January 29, 2011

A Letter to Oprah...Use Your Network for the REAL Greater Good

Dear Oprah:

It's very disappointing that you have chosen to become a shill for Michelle Rhee and the Billionaire Boys Club movement for education reform in America. Instead of giving Rhee a forum to express her jaded point of view about the state of American education, why don't you talk to real teachers--the true Supermen and women--who are heroes every day in our classrooms?

Instead of determining the state of American education by how well kids fill in bubbles on standardized tests, why don't you investigate the rich fine arts and social studies curriculum that is being squeezed out of our schools by our obsession with testing? Instead of buying into the anti-democratic "reformers" mantra about how our system is failing compared to other countries, why don't you take the time to study those other countries like Finland whose child poverty rate is 5% compared to America's OECD leading 20% with a teaching staff that is 90% unionized and REQUIRED to hold Masters degrees; or India who while churning out engineers in "Two Million Minutes" only manages to get seven percent through high school and doesn't even bother to educate over half of its population; or Singapore who sends delegations to the United States to try to figure out what WE DO to produce students who are creative and critical thinkers as adults as opposed to their test taking automatons who "fade out" after high school?


If we are really "losing the international competition" because of our "failing public schools" (as we will hear ad nauseum now that the latest PISA results have been announced), why has America been the most economically competitive nation in the world according to most indices for most of the last half-century? You can't have it both ways, Oprah. If education and economic competitiveness are really linked (and most studies say they aren't) than we must be doing something right in our schools which according to most of your alleged "reformers" have been failing since 1957 when the Soviets launched Sputnik or 1985 at the latest when "A Nation at Risk" was first unveiled. If only UNICEF's study of children living in poverty that ranked America 21st out of the 22 wealthiest nations received as much attention and breast beating as do the bubble sheets of 9 and 13 year olds!

Do we have major problems in our schools? Absolutely we do--especially in the inner cities. Are there bad teachers out there? Absolutely there are, just like there are bad talk show hosts, accountants, hedge fund managers and politicians. However, to lay all of the blame on America's public school teachers and their unions (like Duncan, Gates, Rhee, Broad, Walton, Guggenheim and a score of hedge fund managers who are the hidden underbelly of the current "reform movement" do), lets everyone else off the hook--especially the parents who don't read to or raise their children once they are brought into the world; the politicians who have allowed the rich/poor gap in this nation to expand to historic levels leaving millions of children in poverty and three years behind their middle class peers when they ENTER school; and the administrators who don't take the hard steps necessary to carry out the collectively bargained process created to remove bad teachers that they signed!

Be true to your legacy Oprah and give a voice to teachers who believe that Duncan, Rhee, Gates, Broad, Walton, et al are insulting, demonizing and de-professionalizing the most noble of all professions. We can't match the billions they are putting into their campaign to privatize the cornerstone institution of our democracy, but we can tell our story if someone will listen.

Dave O'Connor
Teacher--Merrill Middle School
1504 57th Place, Des Moines, IA, 50311

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