They Shoot Teachers, Don’t They?

Joel Lurie Grishaver

Here they are again, folks! These wonderful, wonderful kids! Still struggling! Still hoping! As the clock of fate ticks away, the dance of destiny continues! The marathon goes on, and on, and on! HOW LONG CAN THEY LAST? (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Now it’s open season on teachers and their profession. Many states are trying to end collective bargaining, due process rights, seniority, and other job protections to make it easier to fire teachers and to retain novices. A large contingent of National Board Certified teachers are planning a march on Washington in July to express their opposition to these attacks on their profession.  (NYTIMES, )

They Shoot Horses Don’t They was a movie about the depression that looks at marathon dances, people who danced in competition until they were the last couple to drop. It is a sad film about the levels people will go to survive. Teachers have become today’s marathon dancers, struggling to keep on their feet.

Since the imposition of No Child Left Behind (a mirroring of the now-being-changed British National Curriculum) teachers have been held responsible for student test scores in mathematics and reading comprehension. These limited areas of testing don’t reflect the best student learning and are poor gages of real teaching (

In his speech on National Education month, speaking at a Miami High School, President Obama told the students:

I want all the young people here to listen, because over the next ten years, nearly half of all new jobs are going to require a level of education that goes beyond a high school degree. So, first of all, you can’t drop out. You can’t even think about dropping out.” (

He also told teachers:

You know, I was reading the other day an article. This is just a couple days ago in “The New York Times” how teachers were just feeling beat up, just not feeling as if folks understood how much work went into teaching, and how dedicated they were to the success of their students.

And so I want to be very clear here. You know, we are proud of what you guys do, each and every day. (

He also made it clear that the principal and half of the teachers of Maimi’s Central High School had been fired to make progress possible. ( While this may well have been true of a dangerous inner-city school, it plays into the new national sentiment that teachers are both incompetent and overcompensated.

The limiting of teacher evaluation to mathematics and reading comprehension focuses on essential but not sufficient skills. Without problem solving, critical thinking, love of learning, writing skills and more college is not the reality that Obama wants for every American future worker.

The same anti-teacher and ant-intellectual basis has played out in Florida, Ohio, and especially Wisconsin politics—and has become part of the wissenschaft of America at large.

Now, here is why any analysis of secular American public education affects Jewish learning. Complementary schools, the latest buzz word for Hebrew schools, are seen as Jewish public schools, not private country day schools. Everyone “knows” that if half of public schools staff deserved to be fired, the same has got to be even truer of Jewish education. That is why Jewish schools are viewed as beyond reform, beyond fixing, in need of some revolutionary new invention. After all, the future is now, and the teachers that are remembered (and assumed to still be in place) are not.

To prevent the radical amputation of the learning environments we now use to transmit the Jewish tradition there are a few statements we need to clearly transmit and make true.

  • • We have to continue to procure good teachers.
  • • Our institutions need to progress, need to rethink, need to innovative but are workable, fixable, and worth sustaining.
  • • We teach more than Hebrew Reading (the Jewish equivalent of mathematics and reading comprehension). We teach concepts that are ethical, cultural, and growthful. We build Jews who love and benefit from their Judaism, not just thirteen-year-olds who have one good Jewish day.

If there is a single lesson I want to convey here is that we must overcome the public shaming of teachers and education. We must stand with pride that we make a difference, will continue to do so, and will get even better at it.

Once, the Rabbis taught that the relationship between teacher and child was more critical than the relationship between parent and child (Bava Metzia 2:11). I have no belief that we will again see that fantasy, but I do have a hope to reclaim the Jewish school as sacred community—and to do that we must restore the dignity of the teacher. We live in the age of the consumer parent and we need to be selling them the full package.