Teachers are the real patriots

These are tumultuous times. It seems every single day brings a rollercoaster of emotions over what is going on in our country.

A couple of days ago, I read this letter to the editor in the AZ Star that floored me.

Not only that it had been written, but that the Star printed it (hope they also sent it to the FBI). But after further reflection, I realized that it is better to shine the light on hate like this. It is better to understand the threat so that we can be prepared to counter it.

This guy gets so much wrong. I too am a veteran who served 22 years in the Air Force. I too took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…”. But, I don’t equate defending the President with defending the Constitution. Not, when that President has told over 10,000 lies since taking the Oath of Office and not when he refuses to respect the Constitution himself.

What is most galling and actually frightening about this letter though, is that Mr. Theriot thinks that Democrats are the enemy, not the Russians who hacked our elections and continue to conduct cyber warfare against us daily to disrupt our operations and sow hate and divisiveness.

Ultimately though, I remain hopeful. For every Theriot, there are dozens of others like a group of teachers in Flagstaff who recently pushed back on an invite from the Arizona Chamber. Saying they “recognize the gesture of a Teacher Appreciation Dinner, we respectfully decline the invitation. We feel attending your dinner would be condoning the AZ Chamber’s many coordinated attacks on public education over the years. You see, educators have been pleading with the state of Arizona for adequate public education funding for an entire decade, and it seems that at every turn, the Chamber of Commerce has been there to block our efforts and work against us.”

There is much to be proud of with these almost 100 teachers’ not only taking the stand, but individually putting their names on the letter to the Chamber. In our hyper-polarized nation, it is increasingly difficult to take a stand. But, these teachers understand that, “if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.” So, they stood and said “we cannot and will not ignore the Chambers’ agression toward public education funding, and we refuse to allow your organization to bask in the glow of a feel-good PR campaign while consistently working against the interests of educators and working families across our great state.”

The teachers were also clear that they “will always welcome any collaboration with the business community designed to achieve positive educational outcomes for all of Arizona’s children.” They aren’t closed off to innovations for the betterment of all students, they just aren’t going to accept a system that is increasingly stacked to benefit those who “have” over those who “have not”.

I’m guessing Mr. Theriot would be as aghast at these teachers’ letter, as I was at his. The difference though is that the teachers’ words are aligned with the Constitution and good old American values, not at odds with it. They are exercising their 1st Amendment Rights to call out hypocrisy, not promising the “wrath of Hell will descend” on fellow Americans. The teachers are also standing up for their public school students, not a President who is a pathological liar and of whom, Mitt Romney said he was “sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection”.

Where Theriot said, “there are many retired military who will protect our president” (in spite of the Constitution one might surmise), the teachers called out the AZ Chamber for their work in scuttling a ballot initiative supported by the voters and for giving “enormous tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy instead of requiring them to pay their fair share for the benefit of all”. They also called out the Chamber for making “it a top priority to devastate educators’ retirement security by privatizing our pensions”, demanding “the Chamber of Commerce leave our retirement funds as the earned, defined benefit they are.

These teachers, standing up for those most vulnerable among us, are the real patriots. They know there can be no great democratic republic when there is no educated citizenry and that our public schools are the only ones that can address the problems we face at the scale demanded. Over 90% of America’s K–12 population attends public schools and that is where our singular educational focus should be. No. That is where it MUST be. Yes, to provide an engaged citizenry who can think creatively and determine fact from fiction.

The focus must also be on public schools to ensure our country stays strong. According to The American Conservative in 2018, one in three potential recruits are disqualified from service because they’re overweight, one in four cannot meet minimal educational standards (a high school diploma or GED equivalent), and one in 10 have a criminal history. In plain terms, about 71 percent of 18-to–24-year-olds (the military’s target pool of potential recruits) are disqualified from the minute they enter a recruiting station: that’s 24 million out of 34 million Americans. The article didn’t mention that the frenzied focus on high-stakes standardized tests and siphoning money from public schools have largely not improved achievement, but often robbed our students of opportunities such as physical education, art, music and more. Research shows curriculums must be robust to adequately develop all parts of the mind and to keep students engaged in school. Unfortunately, students in schools that are able to offer more, have plenty of other choices besides military enlistment.

Yes, we have much work to do. But, allowing ourselves to be divided and conquered, whether by Russia, partisan politics, or school privatizers is not going to help us get it done. To stay strong and prosperous, we must be true to what is referred to as the “immortal declaration”. From the Declaration of Independence, it states that, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”.

America is undoubtedly a long way from realizing this dream. But even the aspiration itself is one of the things that sets us apart from most other nations and is one that we should fight tooth and nail to achieve. As patriots, we must steadfastly reject the nightmare Theriot and others like him would have us embrace and continue to fight with all our power for this American ideal and the Dream it promises.

8 thoughts on “Teachers are the real patriots

  1. I contacted the Arizona Daily Star when I first read this highly inappropriate and incendiary letter. Sarah Garrett Gassen responded the same day with an apology and deleted it from the on line edition of the paper. Two days later, she apologized again on the editorial page.

  2. AZ schools are in deep trouble–mainly due to lack of funding. After spending 17 years teaching in a public school in Nebraska I am floored by the lack of support that is missing from the public school I now teach in here in AZ. In the NE school my students had PE or music every day. Here my students are lucky if they have PE once a week and Music/arts. These classes are not taught by certified teachers as they were in NE. Also, no certified teacher in the computer lab to teach them computer skills. And ditto in the library. My co-teacher for my grade level is not certified to teach. She has a Masters in some business related field. One counselor in a school with over 300 students (Title 1 school). In my school in NE we had a counselor and social worker (also Title 1 school). A lot of time spend micro-managing teachers which was also occurring in NE. I spend about 50 % of my school day with students dealing with behavior problems. About 5% back in NE.
    BTW: NE has very few if any charter schools (maybe a few in Omaha or Lincoln) but nothing in AZ. I can’t help but wonder if that has anything to do with the quality (or lack of quality) schools in AZ. And on a side note, I had a parent recently spend some time in my classroom. She was completely shocked at how much “drama” and resistance she saw in the students. So many tears and students refusing to cooperate with me, the teacher. So many students disrupting the classroom and unable to really focus on learning. I told her it was an average day of learning. I can tell you with certainty that after almost 25 years of teaching in poverty preschool and elementary schools, this one year in AZ has been the least productive and successful year for my students. The learning environment is dismal at the very least. As our nefarious President would say “very sad.” Very sad indeed.

    • Thank you so very much for your dedicated service and your read and comment on my post. I am very sorry for your experience, but can’t say I am surprised. These are difficult times to be a teacher and I think we should all be incredibly grateful that any of you still choose to do it.

      The only way things are truly going to change, is for Arizonans to elect lawmakers who truly care about public schools, their educators, and the students they teach.

  3. Sorry, I need to edit this (I dislike sloppy writing!)

    “A lot of time is spent micro-managing teachers which was also occurring in NE. I spend about 50 % of my school day with students dealing with behavior problems. About 5% back in NE.”

    “BTW: NE has very few if any charter schools (maybe a few in Omaha or Lincoln) but nothing like we see in AZ.”

  4. Also, Thanks Linda for your website. I enjoy reading your perspective on AZ schools. It is quite refreshing!

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