It's been a long time since I've looked at it, but among my memorabilia in my desk drawers is a document that licenses me to teach speech and English in the New York City high schools. As a matter of fact, if it had not been for a snap decision I made in 1947 on a train ride from Lexington, Ky. to New York, to hop off the train in Washington, I might have spent my life as a teacher, rather than as a broadcaster.
What got me to thinking about it were the news stories in the Washington Post about the thousands of teachers from across the country who travel to Washington too to protest in front of the White House, and to demand a greater voice in the education policies of the United States. While my actual teaching experience was brief and limited, I identify with those teachers and take second place to no one when it comes to recognizing the value and importance of teachers.
Our success as a nation -- economically, culturally, politically -- is closely linked to their success in the classroom.
The teachers gathered here to express frustration because after all these years, schools are still failing, children from poor homes are being penalized, curricula have been narrowed to make time for test preparation, and standardized tests are starting to be used to make decisions about teacher tenure and termination.
While the rallies didn't emphasize it, I found shocking some of the stories that came to light about cheating by educators. Some teachers say they're under great pressure to raise test scores. I can understand that some school boards and administrators may have exerted such pressures in efforts to get federal funding, and in response to demands upon them. But the Washington Post uses precisely the right word in reacting to the reported cheating on the part of educators: sickening.
In Atlanta, teachers organized changing parties, at which they erased and altered students answer sheets to standardized tests. Misconduct was found at 78.6 percent of that city's schools. Teachers, principals, even superintendents were found to be involved in altering test scores, or in permitting cheating to go undetected. Similar practices were found in other school systems.
Now, I understand the criticism of teaching to the test, and the charge that federal education policies are too much influenced by business leaders and too little by educators. But for teachers and educators to cheat in grading is appalling and unacceptable.
There may be better ways than testing to evaluate schools; so far I haven't found them. Teaching children subject matter is important, of course. But teaching honestly and integrity is too. And you don't do that with chalk on a blackboard; you do that by example.