Keith Prettyman’s Telling Slips

August 28, 2008 at 1:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

It was just two little slip-ups, easy enough to miss among the rest of the article. But to me, School Board member Keith Prettyman’s words speak volumes. From the article:

School board member Keith Prettyman suggested if Hunzeker and others “want to play the game of teachers versus roads,” they might lose.

Do you see it? Several members of my family are employed in education and I was once on my way toward a career in education, so it jumps out to me. “It” is Prettyman’s emphasis on “teachers”. Not students. Not education. Teachers.

Prettyman also frames a revenue loss—read the article for details—as being equivalent to 150 teacher salaries. Not opportunities for students. Teacher salaries.

I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that Mr. Prettyman’s focus is misplaced. Frankly, I don’t care about teachers, and neither should you, except to the extent they advance student learning and achievement. That’s where I care deeply about teachers. If teachers are an end (as Mr. Prettyman portrays them) rather than a means, then we are doing something very, very wrong.

Let me strongly emphasize that I’m not saying that teachers are unimportant. Good teachers are not just important, they are critical. But teachers are just one tool we rely on to help educate our kids. We oughtn’t focus on the importance of their employment; we ought to focus on the importance of their task. Considering the power of their position, this is especially true for policymakers.

(By the way, the whole “tool” metaphor can be taken too far. Many education policies treat teachers exactly as tools—as script-reading robots, basically—stripping them of their humanity and their ability to be effective. Don’t take my use of the word literally.)

The words we use are important. They tell others about our interests and priorities, among other things. Sometimes we goof and use words that imply things we didn’t really mean. I’m hopeful that’s what happened here. I encourage Mr. Prettyman and other School Board members to work on better framing their words—and more importantly, their policy decisions—around the real goals we are pursuing.

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The Comments

Julie Pinnell August 28, 2008 at 2:49pm

Words certainly are important. Most people would be left saying “Huh?” if they heard comments framed as “opportunities for students vs. roads”.  Actually “opportunities for students” is so nebulous even I might be willing to sacrifice them for roads.

isotope August 28, 2008 at 7:18pm

True, the task of a teacher is important, but they can’t do their task if they aren’t there, and they can’t be there if there isn’t money to hire them.

Methinks you’ve overreacted to the choice of words.

Me? I wish the developers and real estate folks would realize that there are a lot of reasons (other than the possible effect of impact fees) that the housing market is down in Lincoln. Why should the already burdened taxpayers bail them out?

Julie Pinnell August 29, 2008 at 1:38pm

Actually I agree with 100%.  I was disagreeing with the original blog post. The original blog post implied that it was wrong for Mr. Prettyman to say that cuts would mean teachers being cut because he should be more “student opportunities” oriented.  I thought was ridiculus. Teachers are the center of “student opportunities” and their salaries and benefits are the biggest part to the LPS budget. Most people understand the word “teacher”, most don’t understand a nebulous phrase like “student opportunities”.  They would be more in favor of sacrificing something they don’t understand and less likely to sacrifice a teacher.

I very much agree that we shouldn’t bail out developers.  I don’t think we should subsidize their developments. Those costs should be included in the price of the new homes. If they don’t sell, well I guess that means we don’t need any more new housing.

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