11 August 2011


Some time ago, in another post, I mentioned that it was my belief that "Public Education needs a good apologist right about now... I truly believe it's a system well-worth defending."  I still stand by those remarks.  

But, at the time I made them, I did not know of any such Defender-Of-Public-Ed.  

Today I learned: He exists!

Meet John Kuhn, Superintendent of Perrin-Whitt School District in Texas.  He spoke to the gathered crowd of thousands at the Save Our Schools (SOS) March and National Call To Action in Washington, D.C., on July 30, 2011. Just days ago...

How great is his speech?  I would rank it among the very best rousing orations I've ever heard.  It's that good.  But, as a public school teacher, it carries even greater weight than that.  

This speech alone rates as our professional version of King's I Have A Dream. No kidding.

Here's the transcript of his speech:

Let me speak for all public school educators when I say, unequivocally: We will!” We say: Send us your poor. Send us your homeless. Send us your kids who don’t speak Spanish [speaks a phrase in Spanish]. Send us your special needs children: we will not send them away! But I tell you today, public school teacher: you will fail to take the shattered children of poverty and turn them into the polished products of the private schools–you will be unacceptable, public school teacher, and I say: that is your badge of honor!

I stand before you today bearing proudly the label of unacceptable, because I educate the children they will NOT educate! Day after day, I take children, broken by the poverty our leaders are afraid to confront, and I GLUE their pieces back together! And at the end of my life, you can say: those children were better for passing through my sphere of influence. I am unacceptable, and Proud Of It!

The poorest Americans need equity, but our nation offers them accountability instead. They need bread, but we give them a stone. We address the soft bigotry of low expectations so that we may ignore the hard racism of inequity! Standardized tests are a poor substitute for justice!

So I say to Arne Duncan and to President Obama: go ahead and label me. I will march head-on into the teeth of your horrific blame machine and I will educate these kids. You give me my scarlet letter, and I will wear it proudly! Because I will never cull the children who need education the most so my precious test scores will rise! I will NOT race to the top! I will stop, like the good Samaritan, and lift hurting children out of the dark.

Let me lose your race, because I am not in it for the accolades! I’m not in it for the money! I’m in this because it’s RIGHT!!! I am in it because the children of Perrin, Texas need somebody like me in their lives!

Our achievement gap is an opportunity gap. Our education problem is a poverty problem. Test scores don’t scream ‘bad teaching!’ They scream about our nation’s systematic neglect of children who live in the wrong zip codes! Listen to me, Arne Duncan! It’s poverty, stupid!! And that’s not an excuse! That’s not an excuse! It’s a diagnosis! We must as a nation stop assuaging the symptoms and start treating the disease!

Let me ask you a simple question. Where is adequate yearly progress for the politician? Will we have 100% employment by 2014? Will all the children have decent health care and roofs over their heads by the deadline? But wait! They don’t HAVE a deadline! They aren’t racing anywhere, are they?! When will our leaders ensure that every American community offers our children libraries and Little Leagues instead of drugs and delinquency?!

Lawmakers send you into congressional districts that are rife with poverty, rife with crime, drug abuse and poor health care, but lawmakers will never take on the label of legislatively unacceptable because they do no share the courage of the common school teacher. I say, I say, let us label lawmakers like they label teachers! Let us have a hard look at their data! Let us have merit pay in Congress!

Understand, politicians, if you want our children to grow lush, stop firing the gardeners and start paying the water bill! Politician! Your fingerprints are on these children: what have you done to help them pass their tests? President Obama: why don’t you come and join me in the crucible of accountability? We have talked enough about the speck in our teachers’ eyes: let’s talk about the plank in yours!

Thank you!


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