Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My Response to the Washington Post

By Eric Luedtke.

Over the weekend, a couple of political acquaintances asked me why I haven’t blogged anything in response to the Post’s editorials attacking my colleagues and me. Truth is, I don’t really believe in responding to attacks like these. For the third time in as many weeks, the Post’s Lee Hockstader has used innuendo and hyperbole, schoolyard taunts and selective reporting to try to paint our involvement in elections as somehow nefarious. I could sit here and type a point-by-point response, but I doubt there’s much to gain. Hockstader will continue writing what he wants, true or not. The guy is, after all a pretty good rhetorician, managing in the same three editorials to say that our teachers should be paid well and that we make too much, to argue that public servants shouldn’t make their opinions known to the public, and a host of other logical contortions worthy of the best of classical sophists. In any case, I have better things to do than write a point by point; like digging through this bottomless pile of grading I just brought home with me. But one of Hockstader’s claims deserves a clear response: his insistence that Montgomery County’s teachers are thugs.

Here’s what we really are:

We are 12,000 people who have dedicated our professional lives to helping the children of our community achieve. We are the elementary school teachers who take your child’s hand on their first day of kindergarten, and the high school teachers who shake it as they walk across the stage at graduation. We are the special educators who meet the often profound needs of our students with disabilities, the ESOL teachers who guide children through an entirely new language, and the speech pathologists who help kids navigate one of the most important worlds they will encounter, the world of the spoken word. We are occupational and physical therapists who work with toddlers with special needs before they even reach school, so they’ll be ready to learn, and counselors who walk children through some of the most painful moments imaginable, so the vagaries of life don’t keep them from their education.

We inspire. We challenge. We lend an ear to listen, offer a helping hand, and, when necessary, give a shoulder to cry on.

Because we know that what we do is teamwork, not the work of individuals, we are strong believers in improving our profession. We’ve created a peer assistance and review program which offers support to new and under-performing teachers, a program which is now a national model. We’ve worked to embed professional development in everything we do, with staff developers at every school, because we expect ourselves to continuously improve. We’re fighting, as we speak, to develop new models of school leadership and collaborative planning that will lead to better results for our kids.

And because we know our students have wider needs, because we know our kids need more than what we can offer in our classrooms, we don’t let our work stop at the schoolhouse door. We are advocates. We fight to make sure every kid has the resources they need to learn. We work with civil rights and equity groups to fight the achievement gap, and with parents groups to ensure that families have a voice in our schools. We’ve struggled against a political culture and a mainstream media that think schools can be improved with sound bites, and offer simplistic one-word solutions like testing and vouchers and charters that don’t address the fundamental challenges of American education. And because our schools don’t exist in a vacuum, we work for better housing, health care, and nutrition programs.

But we haven’t done it alone. In this work, our 12,000 have been joined by hundreds of thousands of parents, students, and average Montgomery County residents who believe deeply in the work we do. They’ve supported us in myriad ways. Most profoundly, many have placed their trust in our ability to recommend strong pro-education candidates for office. And, because that is quite a responsibility to bear, we have created the most substantive, open, and democratic endorsement process I’ve ever heard of. Unlike, say, the Washington Post, we publicly release our endorsement criteria on our website and are posting our questionnaire as soon as it’s finalized. Our decision is made not by a small group of journalists who live outside the county and work in a downtown office, but by a democratically-elected body of hundreds of educators that meets monthly in Rockville.

Lee Hockstader seems to think that public servants don’t deserve the right and privilege of participation in a democratic society. We disagree. We will continue to speak out, continue to advocate for the children in our classrooms, for their parents, for our schools. We will continue to elect excellent leaders to public office, people for whom support for schools is a reality and not just a campaign slogan. Once elected, we will continue to hold them to account for their actions. And, when re-election time comes, we will support those who upheld their promises and unseat those who abandoned campaign pledges at the first shift in political winds.

Montgomery County’s children deserve the best, and whatever we have to do to give it to them, from the locker-lined hallways of our schools to the marble-lined hallways of Annapolis, we will do it.

Lee Hockstader can think what he wants. For my part, I count myself blessed to have as my colleagues and friends thousands of the best educators in America. And I am proud to be a member of and an activist for the Montgomery County Education Association.

Put that in an editorial, Lee.

Eric Luedtke is a social studies teacher at Loiederman Middle School, a board member of the Montgomery County Education Association, and co-chair of the MCEA Political and Legislative Services Committee.