Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Students lose in Jefferson County teacher battle
Special to the Daily
Teachers’ unions are up to their old tricks. This time the parents of Jefferson County are being punished for the effrontery of electing a school board which refuses to rubber-stamp the union’s every whim. Their children are the union’s weapon of choice.
The latest volley in the war between teachers and their employers was fired last Friday when 50 teachers in two Jefferson County high schools simply didn’t show up. Various students seized the opportunity to play at protest, waving signs in support and mouthing slogans like “I think they should be paid more.” Which shows not a social conscience and well-honed insight into injustice, but credulity and a tendency to be easily manipulated: the school board’s proposed teacher compensation package is about 25 percent higher this year than last. But a rise in compensation is not “fair” in the union’s eyes if all do not share equally — something the board has firmly rejected.
Performance-based pay is a difficult subject, even for fair-minded discussants. There are many variables beyond a teacher’s control: a student’s background, home life, goals, even previous level of instruction; all of which may enhance or inhibit the chance of success. Nevertheless, ignoring outcomes — which affect the future of every student — is no longer acceptable.
Would one hire a contractor with a “partially successful” record on the projects they have undertaken, let alone offer the same payment that one would give another with a sterling reputation and a portfolio of well-built products? Would one choose to fly with a “partially successful” pilot or to have eye surgery performed by a “partially successful” ophthalmologist? Yet this is what teachers’ unions insist is just, because one cannot discriminate based on ability or outcome; a position all the loonier when one considers that what is being constructed is not a garage or tool shed. It’s the country’s future.
A related bone of contention between the JeffCo school board and its employees is a proposal for curriculum review and adjustment. Review criteria specify that “instructional materials should present the most current factual information accurately and objectively. Theories should be distinguished from fact.” Oh, the horror.
In reviewing the AP history curriculum, mention is made that materials should promote “… citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights.” Material used should present “balanced and factual treatment” of major issues. No one who appreciates the gifts received from analysis of the past would object to any of this.
But JeffCo teachers and some school board members recoil at the thought. “It’s chilling,” says school board member Lesley Dahlkemper, a holdover from union-friendly days. “Does it mean JeffCo will no longer study the civil rights movement …?” No, dear. But it does mean one should point out that, when Dr. King engaged in civil disobedience, he fully expected to be arrested: he understood he was breaking the law.
Recently, opposition to the JeffCo board has taken a different tack, arguing the cost of curriculum review isn’t worth it. Reading high school U.S. history textbooks suggests otherwise. Most notable is a uniform “America can do no right” tone; two texts, in dealing with the Constitutional convention, note the infamous “three-fifths compromise” occurred because the Framers “did not regard enslaved blacks as human beings …” It goes on to echo William Lloyd Garrison’s criticism that the Constitution was “A covenant with death and an agreement with Hell;” sentiments echoed by such luminaries as Thurgood Marshall — who should have known better.
This recitation omits important facts: many delegates, including Rufus King, Benjamin Franklin, John Dickinson and Alexander Hamilton, were members of manumission societies. Others, including Virginia’s George Mason and James Madison, called for an immediate halt to importation of slaves, and for eventually freeing those here. And that, without the reviled compromise, the protections Garrison enjoyed would not have been and the Civil War he advocated could not have been fought. There would have been no United States as we know it, and the history of both the Americas and the world would have been far different and likely much more unpleasant.
As the history texts of the early 1900s were unbalanced in favor of what we might call American triumphalism, so texts since the 1970s have been infected with unwarranted self-loathing and despondence; a new balance needs to be struck in which the past is viewed with clarity and its lessons — good and ill — can benefit us.
That some of JeffCo’s teachers oppose this is understandable: few like new departures, and changing one’s mind is a difficult thing. But they — and we, throughout Colorado — should be willing to embrace new ideas and new methodologies, whatever grumpiness ensues from professional educators.
Remember: it’s for the children …
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily News.
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