Soldiers in the fight for social justice

Guest blogger John White is Louisiana superintendent of education. This post originally appeared as a letter to the editor in the Baton Rouge Advocate.

The Advocate has recently published several letters to the editor on public education. I have to say as an educator, I'm disappointed with the prevailing tone and content of those letters opposing change.

Here are some passages that illustrate a common thread:

"We, the public school teachers of East Baton Rouge schools, can't educate children who don't want to be educated. We can't educate children whose parents don't care and are not involved."

"…the state is going to require that very poor students take the ACT… The weaker of these students are not college-bound students who have no intention to attend college, yet he has to be compared and compete."

And one writer simply stated, "Poverty is a significant factor affecting academic scores," leaving it at that—as if that absolves us of any responsibility to educate the child.

I'm so disappointed in these comments for two reasons. First, they betray a mindset that forsakes the American dream. They show a sad belief among some that poverty is destiny in America, defying our core value that any child, no matter race, class, or creed, can be the adult he or she dreams of being. Yes, poverty matters. Yes, it impacts learning. And that fact should only embolden us to do everything we can to break the cycle of poverty so another generation of children does not face the same challenges.

Second, and perhaps more disappointing, is that these letters were written by professional educators. The media would have you think that most educators oppose change. Even The Advocate editorial board used the number of teachers showing up at the Capitol during a weekday as evidence to prove teachers' collective objection to change.

But as an educator, I can tell you that our views are as varied as are the individuals in the profession. There are 50,000 teachers in this state, and it demeans them to say that the loud voices of those who chose to take a day off speak for the majority, who spent that day working with children. It further demeans them when they are represented in these pages as excuse-makers who see poverty as only a barrier to success and not as the reason to do the job in the first place.

Not all teachers support all of the proposals. Some support none. But all deserve better representation in these pages. Our teachers are soldiers in the fight for social justice in America. As with all soldiers, they joined the battle for different reasons and have different stories to tell. But they have not given up on winning. That's the real story. The media should start printing it.

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