Because your humble scribe is neither a Wisconsinite nor a liberal progressive, he cheerfully concedes the intellectual high ground to those who claim it.
Progressives are-as they patiently explain it to us conservative dullards-the genetically endowed naturally brighter 10 percent who have accepted the burden. Rudyard Kipling called it "the white man's burden", but that's a subject I'll avoid by claiming a shortage of column inches here.
It must be tough governing us folks in the genetically deprived dimmer 90 percent, so I have to envy the brainpower needed to invent the really sharp label of the cheddarsphere as shorthand for their Netroots communications "cloud" across the "uppity" and "blue" 30th state, where the motto is Forward.
Now, the predominantly progressive public-employee educators of the cheddarsphere are on a "job action" (ya gotta envy the superior linguistic skills) for which they have closed classrooms, called in sick, and claimed that it's all for the children. I'm not as far over on the right-hand side of the I.Q. curve as these folks-and I just can't grasp how a money argument (pensions and health care) proves that they love their students.
Your scribe isn't a highly skilled historian either. He remembers strikes by such unions as carbuilders and railroaders, longshoremen and steelworkers, but no instance where strikers proclaimed their love for, say, locomotives or blast-furnaces-and not one where they proclaimed their own excellence, as educators now do (examples: Vermont State Education Commissioner Vilaseca, Rutland School Superintendent Moran) even though the actual statistics tell a different story.
None of the above industries demonstrates a 60 percent product-deficiency rate comparable to that shown by public education in the federal achievement tests scores-where about two thirds of all public-school students can't make proficient. Basically, the students can't function at grade level.
It is the job of teachers to get the kiddies to-at least-grade level. That's what my teachers did for me, and all my two-dozen-plus classmates, long ago; they never once self-labeled themselves as excellent even though they were.
Nor is your scribe a highly skilled statistician.
I turned to page 198 of the "2009 National Digest of Educational Statistics", where I found Table 135 illustrating that only 45 percent of Wisconsin's excellent teachers' 4th graders were able to make "proficient" in mathematics.
In 2007, the fourth grade group (see Table 123) did even less well in reading at 37 percent proficient, and the 8th graders came in marginally lower at 34 percent (maybe that parental pre-K effort had worn off?).
How do you rate a locomotive engineer who brings fewer than half his trains to their expected destination-or-in student achievement test terms, with scores of about 250 out of 500?
Part of the school solution is to self-label as excellent professionals who "love" their students and "make a difference" at least for about a third of their young charges. All these assertions showed up on posters in the Wisconsin State House rotunda last week.
Another part is to purchase, deploy, and publicize the better results from easier tests. All states except Nebraska perform this bit of legerdemain.
Some states, such as Vermont, have been through several different tests in the search for the one exam which will produce the seemingly best student scores. (It's like trying on a winter hat that looks good in the mirror but doesn't cover your ears.)
And the third part is to change the subject-directing classroom investment, time, and teacher energy away from the dull and repetitive (for adults) basics of reading and counting, which haven't changed much to newer and more interesting (for adults) subjects such as paper v. plastic when shopping, variations of marriage, diversity in the classroom, and modes of governance and transfer payments.
An instructor can't mold young minds as much just teaching them to handle letters and numbers. But he or she can instead introducing them to the really important stuff: wealth and power through social engineering. It's on this topic that one can really "make a difference".
It was this topic which motivated Wisconsin teachers to bring their students with them to their state house job action.
What a deal: Official doctors' falsified medical excuses for the adults and extra credit and no quizzes for the minors. But it's the next-to-last which will have the most definitive effect on public education wherever pursued. Case in point: the continuing educator fascination with socio-economic-integration in the classrooms of the Burlington School District.
This scribe isn't an investigative reporter, and was blissfully unaware until quite recently of the travels (your tax dollars at work) of Superintendent Jeanne Collins to the District of Columbia for an early summer national consortium on S-E school integration.
On her blog last week, Collins described it thus: "SEI is a tool for increasing student achievement through ensuring demographically balanced schools." Eh?
The SEIconference sponsor was the Century Foundation, which, on its present website characterizes the Wisconsin State House situation as "a war on unions".
Its governance/education leanings are fun to read, but ultimately harmless in that adult viewers can evaluate and accept (or not) their arguments.
More harmful to the community is the educator assertion that student achievement is improved by busing and mixing. Recent history furnishes rather different empirical evidence.
More next week.
Former Vermonter Martin Harris lives in Tennessee.