Mitt Romney and the Fierce Desire for Educational Change

As a teacher who has had English students write research papers each year on the American Civil Rights Movement, I was stunned to find out a few moments ago that I am on the wrong side of the great civil rights issue of our time.

It has to be true. Mitt Romney says so.

That great civil rights issue, he told the Latino Coalition Economic Summit Wednesday, is education. I have been on the front lines of that issue for 14 years and apparently, according to the former Massachusetts governor, I am part of the problem.

Because I oppose what Gov. Romney calls educational "reform," I obviously have "a fierce determination to keep things the way they are."

If keeping Gov. Romney and his band of reformers from steering federal educational funding toward unproven charter schools operated by speculators wanting to make a killing from the education markets fits the description, then yes, I have a fierce determination to stop that.

If it means stopping a move toward rewarding digital and online entrepreneurs who are touting profit-making (and in many cases, highly dubious) schemes to enrich their bottom lines, then yes, I am going to remain fierce.

And if the governor is moving to "reform" schools by rewarding the testing and test prep companies that are slowly but surely damaging the fabric of public education, then I am absolutely determined not to keep things the way they are, but to move them in another direction.

"Teaching is a highly valued profession," Romney, reportedly with a straight face, told his audience; unless, of course, you are one of those teachers who happen to belong to a union.

Then you are a member of "a group that has lost its way."

"The teacher unions don't fight for our children," he said. "Good teachers put the interests of their children first."

Yes, they do, Gov. Romney. I work every day with teachers who put children first and many of them are members of one of the organizations you targeted for criticism, the National Education Association. Others are involved in the Missouri State Teachers Association. They also put the children's interest first.

Perhaps when you have to install an elevator for your cars and provide for the maintenance on your wife's Cadillacs, Gov. Romney, you are forgetting one basic truth -- if our primary interest was financial, we would be in a different line of work.

Far too many times during the past few years, we have heard politicians, mainly those in the governor's Republican Party, insisting that our public schools are failing children and the biggest reason is bad teachers. So they do their best to remove veteran teachers, many times in favor of recent college graduates with no education training. This is putting the interests of the children first?

They push merit pay proposals that would guarantee more standardized tests, more tests to prepare for standardized tests, and more tests to prepare for the tests to prepare for the standardized tests, therefore removing the joy of learning that is key to educational success. This is putting the interests of the children first?

And, as always with these alleged reformers, there was not one single word in Romney's speech dedicated to removing the diseases that have helped cause the problems in our inner-city schools. No mention of crime. No mention of drugs. No mention of physical abuse, mental abuse, or sexual abuse.

In other words, there were no mentions of the problems that sometimes make success in the classroom secondary to simple survival.

Of course, it would be hard for Gov. Romney and his supporters to take a stance against the real problems of education since they want to eliminate the government programs that offer at least some relief, some glimmer of hope to the children in our inner cities. Tackling the real problems would cost money -- money which apparently can be better used to cut taxes for job providers who never seem to provide any jobs.

I do not have a fierce desire to keep things the way they are. I want to teach in a school where the students never have to suffer hunger, poverty, or unspeakable treatment in their homes.

I want real reform where the people who are making the decisions for us are thinking with their hearts and minds and not with their pocketbooks.

I have a fierce desire to make sure that life will be better for my students and that education will open the doors to success for them.

So Gov. Romney, please take your tired, your poor, your huddled mass of ideas out of the political discourse and if you truly want to give parents "choice in an unprecedented way," as you told the Latino Coalition, bring the same energy to saving their communities that you did to saving the Salt Lake City Olympics.

If you do that, you will be the one on the right side of the civil rights issue of our time. You will be the one who is putting our children first.