirect resources of the Justice Department’s civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants.” The song just doesn’t change, no matter how out of tune it may be.

I can only pray, to paraphrase a quote Winston Churchill once borrowed, that after we Americans exhaust all possible alternatives, we end up doing the right thing. Maybe the notions of charter schools and white discrimination need to be played out so we can move past them after we realize they’re little more than a distraction from real issues. The question is, How many students will be lost in the meantime? And why don’t we invest in the early and secondary education of all students through the strengthening of public school teachers, especially where it’s needed most—in poor neighborhoods?

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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