Rainbow over Galileo Lane, Tucson

Thursday, April 14, 2016

An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders

An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders                                                   April 12, 2016                
From Ken Goodman
 Kgoodman @u.arizona.edu

Dear Senator Sanders,

Every four years for a very long time (I am 88) a have addressed an open letter to the in-coming President of the United States on the subject of public education. If your background includes any Yiddish (My father was a Litvak) you may understand” Iz helfen vi a toiten bankus” (rough translation “It didn’t help at all”)

Actually, the educational policies of every President, Republican or Democratic in that whole time has been detrimental to the great traditions of public education. I applaud your campaign commitment to free universal higher education. But our elementary and secondary schools are so poorly supported   and the national and state educational policies have so degraded our teachers and public schools that large numbers of students will not be able to go to even free universities.

No aspect of American society is more important than adequate free public schools: safe and inviting places for our future generations under the guidance of professional teachers dedicated to accepting all learners and supporting their growth toward whatever each is capable of achieving. Public schools are the one institution in society with the potential to reach every child.

But the conditions of our nation’s public schools have suffered under financial neglect and open attack. Simply speaking our public schools are the last socialized aspect of American society and that makes them the relentless target of free-market think tanks on behalf of their corporate funders.

In developing nations , education exists at three levels: Those who have the means pay for private schools which vary in quality in proportion to their price. Public schools serve mainly the working poor. And large numbers of children of poverty are not in school at all or leave after one or two years.

That’s the goal of the anti-public school campaigns in this country. Big business sees no need to educate any more than a small elite group of technicians and managers to run the increasingly digitized production lines. Why pay taxes to educate anybody else? And besides too much education and literacy produces trouble makers. But they also want to control the curriculum and methods of education. And while they are at it they would like to earn profits on texts and tests. Lots and lots of tests.

Laws disguised as reforms, such as No Child Left Behind where really designed to assure the failure of public schools by imposing archaic curriculum, absurd testing, and unattainable criteria for judging school success.

No Child Left Behind was successfully sold to the minority communities as reform intended to help their children. In fact, it was a calculated attempt to make public education appear to be a failure. It used a punitive approach, setting unattainable goals and then punishing the staff and school districts for failure to achieve them. Many schools had entire faculties dismissed and the school turned over  to  for-profit charters or contractors who employed uncertified teachers. In Philadelphia, Detroit, Oakland, and New Orleans among other urban cities the entire school systems have been taken over by the state losing any local input. Then the schools have gotten worse.

But the only way to make profit running these charter schools is to raise class size, reduce services, and replace teachers with machines and less qualified personnel.

At no time in our history have teachers been so poorly treated. The United States has the best educated teachers in the world, but they are  constrained from doing what they know how to do and they are blamed for poor results while teaching in decaying sometimes dangerous schools with inadequate materials. Many fine teachers are driven out of teaching within the first five years in the classroom.

Teachers are so poorly paid that they often need food stamps to put food on the table for their own families. It is no exaggeration that many retired teachers are still paying off their student loans.

Many American children are spending their days in inadequate decaying buildings with poor sanitation. It is a national shame that our politicians are more concerned about incarcerating our youth than educating them.

Ironically, in spite of all attempts to destroy it, American public education is damaged but not broken. Due to dedicated and well educated teachers and professional administrators most American children get a pretty good education in public schools. Unfortunately, that is likely to be strongly dependent on zip code.

Senator Sanders, you’ve done a good job laying out the issues facing our people. Of all the problems you have exposed none is more significant to the future of American education than free universal public education . Education must be extended to three to five year olds on one end and higher education on the other. 

Parents and teachers together are ready to support a platform of making education the highest national priority. I believe this is also the issue that can put you over the top.

Ken Goodman,
Professor emeritus. University of Arizona
Past President, International Literacy Association,
Past President, National Conference on Research in Literacy

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