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Governors, Do Your Job So Teachers Can Do Theirs

As a classroom English teacher, I remember times that students experienced earth-shattering realizations through classic literature. It was sometimes painful and controversial, but always eye-opening. Like when they realized that Jim was the real hero of the novel, not Huckleberry Finn. Or when they saw through the hypocrisy of Ayn Rand’s characters, or understood that the wealthy Miss Havisham was one of the most miserable characters in literature.

These uncomfortable, yet defining moments are what makes teaching relevant and impels students toward adulthood.

Republican governors want to take those moments out of the classroom by banning books, restricting speech, and pretending sex doesn’t exist.

Governors in many southern states like Texas, Arkansas, and Florida have signed bills satirized as “don’t say gay” into law. These bills severely limit the ability to mention LGBTQ in any way in the classroom, including forbidding teachers to broach the subject from a personal or educational perspective.

Texas, Florida, Missouri, Utah, and South Carolina governors have signed into law legislation that severely cripples teachers’ ability to choose books for their classrooms. Now they must choose from books that embody the morals and values of the far right.

“Pornographic!” these governor’s call anything that strays from their own interpretations of sex.

“Obscene!” say others who can’t understand anyone who doesn’t live inside the very structured walls of their own Puritan beliefs.

But this curriculum-based legislating falls far outside the realm of realistic governing and even farther outside the ken of most state leaders.

So governors, if you really want to help improve education in your state, and we all agree it needs major improvements, there’s much for you to do that actually falls within your job description.

First, pay teachers like the professionals they really are. Teachers are entrusted with your state’s children for eight hours a day, five days a week, and most of the weeks in a year. Surely they’re worth a living wage. So use your authority to influence a state budget that reflects the responsibility foisted upon your teachers.

If you governors need another idea for improvement, how about reducing class size ? Or spending some money on building structure and classroom safety, rather than suing Disney and setting up websites to fink on teachers. Or maybe you could make internet services available for everyone in the classroom, rather than only in some wealthier parts of your state.

And here’s a really big idea: make sure students come from families that can afford to eat. A student who comes to school hungry comes already disadvantaged. So governors, bolster those programs that make food and health care a priority for kids. Medicaid expansion, accessible mental healthcare and fully funded SNAP and TANF programs would help significantly.

Texas, Florida, Missouri, Utah, and South Carolina governors have signed into law legislation that severely cripples teachers’ ability to choose books for their classrooms. Now they must choose from books that embody the morals and values of the far right.

Other educational issues that governors are uniquely qualified to tackle include gun control legislation so that you don’t send kids to school afraid they won’t live until the 3:00 bell. Or maybe reinstate a woman’s right to choose her own health care so little girls don’t have to worry that some day, when they become big girls, their menstrual cycles will be tracked by right-to-life fanatics.

And while we’re making changes, how about upgrading the whole education system ? I knew what courses my grandson was taking each year of his high school career because it was almost exactly the same curriculum I took 50 years ago. College curriculum and structure has also changed very little over the same time frame, so we’re due for an upgrade. And governors are singularly positioned to initiate those changes.

So that’s an education plateful for you governors who seem so interested in improving the learning experience for children in your state, and all fall within the parameters of your position.

However, curriculum isn’t one of those issues suited to you governors unless, of course, you possess degrees in all subject matter and grade levels currently taught in the your state’s public schools (and private ones, too). Materials used in the classroom and found on the shelves of public school libraries should be chosen by people with degrees and experience that qualify them to make those choices, and those aren’t politicians.

Governors, if your state colleges and universities are worth the exorbitant monies they charge and your state certification for teachers is credible, then your teachers are ready for the classroom. You, on the other hand, are not. So get out of the way and let educators in your state teach with materials they approve based on their knowledge, training, and experience.

Besides, you governors have so much other work to do.

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