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Is the New York Times Sunday Magazine Really Anti-Teacher?

In Defense of Teaching and Teachers, The Series

It was so painful to see. The cover of the Sept. 15 Education Issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine blithely ignored the commitment, the passion and the ideas of 7.2 million American teachers (as of the latest census data, including post-secondary). On the cover, there was a picture of an old, three-story, red-brick schoolhouse with the following quote pointing at the front door:

YOUR IDEA HERE.

Imagine this: instead of the red-brick schoolhouse, what if the cover had a picture of a hospital with the same quote pointing at the hospital’s front door? Indeed, we can’t imagine that since such a cover would never be created. Just anyone’s idea of how to run a hospital is good? We don’t think so! Hospitals are run by medical professionals. Hospitals are run by individuals who have committed themselves to years of training, to years of hard work — and to living through success and failure. No, not anyone’s idea is as good as anyone else’s with respect to running a hospital.

However, the journalists at the New York Times Sunday Magazine must think that anyone can walk up and run a K-12 school. Education is not a profession; anyone and everyone knows how to run a school.

What could the journalists at the NYT Sunday Magazine have been thinking when they created this hateful, derisive, chastising, cover?  As a New York Times article about teacher bashing asks: Why the scorn? What have American teachers and administrators and staff done to deserve such castigation?

Unfortunately, the sentiment reflected in the New York Times Sunday Magazine cover is not a one-off.

On cover of Newsweek Magazine of March 15, 2010 a blackboard was pictured with the following sentence written over and over ... and over again on the blackboard:

We must fire bad teachers. We must fire bad teachers. We must fire bad teachers, etc., etc., etc. 

In the center of the Newsweek cover, the lead story’s title was presented:

The Key to Saving American Education.

Really, Newsweek? So, in 2008 when the automobile industry was in crisis why didn’t we see a cover of Newsweek that said: “Fire bad autoworkers. Fire bad autoworkers?" In the 1980s and 1990s, when the savings and loan industry was in crisis — and was bailed out by the federal government — we didn’t see a cover of Newsweek that said: “Fire bad saving and loan officers. Fire bad saving and loan officers.” We didn’t see such covers because it doesn’t make any sense to blame the failure of a large, complex industry on a small number of individuals.

But we guess it makes sense to Newsweek to blame a small number of individuals in education for causing and/or failing to solve the myriad of challenges that weigh America’s K-12 classrooms down.  

At a political rally in Wisconsin on March 11, 2011, where that state’s governor and legislature were stripping Wisconsin teachers of bargaining rights and where the teachers were occupying the state capital, one picketer had a sign that said: “You are glorified baby sitters who leave work at 3 p.m. You deserve minimum wage.”

NO! NO! NO!  How did America get to this really painful and non-productive situation? But more importantly, how are we going to get ourselves out of this situation?  We see rays of hope!  For example, while we have serious concerns with the Gates Foundation’s “Measures of Effective Teaching” Project (MET), the overarching theme of MET identifies teachers and teaching as the key to making classrooms effective learning organizations. Right on!  

And it would be a very nice gesture if the New York Times Sunday Magazine would issue an apology to America’s teachers.

About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at www.intergalacticmlc.org.

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at www.intergalacticmlc.org.

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Being Mobile blog at thejournal.com/beingmobile.

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