In Thursday’s Clarion Ledger, Mississippi state board of education member Rosemary Aultman expressed the following opinion regarding the reading abilities of Mississippi 3rd graders:
“Quite frankly, I’m surprised the fail rate is not higher,” said board member Rosemary Aultman, claiming some Mississippi students “can’t tell a square from a turtle.”
This public mocking of our children has gotten many people a bit riled up. Some have questioned the appropriateness of such a high ranking public official slandering the very children she serves. Some have called it proof of disdain for the underclass. Some have even interpreted it as a racist statement.
I always try to assume the best of people, as I did when state representative Gene Alday made a similar comment about the performance of Mississippi’s students. Therefore I chalk this one up to a mistake. While I was appalled by the comment itself, I do not believe Ms. Aultman actually meant to slander any children.
You see, in the minds of many education reformists, especially school choice advocates, the cause of these students’ low performance is poor teaching, plain and simple. They don’t hear the words coming out of their mouths the same way we do. Reformists believe they are doing the kids and their families a favor by publicly mocking their low performance, because you see- it’s because of bad teachers, not because of poverty or privilege discrepancies.
Reformists do not actually believe kids in Clinton have an advantage over kids in Clarksdale, no matter what the research says. They simply believe the Clinton kids have the better teachers. I do not know Ms. Aultman, but I’m content to assume such an incendiary statement as to mock 3rd grade children’s incompetence never even registered as offensive in her head. In her mind, she was simply slamming teachers.
I think this distinction is our state’s education debate in a nutshell. There are people who view chronic poor performance as a product of poor schools (grounded on ideology), and people who view it as a product of poor economic conditions and resource disparity (grounded on research). Neither side really understands the other. If we’re going to fix our problem, we’ve got to understand where each side is coming from.