Vermonters for Better Education
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Over the past three weeks, I have read dozens of letters-to-the-editor in statewide newspapers addressing the issue of whether Bill Corrow, a volunteer and an expert in social studies, should be allowed to continue teaching a social studies course in a Vermont public school in face of the facts that he is unpaid and not certified. A third of the letters were from Vermonters who are very upset that the Vermont Education Association (VEA) has filed a grievance against Mr. Corrow, claiming that his lack of certification disqualifies him from teaching and demanding financial penalties for the district's allowing him to teach without compensation. Two thirds were from members of the VEA, or from their apologists, asserting with righteous zeal that the VEA is only protecting Vermont from unqualified teachers. One went so far as to bray that we ought to thank God for the VEA and its willingness to stand militant at the gate against teacher-pretenders.
So the VEA seems successfully to have re-centered (in the College Board's bogus phrase used to justify their upward manipulation of SAT scores) the discussion of Bill Corrow's teaching presence away from his competence as a teacher to his legitimacy in the classroom under Vermont law. To do it, the VEA's spin doctors have, with a verbal legerdemain worthy of Mephistopheles, Bill Clinton, and The Big Bad Wolf combined, morphed the term, certification, which has no credibility with anyone anymore, into the fell term, license. We don't worry about teachers who aren't certified; certification is the lowest common denominator of public school teacher eligibility. We do worry about teachers who aren't licensed, because to be unlicensed still means, in the greater world, to be unqualified. As their argument goes, the VEA and its apologists claim that Bill Corrow and all other non-certified teachers are unlicensed, hence, unqualified. That's deceit filled sophistry and utter nonsense. If that equation be true, then all of the following would be unqualified, because unlicensed, to teach in Vermont's schools:
Jay Craven couldn't teach filmmaking; John Hall couldn't teach municipal government; and Graham Newell couldn't teach Latin. Dale Wells couldn't teach construction trades or project management; Caroline DeMaio couldn't teach small business management; Bobby Kourkoulis couldn't teach culinary arts; and B.J. Murphy couldn't teach entrepreneurship. Rosalie Harris couldn't teach citizenship; Lisa Von Kahn couldn't teach library science; Rick Gagnon couldn't teach sports medicine; John Stetson couldn't teach animal care, nor could Sally or Craig Calamaio. Jay Sprout, Joe Lively, and Mel Richardson couldn't teach comparative religions; I couldn't teach English; and Judy Kelley couldn't teach history.
And here are more: Governor Howard Dean couldn't teach political science; Michael Obochowski couldn't teach legislative management; and Gary Moore couldn't teach outdoor survival. Nobody from the UVM School of Medicine could teach first aid; Barbara Snelling couldn't teach political science, and Madeleine Kunin couldn't teach international relations. Neither Downs, nor Rachlin, nor Martin could teach civil rights; and the Commissioner of Public Safety would be barred from the driver education classroom.
And here are even more: President Clinton couldn't teach the political process; William Buckley couldn't teach vocabulary; Marlon Brando couldn't teach acting; Otto Preminger couldn't have taught theater arts; and Shakespeare couldn't have taught play writing. Dr. Spock couldn't have taught child psychology; Martin Luther King couldn't have taught public speaking; and Madeleine Allbright couldn't teach mid-East political structures. Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, and Tchaikowsky would have been turned back at the music room door; as would Rembrandt, Picasso, and Van Gogh from the art studio. Jack Nicklaus couldn't coach golf, nor could Tiger Woods; Jackie Joyner-Kersey couldn't have coached track; Michael Jordan couldn't coach basketball; and Jesse Ventura couldn't coach wrestling or teach the fine art of interviewing.
The point is that certification and licensure have nothing to do with competence in the classroom or quality of instruction. They are simply bars over which aspiring teachers must climb to be allowed into public school classrooms. At their inception, they were intended to guarantee competence and quality in the classroom, and at a time when many, perhaps most, teachers had only one or two years of education beyond high school, perhaps they did. Now, depressingly, they serve more often to bar the door of the classroom to exciting, potentially excellent teachers. The VEA's militancy in "protecting" the classroom from such people is a dead giveaway. If I ever saw the wolf in sheep's clothing, here he is.
Bernier L. Mayo
December 1, 1999