When I followed election night last November, like just about every other teacher in Indiana, the race I kept my eye most closely leveled on was the State
Superintendent’s race. Again, like most of my colleagues statewide, I wanted to
see Tony Bennett go down on a completely visceral level because he was, to
phrase it in the most professional manner possible, a cock-sucking bastard (you
should hear me when I put on my sailor’s cap). But, I also thought that maybe,
just maybe his defeat might also signal a policy reversal in Indiana…or maybe
a policy slowdown…or at the very least a willingness to say, “Let’s pause on
this disaster we’re creating and ask a few teachers for their ideas.”
Alas, what is happening instead is tantamount to a “Full steam ahead” approach
. Both the governor and the Indiana General Assembly have said (directly and implicitly) that while the voters may have spoken regarding Bennett, they have also spoken in support of Ed-reform by keeping the governor’s office in GOP hands and enlarging the GOP caucus in the state House of Representatives.
The common motif that ran in polite conversation among friends prior to the election was, “I voted GOP down the ticket…except for Bennett.” Many of these friends had listened to us (many more even outright asked us who they should vote for), but most people are savvy enough to vote for their own reasons, not simply because their teacher-friends’ complaints suddenly registered.
We’re talking about parents, here. People who send their own children to schools which are now testing them to death. People who are sending their kids to an overcrowded elementary school across the county because the neighborhood school was closed down
. They’re paying $12.50 every sports season for “transportation fees,” and they’re paying $85 for AP tests which they once didn’t have to cover. They’re watching entire departments at the high school disappear, and they’re seeing experienced, qualified teachers walk away to be replaced by youthful but in-over-their-heads crusaders trying to prepare kids for life and college on pure heart and five-week crash-courses in underwater-basket-weaving.
In other words, the election showed us something we’ve always known: people like education reform when it happens “over there,” but they’re not happy when the painful cuts affect their own kids.
Maybe these voters assumed that ridding the Hoosier state of Bennett would bring back the closed schools, end the idiotic fees for floor-wiping and shoe-tying. More than likely, however, what we saw was more a case of wishful thinking: the notion that, if we sent Bennett packing, the remaining GOP lawmakers would return to Indy wary of making any more radical and sudden educational upheavals.
Of course this begets the question: Why split the ticket? Why vote out one part of the reform equation but keep the other, more powerful, part in place? A colleague of mine offered a sound explanation, noting that the Ritz/Bennett race was a single-issue vote whereas voting out our state representative meant addressing the other non-negotiable issues GOP voters care about such as abortion and gun control. This explanation makes plenty of sense to many, but it leaves me trying to unwrangle an awkward paradox because it is both a move I respect and one that strikes me as illogical thinking.
Whatever the mentality may have been, here we are. Ritz is getting increasingly boxed-in, and the GOP-led reform movement is marching on. So, now I’m left with one question, and it’s directed to all those good friends of mine who voted out Bennett but kept the rest of the education-reform people in power: What are you prepared to do?
If more schools close, if the budgets resume their shrinkage, if more teachers quit rather than subject themselves to another round of public flogging, if nothing really changes, if it becomes apparent that Ritz has been rendered inconsequential, will you be willing to vote for the other side? For your child’s school?