After loading up with enough school choice propaganda to do Pravda proud, I surveyed the room for a table with a close-up view of both the speakers and an escape route.
I spotted a partially filled table about 10 feet from the speaker’s podium and 5 feet from the door. I surmised the table hadn’t been completely filled because it was occupied by 3 little kids, ages in the 5-8 range. Who would want to sit with three little kids at a school choice meeting? Also seated at the table were mom and I would guess, grandma. I put down my propaganda haul and sat down. Two other chairs remained empty. The adults at the table were nice enough during our exchange of maybe 10 words. The youngsters were well behaved and very quiet.
At the podium, the local Tea Party head gave a brief welcoming speech before giving way to the inevitable radical anti-public school rhetoric. The first speaker was America’s most conservative senator, Jim DeMint. He teleconferenced the group from Washington via a TV monitor.
DeMint threw out about 2 minutes of predictable red meat and then fled as if Sarah Palin was waiting just off camera in her running shorts.
After one other irrelevant TV public education basher, the meeting was finally treated to a live human being – too live for my taste. He was an overweight, twenty-something Dick Armey protege in the employ of FreedomWorks. His name was David Spielman and he was a campaign coordinator for school choice. He bragged about standing with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker as he fought the unions. Though young, Spielman was the perfect mouthpiece for the subject of the night, ripping ‘government’ schools. The right-wingers call public schools ‘government’ schools in adopting a meaningless advertising agency name that’s supposed to evoke a fearsome image of jack-booted ‘government’ administrators.
Spielman informed the crowd that his wife was a teacher in Maryland. His mother, father and had also taught. Teaching in Maryland, his wife most likely belongs to either the American Federation of Teachers or the Maryland State Education Association. A fact not shared from the podium.
Young David said he didn’t remember the last time our schools were kid-focused. Has this ‘expert’ even set foot inside a classroom? How about the most recent school day being the last time our schools were kid-focused. Let’s check out the Winter edition of NEA Today, a quarterly from one of those teachers unions he castigates. In the magazine, President, Dennis Van Roekel’s column is about the union’s Priority Schools Campaign dedicated to accelerating student (kids) learning. There’s an article on the price children pay in the budget-cutting orgy initiated by state legislative Tea Party types. There was a story on the questionable efficacy of No Child Left Behind and how being forced to teach to the test impacts ‘kids’. The NEA is attacking that problem. There were at least a dozen more articles and columns that were “kid-focused”. The overwhelming majority of this union magazine is dedicated to kids.
Spielman knows this, of course, but he’s got a future to think about and borderline operatives like his boss can eventually lead him to millions as a lobbyist. That’s where Armey made most of his money after leaving Congress. Later, Spielman lamented that the Democrats were in bed with the unions to the clueless cheers of people who want their kids in schools where teachers are less educated, get paid less and the boss is in it for the money. For a guy who claims all those ties with teachers, his ignorance of the profession is staggering. I confess to a huge bias for public schools. My dear wife is a Special Ed teacher of the emotionally disabled. She holds a Masters degree. She and her colleagues are 100% kid-focused. She works at least 10 hours in the school setting, often longer. She sits in front of her home computer another couple of hours and puts in the equivalent of an 8-hour-day over the weekend.
Spielman was followed by Chad Connelly, the South Carolina Republican Party Chair, who may just be the most annoying man on the planet. He talked a mile a minute for way too many minutes and felt constrained to tell us his first wife committed suicide (no comment).
He insisted his education enmity was not about the teachers who he described as scared to death of the system and the union working against them. In this state, the union can mail out literature, lobby and email to their heart’s content, run a website and bitch. Neither the NEA nor any other union has any collective bargaining rights. What teachers are ‘scared to death’ of is school policies being driven by a bunch of uninformed, pseudo- religious hypocrites like Spielman and Armey who couldn’t answer a single Masters level question about education if their lives depended on it.
After mercifully shutting down his one-man distortion speech, Connelly gave way to the featured speaker of the night, Dick Armey, current head of FreedomWorks.
Armey informed the local audience that his wife had once been a teacher, but quit. He claims her principal told her, “It’s always the good ones that leave.” I wonder if she was that same ‘good’ one who left Armey?
Armey claimed that for 200 years “we did education better than anybody; better because we did it ourselves.” In the period Armey is apparently referencing (beginning roughly with the signing of the Declaration of Independence), schooling was so diffuse throughout the states, there would have been no way to quantify a national performance model. Secondly, school attendance was almost the exclusive domain of the rich until the mid-1800’s. Jefferson would have made the move to public schools many decades earlier.
Armey kept talking; somebody whose life has been dedicated to enriching himself from the public teat (he once sued to keep his government health care) is now hustling the Tea Party crowd. As he launched into his latest extremist tirade, I got up and walked out. I hope it looked like I was walking out on the speech because I was. I wonder if Armey shared the facts that bills like HB 4576 only benefits those with incomes high enough to declare such credits and parents of public school students essentially pay the tab estimated at nearly $100 million Carolina dollars the first two years of this farce.
I apologize to my dedicated teacher wife for Armey and his band of opportunistic BS-peddlers. Armey and company should have been hooked up to polygraph machines.
Dennis S, thanks so much for attending this event in person and giving us a bird's-eye view. You stayed a lot longer than was healthy.