Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"The Rights of Adults Should Never Trump the Rights of Our Children"

So says Chancellor Walcott, testifying in Albany regarding a(nother) new teacher evaluation system. It's hard to argue with some of what the Chancellor proposes. It probably doesn't help anyone for 3020-a hearings to drag on for months, and we can all agree that convicted sex criminals should be removed immediately from classrooms. These are no-brainers.

But his statement referenced in the title troubles me. The rights of adults should never trump the rights of children? Be careful with absolutes, Chancellor. For while every child certainly does have the right to a quality free and public education, the adults educating that child ought to have the right to work in safety, if nothing else. And I don't mean "safety" as in "a job for life" (as some misinformed folks like to call tenure); I mean basic physical and mental safety. Teachers should not have to work under conditions of constant fear or anxiety while the inmates run the asylum, so to speak. For some adults, the rights of children certainly have trumped the rights of adults--and quite completely, such that some children's right to an education has been placed above the safety and health of their teachers. Students who have been physically violent against teachers and students are not removed from classrooms. Students who continually and willfully disrupt the educational process continue to come to class and disrupt day after day with no consequences.

This is why I feel that statements such as Chancellor Walcott's about the rights of children versus the rights of adults are, at best, presenting a false choice. And at worst, they perpetuate the pernicious stereotype that unionized public school teachers are living off the fat of the land while mindlessly crushing the dreams of children through terrible teaching and/or abject cruelty. Children have rights, and among the most important of those rights is the right to a good education. But those who would argue that that right is more important than any right of adults should ask themselves if we expect our teachers to be physically and mentally equipped at the same level as, say, SEAL Team Six. Or if they should have to be. I tend to think not.

A successful school is one in which children feel supported and respected, for sure. But in that successful school, the adults would feel the same way.

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