December 4, 1998 (Ira Pilgrim)

Teachers and Other Criminals

Epictetus said "Only the educated are free." That does not apply to educators.

A number of years ago, knowing that I am an authority on the biologist Gregor Mendel, Laytonville high school science teacher Bruce Potter asked me to talk to his high school biology class about Mendel and genetics. In the office, I encountered school superintendent Brian Buckley, who asked me if I would be willing to act as a substitute teacher in science. "When one of our science teachers is out," he said, "We have to use a substitute who knows little or nothing about science."

"I'll be glad to do it," I said.

"We can't allow you to do it without your having a credential. All that you have to do is pass the CBEST(California Test of Basic Skills) to get a substitute's credential. It's easy," Buckley said and handed me the application form, which included a sample test.

I took it home and looked it over and decided that it was an insult. I am qualified to teach in any university in the world; but to substitute teach in a small town high school, I have to take a test that will determine that I can read, write, cipher and understand what I read. I looked over the test and determined that I could pass the test easily. The next day I phoned Buckley and told him that I would be glad to to fill in, without pay, for any science teacher on a few days notice, provided that it was a subject that I knew something about. "No," he said, he couldn't let me do that because the State of California requires that there has to be credentialed teacher in the room at all times. I said "Thanks, but no thanks; I am too old to jump through hoops; even easy hoops."

I thought back to what my wife had to go through to get a California teaching credential and decided that this state does much better by its criminals than it does its teachers. The only time that an ordinary citizen is subject to indignities is when he is accused of a crime. Not so a teacher. A teacher, regardless of credentials or experience, is required to take a silly test, silly courses and is fingerprinted like a common criminal. Not only fingerprinted, but fingerprinted by the police in the same place and by the same people who fingerprint criminals.

I thought that perhaps the state department of education might be right, and I might not really know how to teach high school students and that I need some instruction. But my wife has taught elementary school all of her life. She was headmistress of a private elementary school. They were sorry to lose her when she moved up here to join me in Laytonville. By any standard, she is a master teacher and she was subjected to the same indignities, and more, in order to teach in a public school in California. When she got her master's degree in education in Utah, she didn't bother to get a state credential because she intended to teach in private schools. Had she gotten a Utah credential, she would have been given a California one by reciprocity.

To get a California credential, besides filling out the applications and being fingerprinted like a common criminal, she was required to take courses that she was better qualified to teach. To pass the CBEST test she had to study math, which she hadn't used in more than 20 years. What a colossal waste of time and money! She is devoted to education and had to suffer through two whole years of red tape and courses in order to get that California certification.

I'm not that dedicated. As far as I was concerned the State of California Department of Education could take its credentials, roll them up into a fine point, and shove them up their collective.......!!

What does the state gain by all of this? From what I can see, little or nothing. If someone can show me that a child molester has been kept out of the schools by being fingerprinted, or an incompetent teacher who has been eliminated by the CBEST test, I might change my mind.

What does the state lose? Plenty! It loses the services of many competent teachers who refuse to jump through ridiculous bureaucratic hoops. Some go to private schools, where you don't have to pass silly tests. All that you have to do there is be a competent teacher. They do have to be fingerprinted, however, by the police.

Having to take that test deprives the public schools of many otherwise competent teachers who can't pass the tests; not because they are stupid, but because they are terrified of mathematics, or tests in general. The public school's loss is the private school's gain. Since the public schools pay much better, if you eliminate the red tape and assorted garbage, many would opt to teach in the public schools.

And who really loses? The children whose parents can't afford private schools.

Is all of this necessary? You be the judge.

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