By Larry Lee
Alabama has been sending its daughters to Judson College in the little Black Belt community of Marion for more than 170 years. The fifth oldest women’s college in the country, Judson has trained hundreds and hundreds of graduates to be teachers.
And a chance encounter not long ago with one of these perspective graduates left me with an unforgettable memory. I was having lunch in this quaint village, where the house in which Sam Houston married Margaret Lea in 1840 still stands, one summer day. My waitress was a Judson student who would soon get her degree in elementary education.
I asked her what she planned to do. “Get a teaching job—but not in Alabama,” she replied. When I asked why not she said, “Because the legislature here doesn’t like teachers.”
Certainly we can debate whether she was right or wrong. But that hardly matters. What does matter is that this was her perception and that she intended to take her college degree to another state.
Unfortunately we seem far too eager to fuel it such perceptions.
Recent remarks by Governor Robert Bentley at a political rally being a case in point. By virtue of his office, the governor is president of the Alabama State Board of Education. In addition to the governor, there are eight elected members of this board. Six are Republicans, two are Democrats.
This is the board that voted to adopt the Alabama College & Career Ready standards for K-12. This is the board that recently adopted an extremely definitive resolution addressing how new assessments will be used; how the state worked with community colleges, universities and business and industry to make sure tests are aligned with needs; that time spent taking standardized tests will be less than in previous years; and that scores from the first year of testing will be used to create benchmarks for the future.
In spite of being president of this board and supporting their actions, the governor spoke out against certain standards and spoke in favor of parents not allowing their children to be tested.
I showed the governor’s comments to a longtime principal and her reaction was simply, “It is really sad when the governor does not know what is going on and is more interested in scoring political points than supporting education.”
Another example happened in the last legislative session when I sat in a senate committee hearing for two hours listening to school board members, teachers, parents, students and superintendents speak in favor of the Alabama College & Career Ready standards; while Tea Party activists and preachers spoke against them.
When this committee voted the next morning with the Tea Party, not educators, the message sent is that folks in the statehouse don’t think education is a profession or that educators are professionals.
And because they feel this way, they were willing to play games with 740,000 kids and 40,000 teachers to try to get re-elected.
There is nothing good about what we call “bad-mouthing.” A constant stream of abuse, no matter how veiled it may be, is never good. This is not the way we raise our children, or coach our Little League team or teach our Sunday school class. We do not coax excellence from someone by never missing a chance to tell them they really don’t matter. Educators are no exception.
Pogo’s statement of, “We have met the enemy and he is us” is a fitting summation for the situation we constantly put ourselves in across Alabama. That was what I learned one day at lunch in Marion. And our political leaders have done nothing lately to change my mind.
Larry Lee led the study, Lessons Learned from Rural Schools, and is a long-time advocate for public education and frequently writes about education issues. [email protected]