I began writing this book on April 27, 2011. At the time, I was writing only a short response to the just released special message on education reform by the Michigan Governor to share with the teacher education faculty at my university. Though this message was just another in a series of attacks on education by politicians, this one was from my Governor and his policies would hurt my students and the teachers and schools with whom I worked. I felt he was saying things about education that were not true, and that he was recommending that we needed to do many things we were already doing, but because he said we were not, he had to step in and fix it. I also felt the Governor Snyder’s message, like so many other criticisms of education, was couched in the unfair and paternalistic language of assuming the education system is “broken,” educators were not doing their jobs and the politicians were going to “fix” it.
Though the rhetoric of “the traditional methods, mindsets and goals of Michigan’s education system can take us not further” and “As we stand at the threshold of the New Michigan” (Snyder, 2011, p. 13) may have been inspiring, the policy reforms were not. A growing list of governmental educational policy reforms being proposed to “realign our educational values” (p. 13) give the appearance of improving education, while portraying educators as unwilling or unable to improve themselves. Such statements as the education system “must be reshaped,” “is not giving our taxpayers, our teachers, or our students the return on investment we deserve,” (Snyder, 2011, p. 1) and that we must “jettison the status quo that has too often accepted mediocrity and, at times, resulted in failure for our children and state,” (p. 2) illustrate this rhetoric.
Later I shared my views with fellow deans of teacher education in Michigan. Each time I revised, expanded and shared my thoughts, the response was the same: please publish your ideas, as more people need to hear what you are saying. What was happening in Michigan was consistent with a series of education policy changes that were being vigorously pursued by other state and federal government officials. Their stated purpose has been to create the best schools, teaching, teachers and teacher education, but I do not believe these policies are best for education or our society, and I question the motivations behind them.
I agreed with the governor’s statement, “Great teaching starts with getting the best and brightest into teaching, and making sure their education equips them to succeed at inspiring students in the classroom” (Snyder, 2011, p. 9), but not with his ideas on how best to realize that. How do we get the “best and the brightest into teaching,” when our policies create low salaries, status and power for teachers? The best and brightest in America are encouraged to pursue careers that earn the most respect and money, and teaching does not afford much of either.
How do we legislate an education to equip teachers “to succeed at inspiring students in the classroom,” (Snyder, 2011, p. 9) when the laws and regulations dictate practices that destroy the spirit of both the students and the teachers? Inspiring teaching starts with wise, caring and trustworthy teachers, but also requires societal support to be successful. It is hard to inculcate these virtues. We cannot buy or easily develop them. They require years of training and cultivation, starting from an early age. We can and must constantly refine them, but if they do not exist to an adequate degree in a teacher, it will be very hard to develop them. Now teachers are being challenged to maintain them in the face of attitudes and policies that actively discourage them.