I Was a Radical Republican – For About a Week – And I Didn’t Change a Single Progressive View

Republican

I do not like Ronald Reagan.

I own no guns.

Back in high school I won a debate arguing for pro-choice.

Trickle Down sounds more to me like a bladder condition than an economic theory.

So why was it that last week so many right wingers were retweeting me on Twitter?

Did I say “retweeting”? They were taking my words and memes and sending them out to the Twitterverse as their own thoughts with a reference to my account.

I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I think Michelle Malkin pushed down the new heart emoticon on something I wrote.

She may have retweeted me, too. Heck! I may have retweeted her back!

“What new Hell is this?” I thought. “Why am I getting so much love from people who – if they met me in person – would probably try to give me a wedgie and scream, “NERD”?

It turns out I was caught in a maelstrom of political events. And his name is John King.

President Barack Obama named the former New York Education Commissioner as his pick to replace Arne Duncan as US Secretary of Education.

As a public school teacher, this really pissed me off. It pissed off just about every public educator in the country.

Are you kidding, Obama!? John-Freaking-King!? The guy whose only previous experience was teaching for three years at a “no excuses” charter school!?

This is the guy who oversaw the systematic destruction of schools in one of the most populous states in the country all the while pointing his finger at teachers. He approved an obviously fraudulent charter school run by an obvious conman. He ignored and dismissed parents at various education forums. The people of New York hated him so much, he sparked the largest opt out movement in the nation.

And THIS is the guy you’re nominating as Secretary of Education!?

It’s not like he’s even pretended to change his stripes. After New Yorkers booted him out of their state, he was offered a job at the US Department of Education – a prime example of falling upward. Soon afterward, his wife took a job at a corporate education reform company, Bellwether Education Partners!

Isn’t that a conflict of interest? I mean – through her – Bellwether will have the ear of the highest education official in the land. And the rest of us will just be supplicants sending letters, making phone calls hoping for an audience with the King.

THIS was why I was upset. THIS was why I was writing angry blogs and pounding out my rage on Twitter.

And I wasn’t alone.

The usual gang of educators and far left progressives gave me the usual support.

But we were soon joined by a tsunami of social media activists from the other side of the aisle.

Very soon someone made a popular hashtag, #StopJohnKing, and I started seeing hundreds of retweets, restatements and messages of support.

Two of my tweets were particularly popular: one about the conflict of interest of King’s wife working for Bellwhether, the other a seemingly unrelated message about the need to fund public libraries.

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That’s when I started to notice the Twitter accounts of the people joining in. There were folks proclaiming their love for Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. They described themselves as libertarians and refused to speak to “libtards.” And the pictures on their Twitter accounts were often famous conservatives, racist cartoons of the President, pictures of themselves packing heat or just the darn guns, themselves.

“What the heck have I gotten myself into?” I thought.

That’s when I questioned why they were supporting me. For many of them I wondered if it had less to do with how terrible King would be as Education Secretary than with who nominated him in the first place.

Ever since Antonin Scalia died, many Republicans have sworn a blood oath not to approve any of Obama’s nominees – for the Supreme Court or ANY office.

For them this wasn’t about opposing a terrible Presidential pick. It was about blocking everything Obama did.

I had to face it. I had become a radical Republican, and I hadn’t even needed to change one of my positions to do it. The GOP came to me.

I have to admit, my right wing supporters were mostly very nice. I felt like I had a stronger group behind me than during most progressive campaigns.

There was some strain, however. A few times I could tell they were choking back anti-union rhetoric. “Why don’t we fund our libraries? Because unions,” apparently. “Who needs libraries – I home school.” That kind of thing.

And unfortunately, my progressive buddies were starting to notice the right wing support and take offense.

I got trolled by several lefties demanding I support Common Core.

“How can you be against it?” they’d ask. “Rand Paul hates Common Core. Do you agree with Rand Paul?”

I’d respond politely that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Card-carrying Democrats refused to listen to any criticism of the Obama administration’s education policies. Little did these progressives realize, they were the exact opposite of the GOP activists they hated.

Many Republicans hate Common Core because Obama touched it. Many Democrats love it for the same reason.

The majority of teachers throughout the country hate it because we’ve read it, tried to use it and seen what a load of bullshit it is. We know it was developed with very little input from classroom teachers or child psychologists. We know it has no research behind it to show that it works. We see how it erodes our autonomy in the classroom and increases the amount and difficulty of high stakes tests for our students.

But my progressive friends refused to accept that anything Saint Hope and Change approved could be so terrible.

I’d turn to my newfound Republican posse only to find many of them hated Common Core beyond reason. It wasn’t just bad practice – it was going to turn our kids gay. It was a liberal plot to make children progressive atheists.

Oy vey.

The week just flew by. Eventually the Senate voted to approve King, both Democrats and Republicans – though the opposition was almost entirely in the GOP.

In my home state of Pennsylvania, the Senator I can usually count on to have my back (Bob Casey) stabbed me in the same place. And the Senator who usually only votes for things that are officially endorsed by Lord Satan, himself, (Pat Toomey) was my boy.

What kind of a topsy-turvy world am I living in!?

Elizabeth Warren – the liberal lion – said she wasn’t going to vote for King but ultimately gave in. Oh, Elizabeth. They got to you, too?

There were two points of light though. First, there was one Democrat who actually voted against him: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand from New York – the sight of King’s last catastrophe. Second, my Presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, didn’t vote at all. Fwew! I can irrationally justify that – he was too busy, that’s all. Bernie would never have voted for King. Tee-hee!

So once again we see the two major parties as mirror images of each other. Where Republicans made the right choice for the wrong reason, Democrats made the wrong choice for the right one. Progressives were circling the wagons around the President. They were making a point that they weren’t going to let the evil GOP block his nominees – even if one of those nominees was an absolute pathetic failure.

This is politics in 2016, folks.

Decisions are rarely made because of logic, experience, or sound judgement. It’s all political maneuvering, personal gain or both. Meanwhile, the world goes to Hell.

After the vote, I got a smattering of conservative retweets and then… nothing. As quickly as they had come, they were gone.

My tiny caucus of teachers, academics and other ne’er-do-wells are still there. We shout our truths into the wind hoping someone will hear.

On days like today it seems impossible.

But perhaps there is a silver lining in there somewhere. If people from such opposite sides of the political spectrum can agree on something like how terrible John King is, maybe there’s hope. If we can shake hands over the fatuousness of Common Core, maybe we can find other points of agreement.

Maybe these brief moments of concord are opportunities for understanding. Sure my GOP compatriots supported me for the wrong reasons, but maybe some of them were exposed to the right ones.

I know I’ve learned from them. I consider myself an FDR Democrat with an abiding faith in a strong federal government. But even I can see how both the Bush and Obama administrations overstepped their power with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

I don’t buy any of that baloney about Big Government vs. Small Government. But I do think that some things like education policy don’t belong at the federal level. The federal government should ensure public schools are funded properly and maybe regulate outright abuses, but local communities and districts should be deciding how to educate the children in their care.

If those ideas rubbed off on me, what rubbed off on my brief Twitter followers?

Will there come a day when we meet again, join hands and fight for our common good?

Can we overcome the blinders of party and politics to build a better world?

#IHopeSo

A Real Solution to the Infinitesimal Cases of Child Predators in Our Schools

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Pat Toomey is obsessed with child predators in our public schools.

When I came to Washington, D.C., this summer to visit 
the U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, he was lobbying to get his “Passing the Trash” bill included in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

His proposed legislation – now part of the Senate version of the ESEA – would ban school districts from helping known pedophiles from finding teaching jobs at different schools. Toomey is hopeful the provision will remain in the final version of the law that eventually will reach President Obama’s desk.

I met with his education aide who cheerily told me her job was to comb through the nation’s newspapers everyday and count the number of teachers accused of acting inappropriately with children. I’d mention issues like inequitable funding, standardized testing and Common Core. She’d solemnly quote back the number she’d found in her research.

There was definitely a disconnect between our priorities. After all, I’m a public school teacher. I work in our school system everyday. She and her boss only know about our schools through what they read in the newspaper. And according to the media every school in American houses child predators. They lurk behind every corner protected by administrators, superintendents and unions.

However, the facts do not back this up.

The Associated Press held a landmark investigation in 2007 to discover the extent of the problem. Reporters sought disciplinary records in all 50 states and the District of Columbia over a 5 year period. The investigation found 2,570 educators whose teaching credentials were revoked, denied, surrendered or sanctioned following allegations of sexual misconduct. About 70% of those cases involved children being victimized.

There is no glossing over it. The number is disgusting and startling. However, it is far from the national epidemic the media and Toomey are touting.

There are more than 3 million teachers in this country. This report found that 1 in 800,000 may be a child predator. That’s .00083%.

In other words, your child is more likely to be struck by lightning than be the victim of a child predator at school (1 in 134,906).

Other things more likely to happen include dying in an airplane crash (1 in 7,178), death on the job (1 in 48,000), and being murdered (1 in 18,000).

I don’t mean to be glib. One teacher betraying a young person’s trust in this way is one too many.

I’m glad Toomey is pursuing this legislation. I even support it.

However, I don’t like the slander and libel against the great majority of teachers. I don’t like how we’re all being painted with the same brush – even when it is done in the cause of making it more difficult for child predators.

I’ve been a public school teacher for almost 15 years. In that time, I have never met a single teacher who I would be uncomfortable letting babysit my 6-year-old daughter. Even when I was a student, myself, back in the 1980s and 90s, I never had a teacher who I was afraid would molest me or my classmates.

Compare this to the sex scandals in the Roman Catholic Church. A review by American Catholic bishops found about 4,400 of 110,000 priests were accused of molesting minors from 1950 through 2002. That’s .04% or 1 in 400. Sure the timescale involved is much longer than the AP study of educators, but the pool of priests is also much smaller. It would seem children are more in danger in houses of worship than houses of learning.

However, none of this helps people like Toomey pass legislation. You can’t say this doesn’t happen much, but we need to stop it. No one would vote for it. There would be no sense of urgency.

It’s just that in dramatizing the situation the Senator and his ilk are defaming the majority of teachers who would never even consider hurting a child.

The truth is not politically expedient. Child predation in schools is not a quantitative issue. It’s a qualitative one.

You don’t need large numbers of children to be hurt in this way for us to take the problem seriously. Even a small number, even a single instance, is enough to require action. No child should ever feel unsafe in school. No child should ever be victimized in these hallowed halls – especially by the very people who have devoted their lives to help them.

So I think Toomey’s right. We should pass his legislation. We should take steps to stop this kind of thing from ever happening in our schools.

And if we’re really serious, I have a solution that no one seems to be talking about: Let’s hire more teachers.

Stay with me here. Child predators almost always act alone. This sort of crime requires the perpetrator to have time undisturbed with the victim. Yet what do we have in our public schools? We’ve slashed and burned school budgets until there are fewer teachers and more students than ever. Class sizes have ballooned. It’s not uncommon for teachers to have upwards of 20, 30 even 40 children in one classroom.

This is the perfect breeding ground for child predators. They are more unsupervised than ever. They can do as they please and no one will catch them until it’s too late. Even principals and other administrators have less time to observe what goes on in the classroom because they’re unduly burdened with ridiculous amounts of paper work required to ensure every teacher gets a junk science value-added evaluation.

But if we hired more teachers, we could reduce this problem. We could even take the majority of these new teachers and put them together in the classroom. We could initiate a nationwide co-teaching initiative.

There would be challenges. You’d have to be careful to pair educators together that are compatible and can work well together. However, it would be worth it.

Few teachers would be alone with a class of students. There would almost always be another adult in the room. If another teacher was doing something fishy, it would be observed and probably reported. Moreover, the mere presence of another educator would be a huge deterrent to even trying something funny.

And this would solve our class size conundrum. You might still have larger classes, but the ratio between teacher and student would be halved. Educational outcomes would increase. Students would get more individual attention. They’d learn more. Teachers would be less stressed having someone else to shoulder the burden. And having an influx of new middle class jobs would boost our flagging economy.

This is a win-win.

Of course, it would cost some major bucks. It would require a lot of work from our nations lawmakers and policy wonks. But how could they really say ‘no’? After all, it’s being done to protect children!

From an economic standpoint, we already spend 54% of our federal budget on wars and the military. Only 6% is spent on education. It seems astoundingly unlikely that we can’t afford adding these jobs, increasing children’s educational outcomes, boosting the economy and protecting children – all in one sweep!

So, Senator Toomey, after your measure gets adopted in the final ESEA, I suggest you spearhead this new mission. After all, your bill will help, but co-teaching will almost eliminate the problem. Even if we had all children take classes exclusively on-line, it wouldn’t stop child predators from getting to them. (Heck! Predators thrive on the Web!) But co-teaching could make a real appreciative difference.

If we really want to stop students from being victimized in school, we need more teachers.


NOTE: This article was also published in the LA Progressive.