Bill Moyers is probably the last of a breed of intelligent and eloquent people who actually deserves the title of “journalist”.

Last month he spoke to the Council of Great City Schools about what he sees in today’s America, including a powerful assessment of the state of education in this country.

A nation that devalues poor children also demeans their teachers. For the life of me I cannot fathom why we expect so much from teachers and provide them so little in return. In 1940, the average pay of a male teacher was actually 3.6 percent more than what other college-educated men earned. Today it is 60 percent lower. Women teachers now earn 16 percent less than other college-educated women. This bewilders me. Children aren’t born lawyers, corporate executives, engineers and doctors. Their achievements bear the imprint of their teachers. There was no Plato without Socrates, and no John Coltrane without Miles Davis. Is there anyone here whose path was not marked by the inspiration of some teacher? Mary Sullivan, Bessie Bryant, Miss White, the Brotze sisters, Inez Hughes — I cannot imagine my life without them. Their classrooms were my world, and each one of them kept enlarging it.

Yet teachers now are expected to staff the permanent emergency rooms of our country’s dysfunctional social order. They are expected to compensate for what families, communities, and culture fail to do. Like our soldiers in Iraq, they are sent into urban combat zones, on impossible missions, under inhospitable conditions, and then abandoned by politicians and policy makers who have already cut and run, leaving teachers on their own.

Moyers closes with a challenge to the educators in the audience. To all educators.

Teach your kids they don’t have to accept what they have been handed. Teach them they are not only equal citizens under the law, but equal sons and daughters — heirs, everyone — of that revolution, and that it is their right to claim it as their own. Teach them to shake the torpor that has been prescribed for them by calculating elders and ideologues. Teach them there is only one force strong enough to counter the power of organized money today, and that is the power of organized people. They are waiting for this message; the kids in your schools have been made to feel as victims, powerless, ashamed, inferior, and disenfranchised. Tell them it’s a great big lie — despite their poverty, circumstance, and the long odds they’ve been handed, they have the power to make the world over again, in their image.

There is much more to what he had to say and it’s very much worth your time to read it all.

Thanks to Schools Matter for the link.

bill moyers, education