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Bureaucrats don’t force ‘top-down mandates’ on local teachers

This is in response to the column “Teachers should be free to teach” that ran in the Mail Tribune on Friday, Aug. 5.

As a local area teacher (Crater High School) I was heartened to read that someone from Hillsdale College in Michigan was championing my freedom. I looked up Hillsdale College and its president, Larry P. Arnn, and while we (the college and I) might have some serious philosophical differences, I can get on board with just about anyone who wants to promote my “freedom.”

But that raises the question: freedom from what? Who is impinging on my freedom? And how are they doing it and why?

According to the author, Daniel P. Coupland, a shadowy cabal of “bureaucrats from the education establishment” have created a situation whereby “teachers are hamstrung by rigid, top-down mandates … as they push the newest, half-baked educational fads alongside ideological agendas” and endangered the field of education by hijacking it and obsessing with “experimentation and indoctrination.” And the solution offered by the author: “Local school leaders — who are accessible and accountable to the community they serve — should be free to hire, train, cultivate and retain the kind of people they need to do the difficult work in schools.”

Whoa. A lot to unpack.

Before I begin, let me briefly entertain the question of perspective: admittedly, I am just one teacher in one classroom in one high school. Maybe I lack the proper vantage point to view (or understand) the author’s intent. He did, however, mention me in the title of his column so I will use the only perspective I’ve got — a classroom teacher.

Let’s start with the “bureaucrats from the educational establishment.” Who is he calling out? My best guess is the Oregon Department of Education in Salem. Apparently they have got me “hamstrung” with “rigid, top-down mandates and the newest half-baked educational fads and ideological agendas.” Now don’t get me wrong: I am no fan of top-down mandates, but I really don’t see the Oregon Department of Education doing any of the things the author describes. Not even a little bit. What is he talking about? Critical race theory? Social and emotional learning? The ODE has never advised me, nor has any level of administrator from the lowliest of building principals to the superintendent of Central Point School District, to incorporate either of these (nor any other) “educational fads and ideological agendas” in my teaching at Crater High School. Ever. And let’s be clear here: I am not equivocating in the least. What the author describes in his column has never happened to me in the 21 years I have been with the district. Not ever. Not once. Never ever.

Next up is the allegation that these malevolent bureaucrats, obsessed with “experimentation and indoctrination” are ruining teaching. Teaching is hard. In my two decades at Crater, I have witnessed two alarming trends: teachers leaving the profession in record numbers and their replacements not enrolling in teacher-training programs. The causes are myriad, but in the not-even-making-the-list spot are bureaucrats (at any level) forcing “experimentation and indoctrination” on teachers.

Lastly, the solution provided by the author appears to be local control of “hiring, training, cultivating and retaining the kind of people they need to do the difficult work in schools.” Last time I checked, the school districts in our valley were in control of “hiring, training, cultivating, and retaining” teachers as laborers in schools. Does ODE dictate who Medford hires? Does some federal agency “far removed from local schools and communities” dictate who gets hired in Eagle Point or Ashland? If anything, just the opposite is true: Local school districts are empowered to hire those who they deem fit and those educators often reflect the values of the communities in which they labor.

For a guy who trumpets the need for local control from “policymakers far removed from schools and communities,” I find it ironic that Daniel B. Coupland finds himself fit to offer insights and prescriptions for public education in Oregon as an outsider: He’s from Michigan!

While I appreciate the author advocating for my freedom as a teaching professional, he is wildly off base in both diagnosis and remedy of what ails public education at Crater High School.

Frank Bertrand is a Crater High School teacher.