Saturday, November 25, 2006

QUIEN ES ESA NINA: Who's that girl?

Margaret Spellings. That’s who. One of the most stunning appointments to the Bush administration cabinet this term has been Margaret Spellings, Secretary of Education. Our gal Maggie was appointed back in November 2004, after Bush actually won a term.

That the mainstream media has let this appointment fly by has been unbelievable, especially for those of us in public education. Granted, one could see why the media went into an orgy over the “heckuva” job that non-qualified Mikie Brown was doing as FEMA director when New Orleans went under water. But wake-up media: Take a look at Maggie. Because although many of us on both sides of the aisle initially had high hopes for the broad improvements that No Child Left Behind would have had, it’s becoming patently obvious that it’s a colossal failure and there’s a big secret in America that few know about: Maggie Spellings, who heads the Department of Education and No Child Left Behind, is COLOSSALLY unqualified for her job. In the hierarchy of education, Spellings would be hard-pressed to get a substitute teacher position. And I’m not kidding.

Let’s review the qualifications of two former Secretaries of Education, shall we? I’ll even select two former secretaries who served under Republican presidents, ok? Just so you don’t think I’m being unfair and imbalanced here. Let’s start with Rod Paige, who served under George W. Bush’s first term.

Now I’m not a big fan of Paige, especially when he equated teachers unions with “terroists.” Well…I do know a building steward or two who has a narcissistic personality disorder and who has declared a jihad against anyone who disagrees with them, so he might’ve had a point; but that’s another story for another day. Back to Paige. Like him or leave him: Paige was more than “well-qualified” for the job. Holding a doctorate degree, Paige dedicated his life to education, serving as a teacher, a coach, a dean, and a superintendent.

How about Bill Bennet? The right guy the left loves to hate? Dr. William Bennet served as Secretary of Education under President Reagan during Reagan’s second term. As with Paige, Bennet is not one of my favorite people, especially when he made that heinous comment, suggesting that one way to reduce crime would be to abort African-American babies. Truly uncalled for. Regardless of this remark, though, which is awful, Bennet was “well-qualified” for his job. Bennet has more degrees than a thermometer, including a doctorate from the University of Texas and a law degree from Harvard. Additionally, he had served on countless boards and councils related to education, including the National Endowment for the Humanities.

It’s clear: we, the American citizens, expect that someone who fills a cabinet position such as Secretary of Education should be both well-educated and well-qualified, and that that individual should have some experience in public education. So that brings me to Margaret Spellings’ qualifications. Previously the Assistant to the President Bush for Domestic Policy, Spellings holds a degree in political science from the University of Texas. And that’s about it for education. Maggie was involved with education reform in Texas when she lived there, and she worked with then governor Bush on a whole host of issues related to education. Too bad her only experience being in a classroom has been as a student, and it’s a shame that there’s no indication that she served some time as a substitute teacher, which, in Connecticut, requires one to have an undergraduate degree, which Maggie does have. But that’s ok, isn’t? I guess that although I don’t know a fucking thing about a hospital, I should apply for chief of surgery. And maybe you, reader, who may know NOTHING about let’s say, astro-physics, should design a space-craft for NASA.

When our gal Maggie first came out as Secretary of Education in 2005, she had a “heckuva” of arrival taking everyone on from the cartoon characters on a PBS show, whom she thought were lesbians, to Dr. Betty Sternberger of Connecticut, former Secretary of Education in Connecticut, who, like Dr. Paige and Dr. Bennet had experience in education and in the classroom. Imagine that.

What I find most disappointing in all of this—deep breath—is that as a teacher, department head, and trained mentor teacher, I usually find a lot of common ground with my conservative colleagues on issues pertaining to education. In fact, we tend to agree on a great deal whereas I am constantly at odds with "left-leaning" colleagues who are more overly concerned with students’ feelings, with whether or not students like them, with sucking-up to administration, with creating problems where they don’t exist, and with slowly dismantling the Western canon in a vain effort to say that such works as The Odyssey are no longer valid (yes, some asshole presenter at a conference I attended actually said this—my wife is my witness—she was there, too). To be frank, I have found in my ten years of teaching that many left-leaning and conservative educators do have a wealth of common ground. The problem is: too many people in Washington and elsewhere are too unconscious to recognize this.

Who’s that girl? Maggie Spellings. And I’m sure she’s a nice person, and I’m sure she’s been loyal to President Bush—he likey likes that. However, she’s grossly unqualified. But here’s where Georgie has blown yet another opportunity. What the fuck? Just think what could HAVE been done had he had the right people—no pun intended—reached out across the aisle, found a way to deal with some of those zealots in the union—I know, I know, and forged away to make American education at the vanguard in the 21st century. Bill Gates has been plowing along. So has Bill Clinton and his business associates in his work for with the Clinton Foundation. Maybe we do need to get business more involved because public education remains tragically left behind. Maybe the "true" free-market conservatives have got it right.

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