Why Your Child's Teacher Stinks, and What You Can Do About It

There are certain professions that carry an implicit mandate, one that goes beyond performing the required duties of that profession. A social contract exists in these specialized lines of works that requires the performer to place the needs to those he serves above his own. Police officers, soldiers, and firemen are three such professions. There is a fourth, but this profession’s mandate has been corrupted by union greed and politics.

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I speak of the Teacher, especially the teacher of the American high school and university.

The mandate of the Teacher is simple: to educate. The simplest, purest form of the Teacher can be found in my book Teacher of the Year: The Mystery and Legacy of Edwin Barlow. For 35 years, Edwin Barlow taught mathematics at his beloved Horace Greeley High School in New York. Thousands of students passed through his classroom. Yet when he died, he remained as much a cipher as the day he arrived, for he deliberately shrouded his life in rumor and mystery.

One of the many reasons why he kept his life secret was simple: he only wanted to be remembered as an educator. He only wanted his students to carry his classroom (and life) lessons into the world. Every interaction he ever had with a student always had an underlying agenda: teach that student something, about anything. He did so with a purity of intent unmatched by the greatest philanthropists of our time. He did so wielding a demanding, humorous, profound, and frightening persona. His classes were not merely invitations to learn, they were command performances. At a time in their lives when teenagers are more concerned with physical appearance, he demanded that they respect their minds.

I should know. I was one of his students. In over twenty years of the American educational system, I never encountered another instructor like him. Oh sure, I had plenty of notable teachers who made a difference in my life. None of them, though, provided me with an education in life, as well as their formal topic. None of them had the impact Mister Barlow did. And none of them cared as little about personal remuneration as Mister Barlow did. He chose the esthetic life, gave away much of his salary to charity each year, and didn’t give a hoot about the union.



Ah, the union. Look, unions are often necessary. Heck, I’m a union member. The concept of labor providing a balanced market force against management to secure fair and reasonable wages and benefits is necessary in a free society. However, practice has blown theory out of the water. The forces are no longer balanced. Thanks to bumbling politicians, unions in states like California are bankrupting the treasury. Pension provisions, excessive salary demands, and wacky tenure agreements that prohibit incompetent or even criminal teachers from being fired, have completely corrupted our country’s educational foundation. Don’t get me wrong – teachers deserve reasonable pay, benefits, and pensions. They are responsible for our children, after all. But we have let the situation go way beyond reasonable.

We have. That’s right. We have permitted this to happen. More on that in a moment.

Even worse, though, the unassailable mandate to educate has been corrupted. The recent revelations concerning Academia-Gate are a shameful and repulsive stain on the noble profession of educator. That university professors should even be mentioning their political beliefs in their classroom, much less attempt to indoctrinate their students, leaves me speechless. It wouldn’t leave Mister Barlow speechless, though. He rip them. He’d tell them they are a disgrace to education. He’d tell them to get back to the business of teaching, of fostering the intellect, of pushing their students to go beyond what they thought they were capable of. If these teachers want to march in a protest, they can do that on their own time. If a student comes to them seeking political discourse, that’s another matter. If it’s a political science class, then balance must be the order of the day.

Which brings me to your kid’s teacher. Does your child’s teacher devote himself exclusively to the nurturing of your child’s intellect? Is he giving your child the attention they need? Is he staying after school every day, inviting any student from any class to come for extra help, or even to just chat about some random intellectual puzzle? Or is he just performing at the minimum level to get through the day?

Teachers in our country should be wholly devoted to the task of teaching.

That’s where you, as a parent, come in. You have the right – if not the obligation – to let your child’s teacher know what you expect from them. Thrust a copy of Teacher of the Year: The Mystery and Legacy of Edwin Barlow into their hands. Tell them this is what you expect, and what you demand -- that you will not tolerate anything less than 100% devotion to your child’s education. If they start mucking about in politics, social justice, bogus policy papers, or union shenanigans, that you’ll have their head. It is your right – if not your obligation -- to tell the Union directly that you will not tolerate the bankrupting of your state, that they have gone far enough. It is your right – if not your obligation -- to tell your representatives that the time has come to strip your state’s education budget of everything that does not directly relate to true education.

These are our kids were talking about. They spend 180 days a year with their teacher. The influence exerted by our nation’s instructors is too powerful to leave to individual whim. Be an involved parent. Demand the best, as Mister Barlow demanded the best from us.

Teacher of the Year: The Mystery and Legacy of Edwin Barlow can be purchased at Amazon.com. Autographed copies are on sale at my website. From now until June 30, I will donate sale proceeds to the Fallen Heroes Fund. Mister Barlow, as it happens, was also a WWII veteran. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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