Retired teacher Carolyn Light Bell’s Star Tribune article today has brought me to reflect on the rich Minneapolis Public School education I received and how it helped me to build a terrific life. Without my public school education, I would have been one more low-skilled worker in a nation with a $6/hour minimum wage and $400/month health insurance cost.

In her secondary school classes of 33 to 36 students, Carolyn writes that “many students read at a second grade level, and have severe physical, emotional, and psychological problems.” She does not mention the growing number of children taking multiple regimens of psychotropic medications that complicate understanding or dealing with her students.

Carolyn points out how hard it has become to get teachers to teach in the inner city because of the painful experiences they have had. Many teachers leave city schools and take reduced salaries to work in private schools or move into corporate jobs that don’t have the stress and pay better.

In my experience as a Hennepin County guardian ad-Litem, I see the impossible stresses and over the top situations that educators are required to deal with. Ubiquitous emotional and mental health issues in overcrowded classrooms within a community that is all too ready to blame teachers for failing schools. Decent hard working educators have become one more whipping post for people dissatisfied with their community.

We often prefer to blame someone and seek simple answers to deep issues instead of thinking through to the core of the problem. Politicians have piled on the “blame the educators” bandwagon for community troubles that plague our youth rather than learn about the children that make up our schools. Blaming educators for failing schools is like blaming prison staff for under-performing prisons (prisons are built for punishment not rehabilitation—there is little prison staff can do to impact recidivism).

Let’s begin to appreciate the impossible tasks we are asking of our educators and support them in their efforts to deal with societies growing number of At Risk Youth. This is a representative democracy, and until “we the people” make some noise to our elected leaders about our disgust with bad public policy, we are doomed to suffer from it.

Become aware of the issues. Deny politicians the easy and false answers they use instead of addressing the root causes. This is a huge problem and it needs attention. NOW.

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