Back to School, and other reasons to recall Scott Walker

2 September 2011
Dear Scott Walker,

My son started the new school year yesterday, and it turns out I didn't need the few dozen photos I took that morning to remember the day, because I'll never forget the look of pure joy on his face when he RAN into the house when he got off the bus with a huge smile on his face: "Second grade is AWESOME! We had so much fun, and [my teacher] is hilarious! We even had an assembly - and they played 'I can tell that we are gonna be friends! I can't wait for tomorrow!"

Seeing him so excited, so engaged and ready to learn, so committed to his own education, makes me feel so proud.  Proud of him, yes, for being such an amazing child. And proud of myself a little, I admit, for raising someone who loves learning. But mostly, proud of the educators who managed to transform - in just over three hours - all the fears and anxieties associated with giving up the freedoms of summer and being put in a new and unfamiliar environment into passion and excitement for what's to come.  My son is 6 years old. He was equally excited and apprehensive about starting school because he doesn't know his new teacher well and most the kids in his class are new to him. He went to bed early, but stayed awake for hours - worrying and fretting and fantasizing about what the day had in store. By morning, he was a conflicted mess of high hopes and preparations for the worst possible scenario.  But something happened in those 3 hours that convinced him he was going to have a great year.  I didn't do that. His teachers did.

The teachers at my son's school, like teachers all over the state, returned from summer break with the weight of so many worries on their shoulders. Many experienced teachers in our district were forced into early retirement so that we could balance our budget using your "tools" (ie: cuts), so other teachers are forced to pick up the slack and work without the guidance and support those teachers provide. And the school year starts the very same week that teachers, like all other state employees, are seeing massive cuts to their take home pay and increases to their insurance contributions - something especially painful to teachers on shoe-string budgets already who spend an average of over $350 on out-of-pocket expenses for their classrooms - a figure which undoubtedly went up this year with the application of your helpful "tools."  Teachers are still reeling from the tumult of last spring, when they were put - unfairly and unjustifiably - on the defensive by you as you attempted to scapegoat them, and other public workers, as the root of all fiscal evils, even as you granted tax cuts to your friends who don't need them. Thus began your marvelous assault on the intelligence of the people of Wisconsin (which continues, I might add, to this day), in which you continue to imply that state workers don't pay taxes and do not deserve to earn a wage commensurate with their education and experience or receive the benefits that they have historically and lawfully negotiated into their compensation packages.

"Walker supporters" celebrate their right to publicly denounce educators.
Worse, they're starting the school year with the echoes of hateful jeers in their ears, as just this week their colleagues in the New Berlin school district were mocked, insulted and shouted down at a public hearing on Monday. These teachers were providing public testimony, trying to share the facts about how the vindictive restrictions of the new Employee Handbook (no microwaves, no coffeepot, no jeans or sweatshirts - not to mention the outrageously uninformed restrictions to their daily schedules and demands that they work more hours for less pay) - will hurt students in the district, as well as teachers. "Walker supporters" from New Berlin and other parts of the state, who were strongly encouraged by right-wing talk show hosts to attend the hearing, took every opportunity to interrupt and disrespect the educators, and reportedly handed these teachers pacifiers as they entered the school. Implementation of the handbook was unanimously approved by the board. But the credit for this one is yours, partly for granting the school board authority to write such a ridiculously counterproductive and untenable set of rules, but moreso for granting them - and those who came to cheer them on - the confidence to publicly demean educators with a visible contempt for both their profession and their work.

Teacher morale seems to be at an all-time low. With the cost of living and unemployment up, paychecks down, and Wisconsin's majority legislators proud as peacocks over their unprecedented cuts to the education budget, it's no wonder.  And as someone who is not only well aware of this, but has been trying since February, sometimes seemingly in vain, to counter it with support for educators and public schools, I worried about how that would translate into depression, apathy, anger and dejection, all of which are hard to hide in the classroom. And, quite frankly, as a public employee feeling all those emotions myself, I wouldn't have blamed them.  But at least in our district the school board stepped up to speak in defense of teachers' rights by issuing a resolution opposing your budget bill, instead of capitalizing on all the ways to disrespect them once they were kicked down like other boards have done in other parts of the state.

But I forgot the most important thing about teachers: as much as "Walker supporters" might want them to shut up and pretend they're just easily replaced cogs in the education factory, being a teacher isn't a McJob that anyone can do (you know, like the ones you're trying to bring to our state to choke out local businesses and the possibility of earning a living wage - there's a good example of those "jobs" in our town). Educators, who earn significantly less and work more hours than people in professions requiring similar training and education, are equally professional and equally (if not moreso) dedicated to their craft, and my children. They are doing the best they can to fight this fight outside of the classroom while still providing our kids with the best education they can given the disgustingly punitive circumstances into which you've forced them. But they're human. And you can't sustain an environment of hate forever, as much as "Walker supporters" might like to.  Your "tools" are tearing our education system apart. And, as a parent, I'm standing up with teachers to hold the roof up in spite of you.
The key word is "removable." Photo: SSWIDTMS
This week, in your typical weasel style, you met with educators and others to discussion education - at an event coordinated by American Institutes for Research, an organization that apparently profits from testing and privatization (and I have it from good sources that we can expect more on this soon).  For most of this meeting, you stared blankly, open-mouthed and unlistening as others spoke and your head bobbed up and down at words you recognized, undoubtedly flashing back to the reasons you dropped out of college in the first place (it's so boring! who cares? when do I get to talk?!). But at one point you said, "What we should begin with is what is right about education in Wisconsin and how do we replicate that." Seriously. You said that. And it's funny, because we already knew exactly what's right with Wisconsin education, and we already know exactly how your "tools" will hurt the schools that need help most as you work to repay your privatization funders and destroy public education as we know it in Wisconsin.

You can defund the schools, it's true. You can stand by idly as teachers are insulted and harassed. You can sit around pretending to listen to people who actually finished college all day long. You can ignore me, and parents like me, until you're not governor anymore. But you can't stop teachers from loving to teach. And you can't stop kids from loving to learn.  You cannot stop every district from supporting its teachers, like they did in Oshkosh and Fall Creek this week. And, perhaps above all, you cannot manipulate the smart people of Wisconsin into thinking you support public education.  You cannot take any credit for the good in our schools, try as you might. Our schools and our teachers will succeed in spite of you and your shameful efforts to disrespect them, and your glaring silence of approval when your "supporters" do the same. You can try all you want to "reform" the public education system out of existence.
But you cannot stop my son from coming home from school with a smile on his face.

You can try, Scott Walker, but you cannot ruin my kids' school. We will not let you ruin our kids' teachers. We will not let you sell our future.

Here's what we will let you do: resign.  And go back to school. Get your degree. Learn something about how the world works by listening, laughing, and - most of all - making friends. Because you clearly never learned that lesson, and your impulse to rule by pushing people out and ignoring voices of dissent isn't really working out for any of us, is it?  My son's wonderful teachers taught him that lesson in a couple of hours. How sad it truly is that you never learned how to listen, in or outside of the classroom, yourself.
Here's to an excellent school year, in spite of you and your "tools," and to an even better one next fall, under our new governor. Or sooner, if you resign.  Although then I'd have to start writing to Kleefisch (remember her? She's Rick Perry-crazy!), and I don't think any of us want that to happen. Maybe we'll just hold out for the recall. I trust the dedicated teachers of Wisconsin to make do with the shameful scraps you've left them for that long. But I promise them I'll keep fighting to make it better. And I call on all other parents to do the same. What happened in New Berlin is a sobering lesson on the absurd authority school boards have to dictate policy without regard for the well-being of our children. I think we all have some work to do in terms of looking at our own school boards and thinking about who in our communities might better serve public education in the future. We might not get any help from you, Walker, but we can still help save our schools. We'll just have to work a little harder, until you're gone.

Your shamefully ignored constituent,

Heather DuBois Bourenane
Wisconsin parent, taxpayer and proud supporter of educators and public education
This video captures the heart of the tragedy in Wisconsin: math teacher Dale Destache shares his carefully prepared testimony before the New Berlin School Board, outlining all the ways teachers and students will be impacted by the new policies. While he's explaining how the new guidelines of their abusive Handbook will prevent him from tutoring students before school, someone shouts out "Get a new job!" while others boo and shout him down.The members of the school board made no effort to silence the interruptions.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your e-mail message. I welcome you expressing your views and concerns to me, and I commend you for participating in your state government. I take into account the views of all of the citizens of Wisconsin, and I will keep your specific comments in mind during my service as your Governor.

    If you would like more information about my positions on issues, or would like to read my public statements on issues, I encourage you to explore my website: I like to respond individually to every letter and telephone call I receive; however, I cannot respond to each e-mail individually due to the volume. If your request is time sensitive, please call my office at (608) 266-1212. You may also write to me via conventional mail at Governor Scott Walker: PO Box 7863, Madison, WI 53707.

    As noted on our website, please know that any communications may be subject to release under Wisconsin's public records law and that our policy is generally to release communications sent to this email address.

    Once again, thank you for contacting me. Please feel free to contact me again if I can ever be of assistance to you.


    Scott Walker