Pay attention, my friends

Before I became a school superintendent, I was never particularly interested in politics. I was either too naive or too stupid to realize the repercussions political decisions have on our personal lives, and professionally I was fortunate to be a classroom teacher before the all-out political assault on public education began. So, like most teachers, I just did my job and didn’t pay much attention to what politicians were saying or doing. When they spoke, it just seemed like annoying, meaningless noise. But, it is so much more than that.

When I became Superintendent of Troy, an important responsibility of mine was staying abreast of and understanding the ramifications political decisions had on our district and the students we were serving. Early in my tenure, I was often confused by the many new laws that were illogical, but then I learned that they were driven not by sound research, but by party politics and power grabbing. That is when it all began to make sense.

I also discovered that while the creators of laws profess to be interested in fact-based feedback, they are only interested if it fits into their party’s platform. What is best for children is not as important as toeing the party line. To buck the party’s platform means being marginalized and jeopardizing future political appointments. Not many of them have the stomach for that.

So, once I learned the rules, I decided that instead of blindly believing the spin that accompanies political actions, I would educate myself about what they mean. What I learned was depressing.

As an example, when I recently discovered that Senator Peggy Lehner had been inexplicably reappointed as Chair of the Senate Education Committee, I decided to learn more about the people on that committee. Since it is supposed to provide leadership on education discussions at the state level, one would assume its members would be experts in education. One would be wrong in that assumption.

Senator Lehner has repeatedly authored and supported education laws that make no sense and do nothing to help children, so her reappointment is indefensible. Her primary leadership role has been to help implement poorly conceived laws only to later admit their failure, while assuring us that the people who screwed them up in the first place will somehow make them better.

To this point, within the last couple of weeks, she has acknowledged that the state’s graduation requirements and school takeover law are both broken and in need of repair. Of course, she assures us the legislature will now fix them. It is unfathomable how many times this same “we’ll screw this up, then fix it” charade is repeated. It is just as unfathomable that we continue to accept it.

As if Senator Lehner’s reappointment isn’t bad enough, a new Senate Education Committee member is Senator Andrew Brenner, who previously chaired the House Education Committee. His hair-brained ideas on education are well documented, yet he has been rewarded for his incompetence with placement on the Senate Education Committee. The fact that his appointment comes at the expense of children apparently doesn’t matter to those in charge.

One might think it would be advisable for members of a legislative EDUCATION committee to have some expertise in educating children. But, based on their online biographies, the only one with any experience in teaching in a K-12 classroom is Senator Teresa Fedor. This no doubt explains why she is one of the few politicians who has actually engaged in rational, reality-based conversations about how children learn.

But, her effectiveness is neutered by the rest of the committee, which is comprised primarily of business people and lawyers. None of them apparently has any knowledge about how children learn, and all of them are wonderful at crafting laws, but terrible at crafting laws that matter. For only one of eleven members on an EDUCATION committee to have hands-on experience educating children tells us all we need to know about politics.

It was also interesting to learn that many members of a committee whose Constitutional responsibility is to create school policies for PUBLIC education have deep connections to private education. Senator Brenner has referred to public education as socialism, so he has no interest in improving it. Other committee members have a similar, more subtle commitment to privatizing education. This explains the relatively recent expansion of laws requiring taxpayers to fund privately owned charter schools and private school vouchers.

As I have often stated, parents have a right to send their child to a private school, charter school, boarding school, home school, military school, or any other school they choose. However, it is not this committee’s role to create laws based on their individual biases, especially when those biases are based on political myths. Yet, that is what they do.

But, the most interesting lesson I learned from my deep-dive into the Senate Education Committee has nothing to do with education and everything to do with politics.

Ten of the eleven committee members have previously served in Ohio’s House of Representatives. Since Ohio’s term limit law was supposed to have solved the problem of career politicians ascending to power and controlling our lives for years, that is apparently another law that isn’t working as intended.

But, why do we keep electing them?

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Tom Dunn

Contributing Columnist

Tom Dunn is the former superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.