Animosity Turns to Harmony... If There Is a Common Cause

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In the continuing effort to save the public-school system, it is easy to become so caught up in arcane policy matters that the realities of the classroom are forgotten.

Whatever administrative reforms might be enacted and however many platitudes might be spouted by politicians, if the classroom is intellectually uninhabitable, the schools will fail.

The teacher is the first casualty in any battle over public education. We hear too frequently about the aberrant teacher, the one who is so grossly incompetent that he or she attracts attention.

Forgotten are the vast majority of teachers who do their jobs well under trying conditions and who toil for absurdly low salaries while working to instill fundamental academic skills and values in young people.

Dallas School Superintendent Linus Wright often has found his relations with teachers strained. His job requires a certain detachment from the day-to-day educational regimen while he tries to fortify a fragile bureaucracy and to restore public confidence in the system.

Sometimes Mr. Wright and teachers seem to exist in different worlds, so when those worlds are thrown together there always is a question about whether war or peace will prevail.

When Mr. Wright recently appeared before a meeting of the often-militant, 1,600-member Dallas Federation of Teachers (DFT), a surprising thing happened: It was a useful, fairly harmonious session. Sixty teachers presented their gripes and suggestions and Mr. Wright responded as best he could.

This isn't the way it has always been. A few years ago, this kind of meeting probably would have turned into a brawl. Administrators and teachers considered themselves natural adversaries.

Now, however, a common cause is recognized. This does not diminish the magnitude of the problems, but it does make solutions to those problems more attainable.

The DFT members' complaints were frighteningly bizarre. While education of children is put on hold, teachers are ordered to redo massive amounts of paperwork if their first efforts have been done in the wrong color ink.

Principals, in spite of orders from Mr. Wright to the contrary, are harassing teachers who dare to fail students who cut week after week of class.

One teacher summarized the plight of education with his question: "I'm told to teach 12th graders 12th-grade material when they read at 5th-grade level. What am I supposed to do?"

Superintendent Wright didn't have the answer. No one does. But the fact that Mr. Wright is listening to teachers is an encouraging sign. Everyone interested in preserving public education should listen as keenly.

Vol. 02, Issue 20, Page 18

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