COMMENTARY: Governor Martinez’s education policy as administered by Secretary Hanna Skandera is not only a complete failure, it has damaged our children and education professionals beyond a measure we may ever know.
The administration’s policy is based on a philosophy that is failing across the country as well. The so called “reform” movement, which has been partly bipartisan, and the education industrial complex, with an emphasis on the latter, has been the driving force for this administration, with the money of Secretary DeVos and her partners also playing a major role. I cannot judge the heart of an individual, but I can judge their actions, and following the money is always a good idea when trying to get to the heart of the matter.
The facts are clear, and experienced educators will know something before the data reinforces what they already know. We are number one on every bad list and last on every good list.
It is not my purpose to express the facts most of us already know; I want to speak from the heart of an educator whose heart has been broken, but my spirit is not. In my 27 years as an educator I have seen many fads come and go, and as a historian I have researched the same. The teaching profession has survived them all, but not without trauma, and so have we all who have grown up with it.
I love my children every year as they come into my classroom and graduate. I get to follow some of them as they emerge into the world. Occasionally they come back to thank me, or I see some on the street saying, “I wished I had listened to you Mr. Carr.” High-quality educators have their heart and soul in their profession in a way you really don’t see anywhere else. It is true of other professions as well, such as nurses, counselors, doctors, and our first responders.
Governor Martinez says she has listened to our educators — and they are only a select few who agree with her. In fact, she reminds me of Trump, who keeps trying to modify ridiculous executive orders to make it through the courts. She wants to dangle $100 debit cards for classroom supplies in front of us as if we are pets, put us down in private, talk down to us, and punish us for being sick, caring that are children are being abused by standardized tests, or giving our children a civics’ lesson by letting them out of school to protest even further cuts to education.
I was docked points for missing one day. My wife was docked for missing five days to be with her father during open heart surgery. The stories are endless. In my eight years on the New Mexico Public Education Commission I have fought this administration in every way I could. We only have 21 more months to deal with this abuse as we continue to resist in every legal way possible with the help of the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico, the National Education Association of New Mexico, and the ACLU.
There is one thing that costs nothing, and not doing it has proved to be very costly. That is treating people with dignity and respect. I foster the philosophy of being a loving and caring educator to my students and their families as well as my colleagues. As if I needed the data or science to support doing this, science has proven that creating a sound and loving relationship with a student opens neurological pathways that enable the child to be open to learning.
The same holds true for adults. A punitive evaluation system harms the educator and the student. You cannot put students first by putting educators last. The caregiver also needs to be nurtured. Teaching to the test has taken away the joy of learning and the joy of teaching and has done immeasurable harm to our society and to our nation.
We need to change our philosophy to one in which we nurture our people rather than continue down the road of failure through the idea that people are basically bad and need to be punished to stop their bad behavior. When people are treated humanely they become humane. This has worked in every aspect of society.
We also need to put our treasure where our heart is, and I hope that is with our children. When you drive into any small town in New Mexico you will usually see the school as the hub of their community and the center of their culture and life. When you go to large cities it is the business centers and high rise buildings that are the center. Our schools and education need to be the heart and soul of our communities and lives. The success on all levels will follow.
Just like every venture this requires that we invest the time, money and effort. We are 26th in the world in our per-pupil spending and we are the richest country in the world. We can change the path we are on in New Mexico.
I propose a true education task force predominantly made up of education professionals, but also to include students and a cross-section of society, to study how we may make our schools a place we can look toward with pride. First, let’s stop high-stakes testing; fully fund early childhood education, K-12, and our higher education institutions; fully update our vocational/career oriented system; pay all educational employees what they are worth; and end child poverty by raising the minimum wage and creating jobs.
It is past time to diversify our revenue sources in New Mexico and accept commonsense measures such as legalizing/taxing hemp and cannabis to help with our education funding. Our children and their parents need universal single payer health care as well. By nurturing our people, we are investing in New Mexicans who will become productive members of society rather than allow the vicious cycle of poverty to continue.
Jeff Carr lives in Eagle Nest with his wife, and they are both teachers. He has taught history for 27 years and a is member of the state’s Public Education Commission. A Democrat, Carr is running for lieutenant governor in 2018.