The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 2, 2013

Caroline Tubbs, guest columnist: Honest discourse deserves more respect

By Caroline Tubbs
Special to The Globe

JOPLIN, Mo. — Indeed, Geoff Caldwell, whose vituperative attack (Globe, March 26 ) on Kirby Newport’s guest column of sincere concern for the status of Missouri education, is an example of another ailment in American culture — a propensity to drown out honest discourse by the sound of one’s own voice.

Mr. Caldwell’s use of silly metaphors (“tax on unicorn flights,” “rest stops overflowing ... with free cups of feeling, emotions ...”) does not clarify the facts, nor do his convoluted, unclear paragraphs explain Senate Bill 26.

The facts are 1) Senate Bill 26 will change state income tax collection to include lower tax rates for higher income families and put in a sales tax that will disproportionately take more money from low-income families and fixed-income seniors, 2) Senate Bill 26 will make an estimated 34 percent cut to Missouri school revenues.

Logically we cannot know the cuts that will have to result if the bill passes, but in the economic slump of four years ago, we did see textbook funds, school transportation, junior high sports programs, elementary after-school programs, teachers, fine arts and other curricula cut in response to shortfalls from the state.

Mr. Caldwell’s swipe at the 25 percent of total revenues mandated by Missouri state law is problematic. His inference is hazy, but I think he is saying “Missouri schools get more than their fair share” or “quit whining and be grateful for what you get.” I am not quite sure. Has he run a longitudinal cost analysis of school expenditures, evaluating rising costs of materials, teaching resources, repairs, utilities, gasoline, etc.?

About the “trillions of dollars” poured into public education “over the past half century” with failing results that Mr. Caldwell speaks of — I absolutely agree with his assessment. Being old enough to have attended schools in Joplin and to have begun teaching before the politicization of education started in the 1960s, I remember what school used to be and have observed what government interference in education has given us — testing, imposed standards, No Child Left Behind “failing” schools, etc.

We (the United States) figuratively wring our hands and bemoan the “failure” of our educational test results as compared to the No. 1 country in education, Finland. But we don’t try any of its winning practices. In Finland, teaching is among the top three most admired professions. In salaries, teachers rank with the top end of professionals, along with doctors. Placement in a Finnish teachers’ college is competitive. Elementary students are given freedom to be curious and explore knowledge; the curriculum is not mandated by the state. Elementary students are allowed 85 minutes of exercise time per school day; their recesses are not cut shorter and shorter by school districts anxiously confining fidgety, weary children to more seat time to try to get higher scores out of them. Finnish students are not tested until seventh grade.

However, Mr. Newport is powerless to affect the politicization of national education and its subsequent failures; he simply identified it in his writing. So Mr. Caldwell’s reference is a non sequitur to Mr. Newport’s point.

Mr. Caldwell, waxing eloquent while “listening” to his words on the page, snidely and insincerely suggests that Mr. Newport might be as great a teacher as Aristotle. Since he brought the subject up, I suggest that Mr. Caldwell review his Aristotle.  Aristotle identified human thought/communication as ethos (right/honorable), logos (logical/rational), and pathos (passionate/emotional). Obviously Mr. Newport wrote an argument of passion about a current issue in Missouri public education. Pathos — passionate, emotional argument — is valid. We see it in the U.S. Senate and House daily, as those elected representatives speak passionately in favor of or against the passage of laws (which we assume would surely be logical and ethical).

I applaud Mr. Newport’s courage to champion students, teachers, parents and concerned citizens who do have the best interests of Missouri public education at heart.

I suggest that Mr. Caldwell up his pathos, ethos and logos indexes as he continues his tradition of “listening” to himself on the page.

Caroline Tubbs, a lifelong Joplin resident, is a teacher in the Carthage School District.