AUGUSTA – I’m seldom surprised but always taken aback when I hear or read pronouncements by Gov. Paul LePage.
According to Thursday’s Portland Press Herald article regarding remedial education at the college level (“LePage wants remedial work paid by schools”), LePage stated, “A good teacher in a classroom with 25 students will produce better results than an average teacher with 10 students.”
LePage also said, “Fifty-four percent of students entering the Maine Community College System need to relearn basic skills, as do 20 to 25 percent of students at the state’s four-year universities.”
In more than 40 years in education, most of this time at the college level, I have never read an analysis that suggests larger class sizes enhance learning, and I have yet to meet a classroom teacher who believes that 500 students can be effectively taught solely using media.
I first encountered media-based teaching as an undergraduate. The professor set up a television with a video player. Within a week, students set up tape recorders. Everyone passed with essentially the same grade and, of course, no one learned a thing.
The only person to gain was the enterprising student who was paid by the rest to stay and change recorder reels. He was, like Maine, “Open for business.”
Inherent within LePage’s criticism of the Maine educational process that aided him is his undefined concept of what constitutes a good versus an average teacher.
Generally, teachers are given classes and assigned students. At the college level, students choose class times for courses that fit into their schedules. As students progress, they can choose instructors — seldom the reverse, not even at the graduate and post-graduate levels.
The most specious ways to judge a teacher’s success are by testing students or looking at grades earned. In reality, a student’s success is best gleaned 10 years or more in the future (a time when most have settled into careers and professions) as a culmination of both education and experience.
Teachers are bound by curriculums, structures and strictures set up by others. These others include boards of education, often well-meaning volunteers with limited to no teaching experience, and state Department of Education heads, political appointees who may or may not have practical teaching knowledge and experience.
The prime example is the governor himself. Nothing in LePage’s curriculum vitae — his listing of education and work experience — qualifies him to speak as an authority on educational issues.
Furthermore, little in his gubernatorial stewardship suggests that he, unlike Maine’s dedicated teachers and students, has learned at all from his consistent misspeaking and constant antagonizing of Maine’s workers, minorities, women, artists and educators.
Teachers teach because they want to, not because it’s the only thing they can do. As the governor stated, Maine ranks 40th in teacher salaries — not much of a reason for pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees, not to mention debt. LePage, however, takes pride in underpaying professionals and denigrating dedicated public servants.
The governor needs to understand that every car wash or tag sale undertaken to help with school activities is a clear indication that the school system is underfunded.
The late Sen. Barry Goldwater said, “In my heart I know I’m right,” but God, through assassin Jules Winnfield in “Pulp Fiction,” said it best when he recited a passage loosely taken from the Book of Ezekiel:
“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.”
LePage’s creationism is fine as religion and faith; science, it’s not.
It is past time for the governor to recognize the selfless contributions that teachers make and set his priorities properly. Instead of demeaning and destroying, leave that with God. Fund education for the students and provide teachers the respectable salaries and benefits they deserve.
Governor, remember: “Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness.” The alternative, as Lucifer suggests in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” is “to reign in Hell.”
Paul C. Trahan is president of the Maine Community College System Adjuncts Union, MSEA-SEIU Chapter 1989.