Guv, if you have a heart, show some love for students

Gov. Corbett wasn't a fan of our April 3 cover characterizing him as the Tinman. Here's his chance to prove that he does, indeed, have a heart.
Gov. Corbett wasn't a fan of our April 3 cover characterizing him as the Tinman. Here's his chance to prove that he does, indeed, have a heart.
Posted: May 09, 2012

LAST MONTH, we photoshopped Gov. Corbett on our cover as the Tinman from the Wizard of Oz, complete with the oil-funnel hat.

We were questioning whether the governor has a heart; the accompanying story, by Michael Hinkelman and Catherine Lucey, detailed how Corbett’s welfare department had swept 89,000 kids off the benefit rolls, tens of thousands of them erroneously.

Corbett didn’t like our cover. He told WPHT’s Dom Giordano that “everyone who knows me knows that I have a heart. I am doing this job because I have a heart.” He called our cover “sophomoric,” to which I say: I know you are, but what am I?

Of course it was sophomoric. Sometimes that’s the best way to make a point. And our point was: Is this really who we are? Who we want to be? Do we really want a government that throws the most vulnerable among us off the public-assistance rolls?

I take the governor at his word that he does, indeed, have a heart. But that begs a deeper explanation: How, then, does he account for the gulf between his heart and the effect of his policies? Because they sure do seem heartless, like the $9,000 “assets test” for seniors receiving food stamps. (If you’re a senior and you have a mere $9,000 stashed for a medical emergency, you’re out of luck if you need to keep receiving food stamps). So I’ll make ample space available in these pages for the governor to address the issue of his Heart Gap and convince us that his heart and policies align — and that they align with our shared values.

The latest example of Corbett’s Heart Deficit is in Upper Darby, where, in response to his budget mandates, school administrators are proposing eliminating elementary-school arts programs and middle-school foreign language and technology programs, and jettisoning 52 art, music and gym teachers.

Full disclosure: My wife teaches second grade in Upper Darby. She and her fellow teachers may soon have to teach art, music and gym. They would do so happily, because it is worth noting this week — Teacher Appreciation Week — how committed they are to their students. Think, after all, about the teachers who have made a difference in your life; whether in public or private schools, teaching is a calling.

So they’d do it, but they know it’s not what’s best for their students. They know that the administrator who told the following to the Delaware County Times was just dutifully trying to put lipstick on this academic pig: “According to Pennsylvania certification requirements, an elementary teacher can teach music, art, physical education and library. … Elementary teachers do not have certifications for math, social studies, science, language arts and reading alone. … However, their elementary certification allows them to teach each area.”

That’s some bureaucratese right there. Because we all know that art, music and gym are called “specials” in the curriculum for a reason. We know from our own experience that what’s best for students is to be exposed at the youngest of ages to someone whose passion and expertise can convey the transcendent nature of a violin note, or the breathtaking mood swing engendered by a Picasso, or the adrenaline rush that comes from a ball well-struck.

That our students may be denied that is tragic, because it’s not who we are. We don’t take things like this out on second-graders; we find ways to invest in them. At least, that’s who we used to be.

I’m a fiscal conservative; I believe in balanced budgets. But I also believe that budgetary priorities represent our shared values, and, increasingly, it feels like Gov. Corbett’s budgetary winners and losers don’t align with what we believe in.

And here’s the real hypocrisy: The governor has portrayed himself as a principled leader making the “tough choices” in an entitlement society that, until he rode in on his white horse, hadn’t been disciplined enough to do so.

But notice who is forced to make the proposal in this case: Upper Darby Superintendent Lou DeVlieger, who deemed this whole exercise a “conversation of desperation” and said, “The choices [available to the district] are getting fewer and fewer.” It is not bold leadership to pass the buck to committed superintendents and force them to enact policies that they know will not aid their students. It is a heartless cop-out.

But, of course, I could be wrong. So any time the governor wants space to explain that in Upper Darby, as in the food-stamp asset test and welfare roll-cleansing cases, his heart and policies really do mesh, he’s got it. And, though it’s counter to my nature, I’ll even pledge to run his column straight, minus the sophomoric photoshop image.

Contact Larry Platt at 215-854-5944 or plattl@phillynews.com.

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