By Sarah Baker
Many of you probably saw a block buster movie a few years ago called The Blind Side starring Sandra Bullock. The movie tells the true story of Michael Oher, a traumatized kid who goes on to become a first round NFL draft pick with the help of Leigh Anne Tuohy and her family. The movie demonstrates what a miracle it is when Michael Oher is able to accomplish the grade point average he needs to qualify for a college football opportunity, a grade point average my own child would be punished for. Still, it was considered a miracle. Not because Michael is stupid or lazy. Throughout the film, Michael proves himself motivated and competent. It is indeed a miracle because Michael accomplishes this after living through hell on Earth.
Let me remind you of something else. That miracle was accomplished with the help of teachers, coaches, an expensive private tutor, and most importantly, the love of the Tuohy family. At the pricey private school the Tuohy children attended, Michael Oher was the exception. However, in thousands of public schools across this country, he is the rule. I think everyone reading this would agree that the Tuohy family was the key ingredient in this miracle, and hundreds of times I’ve wished I could give such a miracle to a student, but I cannot. Believe it or not, I’ve wished it for many, many kids whose families have plenty of money. The Tuohys were well-to-do and they used their resources to help Michael, but we all know their money did not just buy Michael a miracle. Despite what politicians on the left or the right think, money is not the answer.
Both sides of the political aisle think money will fix the education problem in America. The right thinks that money is an incentive, and that if we create a system of competition and financial reward, our schools will improve. Show me someone who became a teacher because he is motivated by money, and I will show you someone who wouldn’t be an effective teacher with all the money in the Bill Gate’s Swiss bank account. Climbers are easily recognizable in teaching circles. They’re the ones who talk a good game but cannot connect with the kids. Therefore, the kids do not perform well in their classes. They are few and far between. Thank God. To the folks who think teachers are complacent automatons who could do better with an incentive, I shake my head and imagine those folks trying to do my job for one day. Then I laugh inside. It’s more fun than the old trick of imagining people in their underwear.
Almost more annoying to me than the opportunists jumping on the blame-the-teachers bandwagon are the bleeding hearts who blame poverty. Some of my brightest, most curious, most focused students are poor. With free breakfast and free lunch and other assistance available, the deprivation that affects my classroom the most is the deprivation of values. Kids and parents having an anti-intellectual attitude and a lifestyle that provides no structure and no respect for learning. I grew up very poor, but my mother read to me. I grew up watching Nova, not Two and a Half Men. I was taught to value knowledge and creativity. My parents did not defend me if I did something wrong. My mother was my mother, not my bff. This is the real blind side. This is what politicians refuse to see.
Money can buy breakfast, but it cannot make sure a child eats it. Money can buy computers, but it cannot make sure a child turns off his computer and goes to bed at a decent hour. Money cannot keep families whole or fix a person’s character. Money cannot put a child in her lap and read to him every night. I’m not Jesus or even Anne Sullivan, but I’m a good teacher. Still, I cannot make up for a child’s life experience. I cannot take every child I love home with me and perform a Leigh Anne Tuohy miracle: the miracle of consistency, of structure, of security, of values, and of love. No test can measure that. No politician can legislate it. No voucher can buy it. That is the real blind side.