Millionaires and Images

The cover story of Time Magazine’s November 3, 2014 issue was titled “ROTTEN APPLES.  IT’S NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE TO FIRE A BAD TEACHER.  SOME TECH MILLIONAIRES MAY HAVE FOUND A WAY TO CHANGE THAT.”

I came away with two realizations after reading the article – one person with lots of money can change public education and images are as powerful as words.

I had heard something about the California ruling of Vergara v. California in which a judge had struck down California’s teacher tenure.  What I didn’t know is that Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch orchestrated the lawsuit.  Time quotes Welch’s pronouncement on education, “It’s failing, and it doesn’t want to acknowledge that its’s failing, much less do anything about it.”  Welch put his money where is mouth was in 2010.  He hired a legal think tank to define the legal theory behind the lawsuit.  Then he hired a public relations firm to drum up supporters (and more money).  Welsh’s team then went out and found kids who were willing to bad-mouth their teachers in court.  After a two-month trial, Judge Treu’s decision sided with Welch’s team – that bad teachers are bad for kids, so get rid of tenure.

I like images as much as words.  The Time cover is a picture of a courtroom gavel about to smash an apple (the symbol of American public education).

Inside, the two-page introductory spread (above) shows four apples – three ripe and one rotten.  Are one-in-four teachers “rotten”?  That’s what the image implies.

Of course the court case in California will continue up the legal ladder for awhile.  In the meantime similar lawsuits are starting in New York, Connecticut, Oregon and New Jersey.  See what one person with deep pockets can do?

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3 thoughts on “Millionaires and Images

  1. Unfortunately in education we are almost always faced with subjective information. Teachers are not apples Like anyone they have good days and bad. Additionally, what one student may find negative another would love. My humor in the classroom was proof of that.

    The question isn’t about the teacher being bad or good, the question is; are we doing good for each student each day?

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  2. It is remarkable that in business, government, and even sports firing a “bad apple” is remarkably difficult, and no newspaper reader would be surprised to hear that a 4-5 year court battle is involved. Yet the ‘Amerimediacrats’ seem to want “bad apples” fired instantly. Even more remarkable is that for specific legal causes, any teacher can be told to leave the building and not return WITHIN AN HOUR of specific charges of many kinds being levied…even if those charges later prove false. What is more, ANY felony, even an old one in another state can end any teachers career FOREVER, without any available recourse, just as soon as it is unearthed. This included one of the best teacher aides I ever hired who was dogged by a marijuana indiscretion three states east of here….

    We must make the distinction clear to the public what “bad apple” means. Lawbreaking, immoral conduct, and a host of other things are dealt with much more quickly, although in no morally better ways, in public education than in other areas of employment. However “bad teaching” is not dealt with so swiftly…and for very good reasons. What does “bad teaching” mean. I submit there is little agreement about this. Competing agendas have very different perspectives and are backed by very big money. What about a gay teacher? What about a vocal feminist teacher? What about a burnt out teacher who merely baby-sits and watches the clock? What about a teacher who believes that formal test measures do not measure academic accomplishment? What about a teacher who is Muslim? What about a teacher who has weak, but not failing, collegiate credentials? What about elementary ed. teachers who teach math and science but have no real rigorous preparation to do either? What about long-term subs hired because they are the only people with the credentials to fill in for a long-term illness? The list goes on and on.

    I submit there are, at minimum, these agendas behind the call to get rid of “bad apples.” ALL have some legitmacy; ALL stubbornly ignore the difficulties in providing a “free and public education” to ALL American citizens.

    1. Christian agenda: the worst of this is vehemently committed to ignoring the constitution and the western European academic tradition stretching back to the Greeks and (by the way) the Persians, in order to establish a national fundamentalist, evangelical Christian national religion taught in schools to the exclusion of all other faiths and philosophical points of view. These people are terrified that our nation is now brown, not white; more female than male; dependant at every turn on “foreigners.” They are terrified by words like “multicultural,” “humanist,” “de-constructionist,” and “liberal arts”.

    2. Corporate agenda: As one west suburban Chicago area school board member and wealthy corporate leader once told me, “you know, we don’t need all these soft, tutsie fruitsie artistic types in our schools”. This agenda despises “soft” subjects like history, literature, psychology, philosophy and instead covets monetary domination of the world. It finds it handy to blame schools for corporate America’s own greed, endless inefficiencies, bad management, arcane economic theories, and “two-class” mentality. If you disbelieve that last statement, ask yourself how long it took GM to stop trying to run SEVEN barely distinguishable car and truck brands…or, for even more fun…go back and see which companies Tom Peters touted as the most excellenct…and what position in the dumpster they now occupy…

    3. Education agenda: at its worst, this agenda still believes that Carnegie Units are sacred, that no system can be changed (just try to start school later, run it longer, alter its daily schedules, eliminate PE, Driver Ed, or ______ (fill in the preceding blank), and that we must always divide children by age, or even gender. Ironically, higher education abandoned many of these traditons decades ago — a free market is a fascinating machine. In any school in America, every single teacher, administrator, parent, and student KNOWS WHO THE WEAK TEACHERS ARE, but this agenda would rather hide than face them, transfer them rather than deal with them, give them the weaker kids to teach rather than trust the brightest to them.

    4. Political agenda; as always, when America hurts, it blames and tries to “fix” schooling, while ignoring the influence of parenting and the media. Education is ever and always low hanging fruit — the easy prey of blue ribbon committees and election rhetoric– in a world where nobody really knows how to combat terrorism, new resistant diseases, racism, sexism, international consumer protection, environmental pollution, domestic violence, drug trafficking, illegal immigration, …! We are a tad less terrified if we feel we are trying to something about something….and that something is usually public education.

    American media does an abysmal job of reporting the truth of education. It is partly their fault, but partly the fault of their consumers, who love bad news about schools because they recall how much they hated Ms. Maypole in freshmen English, and were embarassed by their own academic failures. They like their whipping boy, but feel vaguely remorseful after each whipping.

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