FLINT - Once a year or so, I feel the need to defend teachers because nobody else seems to these days. And since school has started, this seems like a good time to do it.
So here's my ask: Can we lay off these people for a while? Can we find another profession or group to pick on for a change?
Teachers do a tough, important job for relatively low pay and most of them do it quite well. And what's their reward? As a class, we treat them like a boxer treats a speed bag - whappata, whappata, whappata.
Frankly, I don't get it. I'm not a teacher. Nor am I a union member or a "union sympathizer." Nor do I come from a teaching family. So this isn't about any of that. I'm just someone who marvels at our national ability to be so incredibly two-faced when it comes to the people who teach our kids.
On the one hand, we revere them as near-saints who hold the key to our nation's future in their hands. If you took a poll and asked people, "Which professions matter most?" teaching would be in the top five. On the Mt. Rushmore of occupations to look up to, teaching would be up there with cops, firefighters, military personnel and doctors. In terms of return on investment to society, most of us would put teachers far ahead of the politicians we claim to despise.
And yet all you hear these days - particularly from politicians who know an easy target when they see one - is how teachers are paid too much, do too little, aren't smart enough and need more training.
And that's when people are being nice. The worst among us lump them all in one boat and call them lazy, greedy louts who are draining the public coffers dry at a time when we can least afford it, all while getting the summers off. How dare they!
Then a week later a new study will come out saying kids in China, Japan or Botswana are miles ahead of American kids, and we cry, "Fix that! ... oh, but do it for less money with more students in increasingly substandard buildings, all while we yell at you and test you to make sure you're up to snuff."
That's nuts. And hypocritical. You can't say teachers are vital then turn around and cut their salaries and benefits. Just can't do it.
But we do. And I think it's because we've swallowed the notion that our schools are drowning in "bad" teachers, and that if we could only get rid of them our problems would be solved.
That's baloney. First of all, I think most teachers do a fine job despite all the criticism. Are there bad ones, ones who have given up? Sure. But I'll bet there are bad apples in your profession, too.
Second, I think most of the attacks on teachers, especially here in Michigan, have little to do with the classroom and a whole lot to do with union-busting.
The right hates unions and their voting power and they're devoted to stamping them out.
Third, I think we've collectively and incorrectly laid the blame for many of the nation's ills on teachers. We do this, I think, because we don't like looking in the mirror. We don't want to admit that education begins at home and that if Johnny or Jiquanda aren't learning at school, it's probably our fault as parents.
Maybe it's time we picked on ourselves for a change.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.