Teachers and professors in all grade levels and types of learning institutions are charged to develop critical thinking skills in their students.
“Critical thinking” is relying on objective information and data; following clear consistent deductive or inductive reasoning; being clear about assumptions; being rational, consistent, sensitive.
Do our public leaders support and practice critical thinking? Do they support and foster a highly effective public school system?
A recent report out of Raleigh noted both the State House and Senate are developing bills that would effectively eliminate tenure in the public schools. Can tenure for post secondary school be similarly endangered? Sadly, yes.
This is potentially the worst kind of legislation any state could consider. Public education would be set back over 60 years to fear mongering, politically based dismissals for inappropriate reasons, autocratic control of faculty personal and professional lives, limitations on thought and learning, destruction of scientific learning, biased analysis of important social, political and economic issues. In short, a return to Neanderthal McCarthyism.
Complicating this situation is that many political leaders often have the best interests of students in mind. They simply do not understand, appreciate or respect the meaning of tenure and objective, effective, affordable due process for teachers. They confuse “at will” employment in business settings with the pressures and responsibilities associated with developing and delivering knowledge and how well students are learning.
Education is human development, not an assembly line, retail sales or other for-profit systems. Education lies at the core of human understanding, peaceful and civil society, and the basis for change and growth.
Clearly public education is imperfect, and in far too many cases corrupt and dysfunctional. The recent cheating scandal in Atlanta should bring out rage from all corners of society.
Most teachers are hard working, underpaid and exploited in the worst manner, underappreciated souls committed to their responsibilities. Why harm them in removing the biased bureaucratic systems existing in public education? Why hurt these highly trained and committed teachers while removing a minority of poor teachers?
Why not continue to improve and enforce the existing system of assessment of professional performance combined with professional development opportunities? If the system is not working, fix it. Don’t remove a necessary protection of effective due process.
To remove tenure is to remove the key protection from biased ideological manipulation of the learning activity for students. There are very few incentives for anyone to enter the teaching profession in North Carolina, where teacher pay ranks 46 in the nation. The vast majority of our teachers accept their awesome responsibilities out of love for what they are doing. With insultingly low pay, outdated equipment, onerous bureaucratic paper work requirements, long hours and little recognition of the important roles they play in human development it is amazing as many stay the course as do.
If lawmakers were serious about improving K-12 education, they could:
• Increase pay and resource support for public schools. Without placing a higher priority on education, all other measures ring hollow.
• Remove all administrators whose jobs are irrelevant to fostering quality learning on the part of all students. Initially require all public school systems to reduce the number of paid administrators by 30 percent. Those positions and associated funding should be shifted to teachers, teacher aides and added resources to attract highly qualified professionals. (A similar requirement of post secondary institutions is also needed.)
• Get out of the way and leave politics to politicians and education to professional educators.
• Maintain tenure with proper professional development reviews. Academic tenure is the only protection society has from ideological imprinting by a vocal set of biased individuals who do not respect critical thinking and learning.
Removal of tenure is an invitation for political control of the minds of future generations. That would be a disaster for all.
Dr. Shirley Browning of Swannanoa is a retired professor of economics at UNC-Asheville. His wife is a retired middle school teacher, and his son is a nationally certified teacher.