Guest Column: Rockford schools: Where are the members of the exclusive elite?

December 28, 2011

By Tim Hughes

Jane Hayes’ Dec. 14 Ethics in Education guest column leaves one wondering if the expanded credit proposal for District 205 shouldn’t include a course for teachers with the course description reading “Paranoia 101.” First, she states, “Education is not a business based on a corporate model.” I assume, then, she would have opposed the National Education Association’s $500,000 alliance with corporate goliath Walt Disney Company to create a new kind of school that the NEA intended to become a national model for innovative instruction. The NEA had no qualms bellying up to the bar of corporate America’s “billionaire boys’ club” as education author Diane Ravitch denounces businesses that dare tread upon teacher union-enforced mediocrity. The NEA was positively giddy in announcing at a National Press Club meeting that Guess Who was setting up camp at Disney World, an announcement that had NEA executives dancing in the streets of the Magic Kingdom.

In her litany of teacher grievances, Hayes cites “insurmountable problems such as overcrowded classrooms.” Even I think the REA has done a good job of effectively limiting class size through contact negotiations, proving that the problem is not insurmountable! Hayes complains about unnamed individuals making “irrational choices” who are “ill equipped” to be teachers themselves, meaning those unfortunate souls who haven’t endured a mountain range of courses that teach you how to hold a piece of chalk in your hand.

Then, there is the dark conspiracy being cultivated by the Rockford Area Chamber of Commerce that Hayes is certain must exist. She suggests teachers were intentionally excluded from the Chamber’s annual State of the Schools luncheon by holding the event during school hours and charging a “hefty” price for admission, making it impossible for other than Rockford’s “elite” to attend the function. Oh, please! The Chamber’s State of the Schools luncheon has been around for a decade or more and has always been held in the first week of December, and until this year, the guest speaker has always been the current superintendent. The event has often been followed by complaints that it is little more than a PR vehicle for District 205. The “hefty” price per ticket is $35, par for the course for similar events, and a corporate table usually runs around $300. Rockford’s elite that attend the event are mostly ordinary members of the Chamber, businessmen and women trying to make a living. They don’t arrive in chauffeured limousines and top hats. I’ve frequently seen REA officials at Chamber events, so are they, also, considered to be Rockford’s “elite”?

Hayes notes that Keith Country Day School had a corporate table at the event. So what’s stopping the REA from purchasing corporate tables and inviting poor, picked-on teachers to attend the function at union expense? It might help make up for the lousy value teachers are getting on their representational fees vis-a-vis the current contract bargaining talks. There are any number of ways teachers could get Board-paid leave time to attend the luncheon and see for themselves the depths of conspiracy Rockford’s elite are going to in order to close down public schools. But then the REA’s parent organization, the NEA, has in recent years named corporations from FedEx to GEICO and Outback Steakhouse as either directly or indirectly involved in right-wing conspiracies to destroy public education. Pass me a fresh crying towel, if you would, please.

Tim Hughes is a former teacher in Rockford School District 205 who coached debate and taught English at Auburn High School for 20 years. At Auburn, he coached three debate teams to first-place national championships.

From the Dec. 28, 2011-Jan. 3, 2012, issue

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