Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Arne Duncan Shows his Appreciation for Teachers

It’s rare than an open letter of appreciation is received with the sensation of pouring salt in open wounds, but that seems to be what happened this week as Arne Duncan attempted to mark National Teacher Appreciation Day with a letter of thanks to America’s teachers. Duncan tried to herald teaching as an honorable and autonomous profession, listed things he claimed to have learned from listening to teachers, and closed by suggesting that continued progress could be made in education reform by him working together with teachers. On the face of it, this seems to be the type of letter that would be welcomed by teachers, especially as many increasingly feel the sting of public attacks related to collective bargaining negotiations and new job (in)security measures. But—wow—do the teachers’ comments on this letter suggest a different reaction! Teachers find his letter to not only be hollow and disingenuous, but hurtful and infuriating. I encourage you to read for yourself the important criticisms they make of Duncan’s letter, many of which relate to feeling that their voices are not being heard, particularly by Duncan and the Department of Education.

So, what’s to be done? Rather than “Ask Arne,” as the US Department of Education website invites me to do, I thought I would “Urge Arne” instead. I wrote to Mr. Duncan, urging him, as the teachers responding to his letter did, to practice what he preached. I urged him to demonstrate his genuine respect for teachers and true desire to listen to their ideas by taking the time to publicly respond to the teachers’ comments on the Education Week website. This would show, in small part, that he really does care about what teachers have to say and that he sees them as professionals whose contributions are worthy of his time and attention—a type of professional accountability that goes up the chain and not just down it. Engaging in such a public exchange would be a way to show teachers that their voices do matter, especially during the week that we celebrate our teachers. Such an act would be a more genuine display of appreciation for our teachers than his open letter, written at a distance from real teachers, could be. Instead of pouring salt in wounds, it might make one small step toward healing them.


Leonard Waks said...

Right on, Sarah.

I was one of the first to comment on the Ed Week article about Duncan's "open letter." It is outrageous, showing Duncan to be arrogant and dismissive of other points of view.

Please keep us informed about whether he responds to you. I am not holding my breath.

Sarah Stitzlein said...

I noticed your name on there, Len. I'm glad to see you speaking out.

Amy Shuffelton said...

Along those lines, Scott Walker recently announced an "appreciation day" for state workers, along with awards including one for "customer service". I was pleased to see that some folks in Madison renamed it "State worker depreciation day". I sympathize with those teachers -- it's insulting to think any of us are dumb enough to be fooled by these empty gestures.

Sarah Stitzlein said...

Update: I received a reply from Tony Fowler who works for Secretary Duncan. Tony responds to my request that Sec. Duncan address the issues raised by teachers in ED Week by saying, "one can easily see that simply choosing which comments to respond [to] would be a daunting task." Seemingly to assuage my worries about the inattentiveness of the Secretary he continues, "President Obama and Secretary Duncan have been attentive to teachers throughout this administration." I wonder if the readers and commenters in ED Week agree.

Manny said...

It's a little late to chime in on this post, but I've finally gotten around to looking at the web site for the first time. Obama's alignment with the right wing educational agenda, exemplfied by his choice of Duncan, bodes ill for he state of public education in the whole nation. We can hope that the current cascade of revelations about school district responsibility for cheating on standardized tests may expose more of these "experts" as the fools and scoundrels they are.