This teacher wrote a great letter to President Obama. I hope you will write one also, and send it to my colleague

October 6, 2012
Dear President Obama: I Feel As Though I’m Playing In The Band On The Titanic

My part in the presidential letter writing campaign this October.

The Titanic was a behemoth that was too large for its time. It could not change course to avoid obstacles due to its massive size, yet this juggernaut was capable of 24 knots (about 28 mph to us land-bound souls). Despite being the marvel of its day, it sank in less than three hours after hitting an iceberg. My favorite Titanic story is about how the band kept playing until the last possible moment. It was only their job, but they knew that it would calm the masses as they were fighting for room in the sparse lifeboats. Today, after 27 years in the classroom I feel like I am a member of the band, hopelessly playing along as if nothing is wrong. Going about my job while everything I dedicated my life to and believe in falls apart around me. It is ironic that the musicians on the Titanic traveled as second class passengers on board this ship as do the teachers in American public schools today.

The Titanic was seen as the pinnacle of decades if not centuries of marine engineering and people saw it as infallible. Though we have been working for decades on our education system and graduation rates and NEAP scores are up, education is now seen as being responsible for a national security crisis. This is the third crisis in my lifetime if you count “Sputnik” and “A Nation At Risk.” This time things feel different though. This crisis has hidden agendas and a dual purpose. Some would even say it is manufactured. I believe that originally school vouchers were about giving money back to wealthy individuals who put their children in private schools while paying taxes for public schools, but they have a more insidious purpose today. Today they are about putting public money in the pockets of private companies.

The people on the Titanic had blind faith in the unsinkable ship and it’s captain who was said to believe that icebergs could not hurt his modern ship. The passengers were blissfully unaware of the dangers that were inherent in the crossing but the captain knew of and disregarded the warnings from other ships. Americans seem unaware of the true agenda of “reform” so cleverly cloaked behind a big media campaign today. Online schools, charters, grading schools, and testing for teacher evaluation are hallmarks of the privatization agenda. Anti-union advocates point at Finland to quote test scores, but never mention that all of Finland’s teachers are unionized. The best performing states in the country are unionized, but facts seem to fall on deaf ears in this debate. I am amazed at how blissfully unaware the average American is about our education voyage as well. Most are only focused on their local school and surveys show that they are overwhelmingly happy with them but the “reform” movement has convinced them that “other” schools are not like theirs.

Something that few Americans understand is that we spend almost as much nationally on education K-12 as we spend on defense. It is one of the last great pools of public money that is yet to be given to the lowest bidder. Still we find ourselves traveling at 24 knots with no radar or depth gauge at night in the fog in uncharted waters. These are dangerous waters indeed to be steaming at full speed as was the norm in the day of the Titanic. One of the “reforms” that we are pushing through at full speed despite the lack of research supporting it is teacher evaluation. Though teacher evaluation needs revision, high stakes testing has little validity. Teacher’s scores are dictated by the students they have. Moving excelling students from a “high performing” teacher to the classroom of a “low performing” teacher magically makes the poor teacher’s value added score highly effective. Let’s improve education through sound research, not the kind produced by politically motivated think tanks. We now know that cost cutting, brittle steel, and cheap rivets doomed the Titanic. Budget cuts and privatization are stacking the deck against public education as well.

My wife and I are both teachers and we raised two children with the help of the public school system. Both had full tuition academic scholarship offers. One was even a valedictorian now leaving college as a chemical engineer. The other a talented writer and artist who finished a double major bachelors in just 3 and 1/2 years. They went to a great public school, but more importantly, they were brought up in a home with high expectations, no poverty, emotional support and parents that were highly involved in their education. If you want to improve education, find a way to level the playing field for children who do not have these advantages. Poverty is not an excuse, just a reality. I will keep playing as long as the band will let me, but I see a large object looming on the horizon. Please keep in mind how hard it is to change the direction of a ship this large. There isn’t much time.


Doug Purdy