Op-ed: Division does nothing for education

I don’t like the politics of division. It takes power away from the people and places it into the hands of politicians and special interests. The strategy of political division puts us into camps and then tells each camp not to trust the other one. It’s bad for our community, and it’s bad for our state.

Unfortunately, the current extra session and proposed “education reform” is the politics of division at its worst. In response to the news article in the Parkersburg News and Sentinel on March 20 about so called “education reform” and the “#18strong,” I’d like to express my deep disappointment in Wood County’s elected state senators and congressmen.

Our local elected officials are proving they are not serious about education because they are beginning the next round of “discussions” by antagonizing the teachers and service personnel. They are displaying #18Strong t-shirts that mock the solidarity that the teachers and service personnel showed in a time of great stress and anxiety, a solidarity, which literally started a national movement, they think is some sort of joke. Worse, they glibly disregard the anguish pushing their unwanted legislation has caused. I was with many teachers when the last work stoppage was announced. There was unity in purpose, but there was also dread, fear and tears. No one wanted a stoppage. However, the teachers and service personnel were willing to give up a raise in order to protect our kids from legislation that would undermine our children’s education. That kind of altruism is something to be heralded, not mocked. I asked Greg Merritt, a local activist for public education, to speak on this topic from the teachers’ perspective:

“Teachers understand their profession. They have a clear picture of what is best for the children and teenagers in their classrooms. Work stoppage action is a strong statement to that fact. That statement could be about our insurance or about the danger of public monies being spent on charter schools and educational savings accounts. Again, work stoppage is the last resort … When we hear about Republican leadership in this county trying to create a dynamic around “#18 Strong,” it makes me feel disappointed. It appears to be a mockery of the energy generated by 55 United or 55 Strong. Some West Virginia state senators expressed delight in promoting their solidarity … a solidarity that antagonizes their constituencies and brings harm to the children of our state. I cannot understand that mentality … If education reform is needed, it must be led by the teachers and others who work in our schools every day. That is the way it works. I firmly believe that West Virginia can be an educational leader in this nation. That could happen!

If it does … when it does … it will be teacher-driven.”

The actions by our local elected officials in this session have been cynical, disingenuous and unprofessional. Their actions do not demonstrate a desire for achievable progress, evidence based ideas or compromise. If Senators Azinger or Boley; Representatives Kelly, Criss, Azinger or Anderson were interested in education reform, they would be working with Wood County teachers instead of against them. Who would know more about what needs to change than the people we entrust our children to everyday? What kind of “education reform” could be legitimate without teachers as an active and contributing partner? They are ignoring the experts because they are not really interested in education.

So please do not be fooled. This is not leadership. Leadership does not tear people apart and divide a state. This is not “education reform.” Education reform doesn’t leave out educators. This is the behavior of politicians trying to force us to be on one side or the other. Wood County’s current state representatives have repeatedly demonstrated a disregard for public education, cooperation and community spirit.

Instead of doing good work for our community, they have chosen to drive their own personal political power through misinformation, pandering and the politics of division.

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Simon Hargus DPT, MBA, is an owner of First Settlement Physical Therapy and lives in Parkersburg.

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