Sunday, June 30, 2013

What does that even mean?

On June 19, 2013, the Michigan Legislature voted to give state education and treasury officials the ability to dissolve two financially troubled school districts. During the House debate, one representative spoke passionately about the legislation. You can watch her statement below.

At one point, Representative Lyons says:
The amendment that is being discussed, and was offered yet again tonight - that was not adopted - was a double-down from groups focused on only adults, and they just wanted more. Pigs get fat, and hogs get slaughtered. I am done now talking about political parties and adult interests. I want to focus on the problem that these adults created.
Others have taken the Representative to task for this confusing comment (here and here) which has resulted in her responding here. The symbolic language used in her rebuttal is illustrative of the way vague but powerful words are being used against public education and educators. These words are what I want to focus on.

In the first paragraph, she asserts that the focus has been on "adults instead of kids." As in teachers' jobs rather that students' ... what? Many in the reform movement purport to support students first but their actions (like dissolving students' schools, removing experienced educators, and focusing on testing) are antithetical to their stated goal. These reformers offer little in the way of what it means to put students first besides suggesting the need to get rid of bad teachers.

And here we have the other symbolic language Rep. Lyons uses: "the unions' zeal to protect bad teachers at the expense of younger, possibly more qualified professionals, ..." (emphasis mine). The reform movement throws around bad teachers without being explicit about what makes them bad. Reformers get away with this because most of us had a teacher we didn't like. You know, the one who was boring or expected us to revise our work or challenged us to take responsibility for our own learning. Consequently, bad teacher is used to evoke a powerful memory in us while actually targeting someone very different: the experienced teacher. Because experienced teachers have institutional memory that might challenge a "new" mandate (and their contract is large), it can be useful to label them as bad in an effort to get rid of them.

Removing experienced, effective (expensive) teachers is not putting students first. In fact, it is putting politics first; it is an effort to de-professionalize teaching and educate on the cheap.


  1. The phrase "Putting Students First" was also literally the NAME for a Bill passed in Ontario, Canada, back in September of 2012. "Bill 115", as it was otherwise known, gave the Minister of Education the power to end a strike without any legislative debate, and gave education workers (teachers and support staff alike) a deadline of Dec 31st to reach local agreements - within STRICT parameters as dictated by the government.

    The provincial government even recalled the legislature early in August 2012 for it, pitching the "Putting Students First Act" to the public as a way to "ensure teachers are in classes to start September"... when they weren't even IN a legal strike position yet. The Bill was later invoked in January, imposing contracts, then repealed, to remove the evidence.

    I have no idea how in HELL that "put students first". Particularly as it meant the only card teachers were left with was to "teach to the letter of the contract" and withdraw extra curriculars.

    I guess what I'm saying is, I think it's happening everywhere. More detail here:

    1. Thanks for sharing this. It's further evidence that some politicians are using symbolic language to manipulate the discussion. They rely on emotion (putting kids first) rather than evidence (what is effective in education).