Sunday, March 11, 2012
Are These the Pubic Schools We Really Want?
In his column today in the New York Times (Friedman on Education) Thomas L. Friedman wrote about our greatest natural resource: people. Specifically, educated people. He wrote, "Add it all up and the numbers say that if you really want to know how a country is going to do in the 21st century, don’t count its oil reserves or gold mines, count its highly effective teachers, involved parents and committed students."
I've thought about this issue a lot the past few years, wondering why we have in so many places--communities, states, regions--such inadequate schools. It almost seems as if we want them. Perhaps we do. Consider ...
What would you do if you wanted to destroy our public school system--if you wanted to fracture the spine of its principal duty of educating kids?
- Wouldn't you trivialize the curriculum? Test kids and teachers--year after year--on things that don't matter so much? And label as "frills" such things as art and music and drama and even literature? (Hey, the tests measure reading, not literature. Why teach Moby-Dick if your kids can pass the test by reading Willy the Whale?)
- Wouldn't you focus on data, not on kids' faces? (I know which gives me more valuable information.)
- Wouldn't you make the curriculum so rigid and repetitive and unappealing that creative young people will avoid going into the profession? That imaginative youngsters will suffer? (Think of a creative child--any child--as a beautiful winged creature that we confine to a tiny cage.)
- Wouldn't you pay teachers so poorly (yes, poorly) that there is no real financial incentive to enter the profession?
- Wouldn't you overload teacher certification programs with repetitive, trivial courses?
- Wouldn't you make it hard for talented people who have not had traditional teacher training to enter the profession?
- Wouldn't you overload teachers with too many students, too many classes, too many preparations, too many ancillary duties so that it becomes virtually impossible for them to perform at the high level they want, and we expect?
- Wouldn't you let communities choose, via the vote, whether or not they will have good schools?
- Wouldn't you vote NO on critical school issues because something in your local school annoys you?
- Wouldn't you see to it that nonacademic activities in school earn students far greater status than academic ones? (Take a look at your school's trophy case. What's in it? Who gets the banquets? The press coverage? The celebrity?)
- Wouldn't you grant decision-making power to people whose only knowledge about education comes from their having once been students? (Would a hospital permit ordinary citizens to make decisions about treatments? Patient care? If their only qualification was that they were in a hospital once?)
- Wouldn't you make life outside school far more appealing to students than life in it?
- Wouldn't you create a political climate so perverse that well educated politicians have to conceal their academic achievements? Apologize for them?
- Wouldn't you elevate anti-intellectual politicians who bray about "elitism," who sneer at higher education?
- Wouldn't you create a powerful "news" channel that routinely attacks educators, that blames them for the ills they've done little to cause?
- Wouldn't you spend far more money on making war than on educating children?
- Wouldn't you flood the media--movies, TV--with films that portray teachers (indeed, most adults) as venal, stupid, cruel, perverted? (In most films aimed at the teen market, it's the youngsters who are wise; parents, teachers, other authority figures--most are clueless and/or corrupt.)
- Wouldn't you do everything you could to get kids to care about--care about--activities in and out of school that are nonintellectual?
- Wouldn't you flood the print and electronic media with ads that teach that pleasure and entertainment are more important than anything else? That owning things confers status and happiness? That being physically attractive is far more important than being intellectually attractive?
- Wouldn't you make ads and movies that show how much fun it is to be under the influence of a deadly, mind-altering and -destroying drug (alcohol)?
- Wouldn't you make sure that our economically poorest areas have the worst schools? (Making it extraordinarily difficult for teachers and youngsters there to succeed?)
- Wouldn't you ...?
I could go on. So could you.
And it makes me wonder ... do we have so many bad schools because we want them? Who benefits? Who stays in power as a result? Who does life's dirty and dangerous work? Who stands by and watches? And profits? And sends their kids to private schools?
And what can we do about it?
If you really cared about the health of public education, wouldn't you ...?