Sunday, March 20, 2011

When Chuck Talks...Everybody listens.

As we continue our own quest for one million hits we, like the two guys in the commercial, find ourselves on Chuck Norris' radar, a bad place to be.

The difference here is we are not running. So what does Walker Texas Ranger have against public schools? Apparently a lot. In between his late night appearances pushing the total gym and commercials cashing in on his tough guy martial arts past he writes a conservative blog. Though he'd have to admit his pales in its social and cultural impact when judged against the Underground. (After all we feature an award winning writer and one who went 16 for 16 on day 2 of the NCAA tourney)

Mr. Norris recently wrote a series of three posts getting himself on board the school-bashing bandwagon and then he presented some "solutions". If you've seen his movies you know he's good at bashing. The first post titled Stalin Style Public Education begins with "I love teachers. I really do. And I'm certain that, truth be known, most are overworked and underpaid. No one is certainly getting rich from teaching kids. I applaud the hard-working teachers across this land." Such disclaimers are common and usually followed by a bunch of things teachers know are not true. Most of what comes next is a rant about the evil impact of public unions and how competition and charter schools can fix everything.

While the unions are a separate issue, Charter Schools are potentially part of improvement and many do a great job. But growing research points out they are not all they are cracked up to be and anyone who thinks they can be replicated everywhere to educate every child in our nation is a bit naive. Why students aren't getting the knowledge and skills is more complex than "schools are failing" which is at least part of it. Some schools need fixing but skillful selection of facts allows for almost any argument to appear true. This is no different. If I were not so busy in the midst of my coaching season and time allowed I would insert a careful and artfully crafted counter to each point he makes. Please go find this yourself. Its out there you just don't hear it much in the media. What concerns me more is how Mr. Norris points to what he terms the real cause for the suppression of Charters, a Stalin style organized effort to control. Stalin...Really? Good plot in a film, not so good in real life.

In the second post I learned I was an employee at a Progressive Indoctrination Camp. I've seen this one, our hero breaks the guys out of holding cells then blows up the camp. What chaps my rump here is he quotes my idol and neighbor Thomas Jefferson. Pardon me Mr. Norris but I was raised in Albemarle County within sight of Jefferson's home and his legacy belongs to me! I almost got a job at Monticello, even if it was only driving a bus from the parking lot to his house. I agree with you here if you summon the Jeffersonian idea that federal power should be limited, especially when it comes to education reform where the Feds complicated things in a well meaning effort. I almost find it funny how so many throw Jefferson up as a champion for their ideas. I am no expert in his legacy but I'm fairly certain many in Mr Jefferson's time and since would characterize many of his ideas as rather "liberal".

He chose to found a PUBLIC University after all and a darn good one. The use of his words followed by some big vocabulary that I will admit having to look up, in order to argue that schools now indoctrinate our kids with secular and "radical" ideas like tolerance and a more global approach to education went a little far right for me.  I wonder if Chuck would find the recent effort by our state's Attorney General to quiet ideas from one of UVA's professors equally as troubling? I do wish Chuck would go give our AG a figurative kick in the head, or elsewhere. I also wonder if those leaning far right are aware of Jefferson's Bible and would embrace one of the nation's greatest men so publicly on his unorthodox exploration of faith. Teaching kids is funny sometimes since they seem to care more about our political leaning than we as teachers do. When asked if I am democrat or republican I'll respond either by saying "both" or "I am an American". So what about labeling schools progressive? Schools certainly are progressive when they act as a mechanism for social change as they did under the GI Bill or during desegregation. Were those bad things? To view progressivism as contrary to conservative values and then label schools as progressivism indoctrination camps where kids are locked in and reprogrammed is a big leap, even for Chuck Norris.

If I was to pick a Jefferson quote about education I'd take it from his 1796 letter to James Madison "Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of the due degree of liberty". I am not sure the approach Mr. Norris supports will really help the common people or just serve as a way for those with enough means to get their money back out of the system. This post is additionally bothersome since it begins with a series of headlines that serve to further bloody the nose of public education, a tactic that no Texas Ranger I know would choose. I am all about giving our kids a strong set of values and morals but will stop short of calling for bible lessons by teachers. I will stick to teaching about it. Jefferson made efforts to try and keep his personal views on God to himself and I'll follow his lead.

The last post Indoctrination Camps Part II shares some ideas on how to make things better and like a lot of Norris sequels, it falls a bit short. To keep him from showing up at my house and punching me I will say I agree with him for the most part here. Much of what he has here sounds good. Parental involvement and increased communication help. But these thoughts show an overt distrust of our schools. I am dismayed at the lack of trust and understanding that teaching is in fact a profession. I am actually capable of navigating the delicate world of teaching others children about things like religion and evolution. I am not perfect and can only do my best. One thing I can promise is that I want what is best for the kids I teach, all of them. To claim that I or others want all kids locked into our walls so we can spin ideas into their heads...really?

"Indoctrination" is a funny concept and one worth exploring later maybe but for now let me state clearly, the schools I know do not seek to promote or discourage any views consistent with those of individuals living in an open and free society. Sure I've heard kids say some pretty outrageous things and usually only respond by reminding them about respect, tolerance and the ideas in our Constitution. This document and a nation were built upon the shoulders and ideas of great men. As maligned as these figures have becomes in recent years for their personal or other flaws(Jefferson as a case in point), they managed to create the greatest nation to ever exist on Earth. In the decades since that time we managed to create a national education system which I think while needing continuous improvement, deserves credit and consideration before being dismantled. It is one of the few things that it can be legitimately argued does indeed serve the common good.

Chuck Norris is a good guy who represents all that makes America great. Standing up for what is right, defending the helpless, and teaching countless people how to roundhouse kick, but he is a bit off base here. I am not a Stalinist. I am a teacher. My hope is that I will never have to fight Chuck Norris or anyone for that matter but if that's what it takes to get people to listen to level headed and moderate voices in education reform, then I am not running.


  1. Chuck Norris is the reason Waldo's hiding.

  2. Chuck Norris was an only child...eventually.