Bill wrote the following:
One of the things that I found interesting in Nate's comments was the sense of disappointment that I wasn't advocating wholesale action on the part of teachers to stand up to "the current system"---which he obviously believes is behind all of America's failures.Now, Bill's comments are a bit more general than my notion of creating a teaching profession more akin to the legal and medical community than the current notion of largely unionized teachers treated more like cogs in a factory than anything else. But it does present a question of how much influence do teachers really have over their own destiny.
Nate's opinions seem to represent the general thinking of most teachers towards education. We constantly talk about "the system" as some nebulous, dark entity that is manipulating schools from behind a dark curtain somewhere. Most of the time, we figure that ol' Madge Spellings and W are hidden behind that curtain pulling the strings of the marionet, too.
What we fail to realize is that "the system" is really network of people that includes parents, business leaders, teachers, community advocates, retirees---all of whom have equal opportunity to select leaders that have clearly delinated plans for education. Even if Nate's right (And who can't envision a legion of W's henchmen manipulating public will. Dick Cheney would make a great Sith Lord, after all), to overlook the fact that these leaders----and the entire legislative branch of the federal government---were selected by the general public is supremely arrogant.
While I don't currently agree with the choices that are being made by "the system" (my definition), I'm open to the idea that I am only one small part of that group decision making process----and I respect "the system" (my definition) enough to consider that their perspectives should be valued and considered.
So many times I have posted thoughts and opinions on education in this and in other forums only to be told, time and again, that I don't understand anything because I am not a teacher and therefore my opinion is less than worthless. We are often reminded that we as a society should "trust" teachers because they know what they are doing. School systems routinely put out a vibe of "leave us alone, we are the experts" despite their vocal desire for more parental involvement. Schools want involvement, but only on their terms.
What Bill seems to indicate, and probably correctly, is that teachers are but one part of a much larger decision-making body and process. Fine, but teachers should have a slightly larger voice in the process and can have a much greater impact on their own "professionalization" than any outside group or agitator (like me).
For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are roughly 4 million teachers, not including special education teachers, in America as of data from 2006. In 2006, the population in America was roughly 299.3 million. Let's round that off to 300 million just to make the math easier. According to this table, 27.5 percent of the population was under the age of 19 and 12.5 percent was over the age of 65. That leaves us with a working population of 60 percent of the population or 180 million people. With 4 million teachers, that means that about 2.2 percent of working Americans were teachers. Put another way, if you grabbed at random 100 American working adults in 2006 and put them in a room, statistically 2 or 3 of them would be teachers. Again, that is not including special education teachers.
By way of comparison, the legal profession had about 761,000 members in 2006 according to the BLS, so there were nearly 6 times as many teachers as lawyers in 2006.
Furthermore, consider that every county in America has a significant group of teachers as a portion of their population. Teachers unions themselves are generally politically powerful and at least the local union chapters carry a fair amount of goodwill in teh community, even if the larger state and national unions may not.
So what is my point? The teachers themselves have the power to change the perception of their occupation, from one where they don't get the respect they demand and perhaps deserve, to one on par with the respect paid to doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers etc. The power is in their hands to make the changes in education, perception, working conditions, the exercise of their professional judgement, etc. When 2.2 percent of the working population in America can radically change the way their occupation works and is veiwed by the public, the question I have is simple.
Why don't teachers make the change themselves?