Boots & Sabers

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0618, 27 Jan 15

Ideas that pack some commonsense

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. I had to turn it in before the casino decision, else it would have been about that. Here you go.

Gov. Scott Walker has begun to disclose some of the initiatives that will be included in his upcoming budget proposal. There are dozens of initiatives and ideas from big to small, but two of them are already attracting heavy criticism from Wisconsin’s liberals even though they are perhaps two of the most common sense proposals in the list.

The first of Walker’s ideas that is causing liberals to gnash their teeth is to require that welfare recipients prove that they are not abusing illegal substances by passing a drug test. Although the details are not yet settled, Walker’s proposal would be fairly lenient and offer free treatment to people who fail the drug test multiple times. Only after multiple failures and a refusal to accept help would welfare benefits be cut off. A dozen states already have some form of drug testing for welfare recipients and several more are proposing similar measures.

The opponents to drug testing argue that it stigmatizes all welfare recipients by promulgating a negative stereotype of welfare recipients as drugaddled good-for-nothings. That argument falls flat when one considers how many working people are already subjected to drug tests as a condition of employment.

If the opponents’ argument were true, then society would view many of our truck drivers, factory workers, health care professionals, professional athletes and many other groups of people as drug addicts just because they are regularly subjected to drug tests. Furthermore, a program of weeding out drug addicts from the ranks of welfare recipients will improve their image because society will know that people receiving welfare are actually less likely to be drug addicts.

More important than stereotypes or imagery, however, is the actual purpose of a drug-testing program. The reality of our economy is that many employers require drug testing as a normal condition of employment.

Employers who do not test their employees still have a zero-tolerance stance, if a worker shows up for work stoned. If the purpose of welfare is to provide a temporary hand up for people trying to reenter the workforce and become self-sufficient, then it is incumbent on the program to help people put themselves in the best position possible to obtain and retain gainful employment. That includes maintaining a drug-free lifestyle.

The proposal to require welfare recipients to undergo drug testing as a condition of receiving benefits is an idea that is good for the recipients and good for the taxpayers who do not want to fund their neighbor’s drug habit. It warrants broad bipartisan support.

The second commonsense proposal that Walker is proposing is to provide an alternate pathway for people to become teachers that considers a person’s experience and education. Under the current system, a person can only become a licensed teacher after completing a university teaching degree.

The issue arises when a person who is a professional in a particular field wants to share his or her knowledge with students. For example, under the current system a seasoned mechanical engineer who has worked for 30 years in his profession is not allowed to teach high school shop class without first spending thousands of dollars and years of time obtaining a teaching degree. Walker’s proposal would allow school boards and administrators to consider that engineer’s experience, even if he does not have the teaching degree.

Opponents of this proposal argue that while people may have become experts in their subject matter throughout their careers, the purpose of the teaching degree is to ensure that the person can teach that subject matter to students. It is a fair point, but incomplete.

We have all experienced teachers with a shiny teaching degree who couldn’t teach a dog to lick himself. And we have all experienced brilliant professionals who have a natural gift for teaching.

A teaching degree is no guarantee of teaching skill. Conversely, having subject knowledge is no guarantee of teaching ability.

There are still many details to work out, but giving local schools the flexibility to consider the totality of a person’s experience, education, and teaching skill when making a hiring decision is a very positive step. The lack of a specific teaching degree should not be an immediate disqualifier that keeps qualified people who are passionate about their subject from teaching.

Both of these proposals will be rightfully refined through the legislative process. Both of them are sensible reforms that should pass with wide support from rational people.

(Owen Robinson is a West Bend resident. His column runs Tuesdays in the Daily News.)


0618, 27 January 2015


  1. scott

    The drug testing thing sounds expensive and seems unnecessary.

    Are we facing some kind of teacher shortage that college graduates can’t fill? I’m struggling to understand the need for the licensing change. Having a degree in education is no guarantee of being a great teacher–just like everything else. But at least one can rest assured that the person has been exposed to the history of the profession, modern research about how people think and learn, best practices in the field, etc. Suppose I was an expert in, I don’t know, Door County. Been there hundreds of times. I grew up there, in fact. Started the historical society there. Now suppose I apply for a job driving a bus from Milwaukee to Sturgeon Bay. I’m an expert in Door County! I’d say. But they would be quite right to ask if I knew how to drive a bus. Teaching, like driving a bus, is an actual thing in itself that merits special training. It’s not enough to be a content expert.

  2. Conley

    What a fucking stupid response.

  3. Dave

    I agree with you Conley. Your response is stupid.

  4. Doug

    Scott, in order to get the job driving the bus I would actually have to demonstrate I could drive the bus. Let these people come in and demonstrate they can teach. I’m sure many of them can. Just as I’m quite sure many people with education degrees cannot (two children just graduated). If the goal is to get as many qualified, gifted and passionate teachers into a classrooom as possible then something like this is a good idea. That same mechanical engineer that is currently not allowed to teach at the local High School could teach at MATC tomorrow. What’s the difference? I come from a family of teachers, but the education schools in this country have not helped the profession. When your position at an education school requires that you constantly reinvent the process (i.e., research and publish) then you are changing things just to change them. Why else would our children’s school district have had four different math curricula in 16 years? How are teachers supposed to teach that, how are students supposed to learn it.

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