Letter | Teachers are citizens too

06/08/2013 12:00 AM

06/07/2013 7:24 PM

Teachers are citizens, too. Our opinions should matter in all aspects of public education, yet they are not valued and encouraged in Horry County Schools, unless they support district initiatives. Other citizens’ voices are also spurned. Unless significant change occurs in public education in our district and across the United States, our republic is doomed.

Public education in the United States saw its first serious advancement in the early 1800s in order to provide citizens with the necessary skills that the Founders knew would be essential for them to contribute to our republic’s viability. Many recognized that a republic required a knowledgeable, virtuous citizenry to participate in its daily functions. Citizens would not be blindly following government directives but charting new, creative avenues to unleash individuality, to promote independent thinking and to make sure that power was not concentrated in one person or in one branch of government. Public education would be a means to the ends of fostering a free people and limited government.

Contrary to much current thought and practice, public education is a political endeavor, for decisions must be made about how to spend taxpayer dollars, what students will be taught and how our schools will be operated. All citizens, teachers included, not only have a right to contend for what they believe to be best for our public schools, but they also have a responsibility to do so.

Yet many want to remove politics from education and have school boards elected on a non-partisan basis, and some, like ours, promote a team approach to accomplish shared goals. Going in the same direction is not what a republic is all about but is the focus of totalitarian regimes.

Horry County Schools desires all to move in unison. Administration even cooperates with certain influential local media who serve as de facto public relations agents. Together they strive to foster an image of uniform commitment to all programs and operations. Image and conformity prevail.

The superintendent does not hold press conferences to allow scrutiny and transparency. There is no regular, public accountability.

Controversial issues are not regularly explored and differences of opinion are not encouraged in internal operations and external, public communications.

Of course, public confidence and support are important, but not if they are gained by blind obedience. Watergate opened our eyes, but we fell back asleep. Enron jolted us from our slumber. Abu Ghraib disgusted us, and now Benghazi and the IRS scandals have shaken us to the core. Why are we now vigilant watchdogs of our national government but fail to participate in our school district with equal fervor? Horry County Schools is a legally-constituted, public entity which requires our participation as citizens, and yes, that means teachers, too.

A mindset exists that teachers should not express themselves publicly, especially in opposition to school district leadership, yet they are the ones on the front lines. They have studied and thought much about what should be happening in our classrooms.

Nevertheless, teachers are expected to be compliant and to implement whatever the powers that be have decided. They are expected not to ruffle feathers and to work the assembly line directives of administration. If they speak or act as conscience dictates, they find themselves in hot water and often suffer severe consequences. Therefore, cowed by fear, they comply. This works well for keeping everybody going in the same direction but works against our freedom and the republic to which we pledge allegiance.

Nothing will change in Horry County Schools, or our nation, unless more teachers and citizens have the courage to speak and act. Who’s next?

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