The 2013 “scandal” of teachers and administrators cheating on the grading of standardized tests in Atlanta Georgia had us witnessing these school employees being arrested in handcuffs. Thirty-four hard working, panic-stricken, under-the-gun teachers were arrested. People wrote articles about the outrage of it. Pictures of the humiliated, handcuffed “criminals” were on front pages all over the nation. (NYTimes 4/2/15) Of the thirty-four arrested, twelve were indicted and tried. One was exonerated of all charges. Beverly Hall, the superintendent in Atlanta, died a month before sentencing. Eleven are in prison now serving sentences. They were removed from the courtroom in handcuffs. Either court officials were afraid that these teachers might cause additional cheating if their hands were free or it was just satisfying to repeatedly humiliate these teachers publicly.

The teachers and administrators were indicted under the racketeering, conspiracy and other laws used to indict and convict mafia mobsters. News reports used words like “shocking,” “inexcusable,” and “deplorable.” Some vehemently cheered the arrest and stated these cheaters got what they deserved. Beverly Hall had been named “superintendent of the year” in 2009 and was perhaps lucky that she passed away before her colleagues and she (had she lived) were sentenced to imprisonment.

All during the proceedings there were few who questioned the system that would drive dedicated teachers to such extremes of cheating. Facing loss of income, loss of jobs, loss of professional standing, loss of integrity in a system that ignores authentic education and focuses weirdly and myopically on scores of all sorts, these professionals resorted to survival tactics. While these are not commendable tactics, what is a vocationally-called professional to do when placed in an unethical and demeaning system that tells teachers, “Improve scores, or lose livelihood”?

To make the best comparison possible in this case of “caught at cheating,” we have a whole plethora of bankers and stock brokers who deliberately cheated millions of innocent people of billions of dollars. These thieves disguised as respectable business people took money from the government to bail out the nation from the financial crisis they created and proceeded to use that money to make themselves richer while people lost their homes and jobs all over the United States and the world. These banking and brokering cheaters consciously sold fraudulent stocks to customers of stock management firms, and brought the global financial world to its knees. Recovery is incomplete seven years later, so profound were the thefts and irresponsible practices.

Did we ever see one of those thieves in handcuffs on the front page, humiliated publicly? No. Did any of them face indictment? No. Have any gone to prison? No. On the contrary, reports are that these who lied and stole are wealthier now than they were in 2008 and part of the increase of their wealth was obtained with the help of our tax dollars.

We are off the mark so far now in education, it’s time to pause and to reconsider. Let’s join together to build a society in which education is protected as the artistic vocation it is, and in which the needs of children are met without threats and bullying, pressure and punishment. Slow learners are still learners, after all, and Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, and Leonardo DaVinci all would have been called failures in our current system of education. Passing tests was not the genius they contributed to our culture.

Part of the art of education lives hidden in the hearts of teachers who learn to recognize children in reverence for the gifts each brings. Skilled teachers know best how to encourage those gifts to come to the fore. Skilled teachers know how to polish those gifts into shining capacities children can use for life. Most of those capacities are not to be measured by filling in little circles in answer to deliberately ambiguous multiple choice questions. The most profound choices in life are not usually decided in pre-arranged “multiples.”

No one should cheat at anything in an ethical world. Nor should anyone be bullied into a panic that requires cheating in order to survive. Nor should any group in a democratic society be driven to resort to extremes in order to protect an artistic profession against exploitation by politics and economic concerns. Nor should some cheating be financially rewarded while other cheating is treated as outrageous, especially when one kind of cheating cripples a nation and another kind attempts to protect a vocational skill and the children those skills serve.

Reconsideration is in order on a number of levels now about many things. But a priority would be on behalf of our little ones, our future, our education, and our morality on their behalf.

Let the teachers out of prison. Put thieves in.


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