Sunday, February 23, 2014

#153 February 23, 2014- Education's (Dis)-Uniting Effect

Divided We Fail. . .
On the surface it seems like the education of our young people could, and should, be a topic that we could unite as a society around.  After all, there is no more precious resource and nothing more universally treasured than the children of any society.  Children provide a society with hope for the future.  We know that we need to provide our young people with opportunities to learn and grow as individuals, as well as members of a larger community.  The support and education that we provide our youth are clear indicators of what we as a society value.

This makes the current climate around public education that is shaped by discourse and policy all the more disturbing.  The bitterness and anger that we see reflected in our debates about education show just how divided our state and nation are when it comes to a significant number of issues.  While the debates are supposedly focused on educational policy, the conflicts around educating our children really mirror the issues that are in play outside of our schools.  We see the same groups struggling in schools that struggle in "the real world."  We see the same issues of inequity and injustice reflected both in schools and in society.  We see the same efforts being made to control access to social, political and economic opportunity and power.

The same values and instincts that make supporting children so important to people are the very things that make the debates about education more bitter and divisive.  Everyone values their children, and the children in their immediate personal circle, and this means that they are willing to put their own interests ahead of others, no matter what the societal cost may be.  It is difficult to ask families to sacrifice any opportunity for their own children, and the fact that education is a costly endeavor and resources are limited means that conflicts are inevitable. 

At the same time there are those who would use the devotion we have for our children against us.  Our children become political pawns and our hopes for them are exploited by unscrupulous political, social and economic leaders.  They use fear and frustration to divide and conquer those who oppose them and the policies that emerge from our legislatures too often reflect this lack of concern about children and education.  We are told that our public schools are not safe, that they are not providing quality educational opportunities and that they are undermining our society's values.  The fear that is created drives an industry of power that seeks to perpetuate a system that benefits a small number of citizens.        

These educational myths become the reality that too many people accept and live in.  The party of the candidate doesn't seem to matter, it is a culture of power that needs to create either a villain (in this case teachers and public schools) to distract the public from the reality that would create a climate of real change around our schools, and our economic and political systems in general.    

Public educators are left to function in a system that is driven by tests, standards and curriculums that are dictated to us by people outside of the schools and classrooms that we work with our students in.  No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core, and countless other "reforms" are vehicles often    manufactured by corporate interests and driven by politicians who care more about $$ and power than children.  Whatever your personal beliefs are about any of the "reforms", the reality is that classroom educators, families and students are never given a viable voice in the decision making process.      

Instead of focusing on students, education becomes a partisan issue.  We lose the ability to discuss and debate educational policy on the merits of student learning and truly best teaching practices.  Opportunities to collaborate and cooperate on issues in education are lost due to political divisions.     

The rhetoric that flows undermines educators and adds to the fear that drives us down paths leading to segregation and inequity. 

The battle that we are engaged in is vital to our society on many levels.  It is important to individuals who care for their own, or other people's children.  It is important to our nation because democracy needs a well educated population to support it.  It is important to our economic success for obvious reasons.  How we educate our children is a clear demonstration of just what our society values.  Putting all of these things together, it is clear that we need to continue to fight to truly put every student's needs ahead of politics.

The Good, The Bad, and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . The data is here, now we just need some strong leadership to take on those who cry wolf and say that more equitable pay for employees will destroy our economy.

The Bad . . . We know that something's not right, but will anything come of the investigation?

The Ugly . . . Money in our political system.

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