We don’t need no education

You have to hand it to them — on one hand, the Republicans who have run everything in Lansing for the past seven years have been consistent.

They've done pretty much everything they can to seriously damage public education in Michigan. Relentlessly positive Gov. Rick Snyder started it all when he took office in 2011, and pushed through a massive tax cut for businesses that meant about a billion dollars less for education.

The schools got some of that money back later, but they've been behind ever since. They say that we can't afford to spend more for public education, though, as the Michigan Education Association's David Crim told me, "the legislature has found over $1 billion each year to fund for-profit charter schools, and continues to do so, despite their poor academic record."

Hmmm. Wonder to which candidates the for-profit charter owners donate campaign funds? Well, nevermind.

Snyder seems to show few actual emotions of any kind. But his fellow Republicans in the legislature are vindictive and nasty. They seem to hate teachers, even more than they hate most in the public sector, and especially hate teachers' unions.

Five years ago, they passed a law preventing local districts from paying more than a certain percentage of health care coverage for their teachers.

Republican lawmakers also rammed through right-to-work in a lame duck session at the end of 2012, gloating as they did it that this was bound to weaken the MEA and other unions who traditionally give money to try and defeat them.

If that weren't enough, they also promptly passed a law that would make it so public school districts are no longer required to deduct union dues from teachers' paychecks, as had been common practice for decades.

Nor were they done humiliating educators:

New teachers traditionally started at a low salary, then advanced year by year on a negotiated schedule till they reached something like a middle-class life style. But the benevolent legislators also pulled the rug out from under teachers in that way too, passing another law in 2012 that allowed school districts to not move teachers up on the salary schedule.

"As a result, we have teachers across the state in many districts who haven't seen a raise in five years," the MEA's Crim says. Couple that with inflation and the rising cost of benefits, and it's no wonder that a lot of students have had second thoughts about going into the profession.

But on Halloween a few members of the legislature, the culprit most directly responsible for weakening education in this state, actually managed to make me laugh.

Seems the boys were actually shocked to discover that fewer people now want to become teachers!

Suddenly, there is an actual teacher shortage in Michigan. How could this have happened! wailed the little legislators on the Senate Education Committee.

State Sen. Marty Knollenberg (R-Troy) has had a forgettable career. Nobody will ever accuse him of being either a great speaker or lawmaker. But to my surprise, little Marty, a defeated congressman's son, made me laugh out loud.

Sonny is a member of a legislative body which has been energetically screwing teachers over. During a hearing on Oct. 31, Knollenberg suddenly asked, "Who's responsible for this negative perception of teachers?"

"It certainly isn't coming from lawmakers. We're not saying we think you are terrible, we think you need to work more hours. Where do they get that?"

Maybe, just possibly because Knollenberg and his buddies have done everything they can to make teachers feel that way.

Well, now they are beginning to reap the whirlwind. Our ideological idiot lawmakers may not be rational, but college students mostly are. Many who planned on education careers see the way the state of Michigan is treating teachers.

And those savvy students are changing their majors and reluctantly abandoning their dreams. The most current data shows that as of two years ago, the number of certified teaches statewide had fallen from 101,696 to 99,127.

Worse, this trend seems to be accelerating. According to the Gongwer News Service, back in 2004 there were 9,664 newly certified teachers reporting for duty. Last year ago, the figure was fewer than half — 3,696. If this continues, the state will shortly be in big trouble, since many current teachers are baby boomers who will soon be retiring.

There's no reason to think Michigan will be able to attract more teachers while the current politicians are in. Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof wants to take away the last scraps of any guaranteed pension. He's also said if they leave the profession after only a few years, he's fine with that.

However, our future won't be fine. Others have suggested we just drop the requirement for a teaching certificate and let retired professionals take a crack at the classroom.

That might make some sense at the university level, though being able to do a job doesn't automatically mean you can teach others the subject matter. But it doesn't work at high school and especially for elementary school.

The bottom line is this: Michigan desperately and increasingly needs a well-educated workforce if we are to compete for this century's jobs. We need to find brilliant teachers and pay them what they are worth.

Instead we are punishing them.

We can see the results already; statewide, only 44 percent of Michigan third graders are proficient in reading; only a third of our eighth grade students are where they should be in math.

What we are doing now isn't working, and we, and coming generations, will suffer from our stupidity more than we can possibly imagine. Our lawmakers are destroying our future.

I just thought you might like to know.

Last word on taking a knee

Don Haffner, a longtime history professor at Oakland Community College, is one of the more patriotic guys I know, at least when it comes to doing things for our country that should make us proud.

He served in difficult conditions in the Peace Corps in South Korea in the 1970s, and recently wrote an excellent book, Mukho Memories, about his time there. But like our great president Donald Trump, he's been "really concerned" about the football players kneeling during the national anthem.

Haffner, however, doesn't see it quite the same way as the orange one. "Kneeling is respectful — and yet some of those who say it is disrespectful are people who wave the Confederate battle flag — the flag of insurrection, of treason," he told me.

"That flag opposed our country, our flag, our Constitution, and our ideals as a nation. This flag caused the death of more Americans than any other war we have ever been involved in."

"Nothing could possibly be more disrespectful to our country and all it stands for than these people waving or otherwise prominently displaying that flag," he says.

Don left something out. Not about the horror that flag stands for, or that putting it on your pickup truck is the moral equivalent of displaying the ISIS flag.

Those displaying it deserve to be shunned.

But what those displaying that flag today really mean is simply this: They hate black people, and consider them subhuman. They don't call them black people, of course.

You know what they call them. And the next time "The Star-Spangled Banner" is played, you might want to show you aren't one of them, and strongly consider taking a knee.

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