On teachers, free speech, and the protection of public education


COMMENTARY: In a recent public announcement the N.M. Public Education Department (PED) is lifting the ban on public school teachers exercising their constitutional right of free speech to criticize standardized testing. The obvious presumptuousness, this was apparently a momentous recognition on the part of those in charge, from the governor to the PED chief and who knows whom else in between, that Americans have a right of free speech even if the government doesn’t like what is being said.

Emanuele Corso

Courtesy photo

Emanuele Corso

Of course there was prodding from the ACLU. The gag rule was promulgated during the Richardson Administration, which was not itself exactly a bastion of enlightenment, and was hung on to by the Martinez PED. We may now expect to hear from New Mexico’s beleaguered teachers on the current regime of testing that replaces authentic teaching and learning.

Following her election to governor in 2010, Susana Martinez had some pay-back obligations to her sponsors, such as the Koch boys, from whom she took in at least $10,000 directly. Consequently, she appointed an individual to head the PED who had been vetted by such right-wing luminaries as Jeb Bush. It mattered not that the new PED director had no degree or experience as an educator, nor were there any apologies for the appointment of an unqualified individual.

In fact, Hanna Skandera could not have been hired as a teacher in New Mexico because she could not meet the minimum requirements, such as 30 to 60 semester hours in an elementary education program, including student teaching; a minimum of six semester hours of credit in the teaching of reading if you entered college or university after Aug. 1, 2001; and a minimum of 24 semester hours in one teaching field such as mathematics, language arts, reading, history, and so forth. To add insult to injury, Skandera was, at that time, paid $125,000 a year against the average New Mexico public school teacher’s $39,000-$49,000 (all below the national average by the way).

This is about politics after all, and the ultimate outcome desired by the sponsors is the privatization of public education — a holy grail, if you will, being sought in nearly every state with a Republican-controlled state house. As one billionaire, Rupert Murdoch, famously put it, education is a $500 billion opportunity for which he an others like him are salivating. It should also be noted that Skandera was a participant in the same venue when Murdoch made this declaration.


Which takes us to the entire idea of standardized testing in elementary grades. Aside from its use as a diagnostic, there is absolutely no justification for standardized testing at that level. If anything, such testing is a disincentive to authentic teaching and learning.

In fact, there should not be grades between kindergarten and the transition to junior high school — a transition better determined by age and appropriate evaluation. In-grade retention of children at any grade level is antediluvian and antithetical to the purposes of proper schooling. It is also cruel.

It is no wonder that across the United States fewer and fewer children are completing their full course of public education. Mindless endless testing regimes and draconian consequences for not performing well on standardized tests are largely to blame. Have you ever met a standard kid by the way? Neither have I.

The truth is children want to learn and schools are there to help with that natural instinct. Unfortunately, schools and schooling have become politicized across the country and mostly in states with right-wing, reactionary governments. What is being called school reform is championed by non-educators, politicians with campaign debts to entrepreneurs who wish to turn public schools into profit centers.

Parents are, in many locations, pushing back against this onslaught against teachers and children in the name of profit. It is going to take a great deal of political action to remove people from office who are so anti-social and anti-child that they are willing to sacrifice one of America’s greatest achievements — universal public education.

It has to be done; it must be done. Parent must take interest and be vigilant because the profit motive never sleeps.

Emanuele Corso’s essays on politics, education, and the social contract have been published at  NMPolitics.net, Light of New Mexico, Grassroots Press, World News Trust, Nation of Change, New Mexico Mercury and his own — siteseven.net. He taught Schools and Society at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he took his PhD. His bachelor’s was in mathematics. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force’s Strategic Air Command, where he served as a combat crew officer during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He has been a member of the Carpenters and Joiners labor union, Local 314. He is presently working on a book: Belief Systems and the Social Contract. He can be reached at ecorso@earthlink.net.

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