Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Why Are Teachers Being Demonized?

Not just anyone can be a teacher. In fact, it's an old and tired myth that "those who can, do; those who can't, teach." I can tell you from experience that teachers are some of the most well-trained and qualified professionals you will meet. And yes, most teachers are folks who not only can, but they do-- every day.  Most teachers have a minimum four-year degree. Many also have a master's, or like Dr. Jill Biden (and me), a doctorate. Many have certificates in areas of specialization. And some come from other professions but decided they wanted to be teachers. 

As a profession, teaching isn't especially lucrative. In lots of cities, it's quite low-paying, in fact. But folks don't become teachers to get rich. They do it because they love kids, and because they love the opportunity to help kids to learn. And while, like every profession, there are some teachers who probably should have gone into a different line of work, the vast majority of the teachers I know are dedicated, hardworking, and caring. 

Too many teachers work in underfunded school districts, in old buildings without any modern conveniences like air-conditioning or computers. They frequently have to pay for school supplies out of their own pockets (or go to crowd-funding sites like my personal favorite, And often, they are much more than educators; often, they are a combination of motivators, tutors, and even counselors when a kid is in crisis. 

But instead of increasing the funding for schools or helping to modernize the buildings or even giving teachers much-deserved raises, some politicians have decided that teachers are the enemy. I notice with dismay that in a number of states, the majority of which are dominated by conservative legislators, politicians have decided that teachers cannot be trusted, that teachers are indoctrinating their students and teaching them all the wrong things. 

I'm not sure what these politicians are basing this on, and I strongly doubt they've consulted with any of the teachers they are now criticizing.  In fact, I've read some of the bills that these state legislatures are proposing (or passing): they are telling teachers what they can or cannot teach, and what they can or cannot discuss. It's a dangerous trend, and it's not getting enough attention. But it should, because it is going to affect kids' education-- and not in a good way.

One proposed bill would fine teachers as much as $5,000 for talking about racism or sexism in the classroom. Numerous other bills, several of which have already been signed into law, ban the teaching of something that nobody I know in any elementary school, middle school, or high school has been teaching-- so-called "critical race theory." Teachers are also being told to avoid any discussions that would "demoralize" or be "divisive." And they are being told that certain historical facts must either be downplayed or avoided altogether, so as not to upset anyone. (One proposed law would ban any classroom discussions that could cause "psychological distress." By that vague definition, almost any subject could be restricted-- who knows how someone will react to it?)

As a college professor at a private university, I don't have to worry very much about politicians micro-managing my classroom. But I have many friends who teach in public schools, and they are feeling like political pawns. They don't understand why they are suddenly being accused of stuff they would never do. They don't understand why they are being treated with such disdain, and why people who are not teachers are telling them how to do their jobs. And above all, they are afraid that if one student complains (about almost anything), it could put those jobs in jeopardy. 

This has happened at other times in eras past, when one group or other has decided that X is too controversial and must not be taught. Okay fine, I understand the desire of school boards to supervise the curriculum. But letting politicians (from any party) determine what goes on in the classroom is not helpful. I know there are issues we are grappling with as a country, but forbidding these issues from even being discussed, allegedly to "protect" students, doesn't protect them at all. And frankly, I find it offensive that politicians believe their judgment should take priority over what teachers already know how to do. As I said, I know a lot of teachers, all over the country. The ones I know care deeply about their students. The ones I know are skilled professionals. These teachers deserve our respect. They deserve our gratitude. But now more than ever, what these teachers don't deserve is to be demonized by politicians-- the majority of whom have never taught a class in their lives.                     

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

In Praise of Fathers

If you are a Rush fan, as many folks who read my blog happen to be, you know that one of the things I always liked about Alex, Geddy, and Neil was that they were family men. That's unusual in the music industry.  But on the occasions when I saw the guys with their families, it was obvious to me there was a genuine bond. Living the life of a rock musician meant each of the guys was out on the road a lot. But I knew they loved their wives and kids. And I knew they loved their parents.

I was thinking about parenting this week, partly because Father's Day is coming up, and partly because of the sad news that Neil's dad Glen lost his battle with cancer the other day. I would be lying if I said I spent a lot of time with the Peart family over the years, but when I did speak with them, they were very warm and very courteous, and I liked them a lot.  I last saw Glen and Betty in person during the after-party at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. It was so obvious to me how protective Neil felt towards them. And when Neil passed last January, Glen and I exchanged emails several times. Glen was a dear human being, and it is no cliché to say that he will be missed. 

Society has long stereotyped what a "good" father is. If you watch old movies or old TV shows, you see fathers represented as men who make a respectable living. Men who know how to keep their kids in line. Men who are tough during a crisis.  Even in our modern and somewhat more egalitarian world, where men sometimes help with dinner or change a diaper, fathers are still expected to know how to fix stuff around the house, and to be the problem-solvers. 

My father, and I am sure Neil's father, and many fathers of that generation, were taught that version of fatherhood. And of course, there's nothing wrong with making a living or knowing how to fix something. But there's a lot more to being a good father. I think fathering is about ethics: it's about teaching one's kids to be honorable human beings and to do the right thing. I can certainly say that even though I never really got along with my father, he was an ethical person, and that was something I admired about him. 

By all accounts, that's how Glen Peart was too-- an ethical person.  And based on my conversations with Neil, he too respected that quality.  I still remember a conversation I had with Neil in 2010, when he told me he wished he had been around more for his daughter from his first marriage, and how determined he was to not repeat that mistake with his young daughter Olivia. When he retired from Rush to spend more time with his wife and daughter, I know how serious he was about that... how much he wanted to be a positive presence in Olivia's life-- not just a paycheck, but a person who was there for her.  

The other day, I found a letter my father wrote to me back in 1970, when I was away from home,  attending a summer institute at Indiana University. The words seemed a lot like my mother's, but the sentiments were definitely my father's. He said he was sorry we weren't getting along, and he said he wanted us to try to communicate better.  Over the years, periodically, we'd stop speaking to each other, and then we'd resume after a while. He never fully understood my need to move away and pursue my broadcasting career. But he learned to accept it. I'd like to believe he was proud of me.  

If you saw the movie "Beyond the Lighted Stage," you know that Neil's family had to accept the fact that Neil preferred a career as a rock and roll drummer, rather than working in the parts department at his father's farm equipment store. When Neil had a chance to become a member of Rush, his dad could have stopped him, but Glen understood how important being a musician was to his son. And so it was that both my dad and Neil's dad sent their kids out into the world with a strong sense of ethics to serve as a guide in difficult times.

And as we come to another Father's Day, I send my love to all the fathers who are willing to listen, the fathers who spend time with their kids, and the fathers who are willing to accept it when their kid chooses a different career path from the one that was expected. I send my enduring thanks to my own father, of blessed memory, for the lessons he taught me, lessons I still use to this day.  And I send my condolences to Neil's family: Glen did a fine job as a father; and how well Neil and his siblings turned out is certainly proof of that.