Ok, I am in a mood.
Let’s chat about education.
Many people are posting memes imploring parents to support teachers and administrators as this nation faces decisions and circumstances never before seen in my lifetime.
People want us to be nice. Got it.
But this is an amazing opportunity to try to think CLEARLY and, perhaps, DIFFERENTLY than ever before about how and why we educate our kids.
I believe there is one vital question/concept that must be wrestled through first and foremost: OPEN, WELCOMING PUBLIC SCHOOLS ARE EITHER ESSENTIAL FOR QUALITY EDUCATION AND VITAL FOR OUR NATION OR THEY ARE NOT.
Hang with me.
Doesn’t it make sense to answer that first? Ultimately we have had to answer that very question about hospitals, nursing homes, and prisons.
Have we seriously debated/discussed/contemplated whether or not schools are vital?
If they are, why is whether or not to open the focus, rather than how to open?
If they are not, why are we allowing the discussion to be dictated by the same people who have run the system we no longer consider to be vital?
As we are continuing this conversation, let me ask: Do we really want systemic change and better results for all people?
Don’t just answer because the obvious choice is the only comfortable choice. What we say with our words, and what we live are often two very, very different things.
If we do want solutions, we should talk about things that work.
In many ways, if we want something to change, the very best place to be is facing a problem that can be fixed with personal responsibility. Think about it: If the only way life can get better is for someone else to do something, we have very little power.
If the only hope for people suffering under the burden of systemic racism is if the system changes–that is an incredibly vulnerable place to be.
(I suspect some people will now need to take a deep breath. Nothing in the previous statement implies that systemic racism does not exist. Nothing implies that the systems should stay the same. It merely states the hypothesis that IF personal changes can change outcomes within the system, that is a better place to be than if outcomes can only change after the system changes.)
Again, hang with me.
There are a wide variety of international studies that support the following conclusion: The number one indicator of academic success is not race, gender, geography, class, or income. The number one predictor of academic success is whether or not a child is read to early and often.
If that is true, and if we want all kids to have the best possible chances in school, WHY are educational experts not screaming READ TO YOUR KIDS from the rooftops?
Do we believe teachers and educators don’t know this?
Think of the anxiety and stress burdening parents and teachers regarding open/closing of schools. What if the conversation shifted to this:
“The number one thing parents can do to support academic excellence for all ages is to read quality books aloud to their children. How can we help you, parents, develop this habit?”
I think that is empowering.
If, during the last few months on lockdown, families read Little Women, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Tom Sawyer together, do you believe they would feel as far behind academically?
Parents of little people could read the Little House on the Prairie series.
Language, history, attention spans, and connections would all be encouraged and developed.
Putting aside whether or not everyone would do it; or whether or not there might be economic, geographic, or racial disparity in who actually followed through; it is still a valuable option available. Willingness is the defining factor. If access to books is an issue, I suspect many moms would line up to help fill in the gaps.
Instead, people are confused and afraid, waiting for the breadcrumbs of ideas and plans coming from the people in charge.
It is time for even the most supportive public school parents to sit in the discomfort and face the fact that political ideology has hijacked much of the public education system.
That doesn’t mean there are not great teachers. It does not mean there are not great schools. It does mean that there is nowhere near a healthy amount of diversity of thought and there is a DRIVING desire by the people in power to control as much as they can.
As a general rule, it is far easier to control victims.
At the 2018 American Federation of Teachers convention, three of the keynote speakers were Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders. The president of the AFT said this: “We are in a race, and the November elections are the key…[To] truly change America takes more than mobilization—it takes organization, persistence, and a sustained political effort.”
To believe that public school system is only about education and not driven by politics is, well, wishful thinking.
The Los Angeles Teachers Union has made its demands for what needs to happen in order for the schools to open up and get back to normal after COVID. You can read the entire document here. For those who don’t have the time, I will copy and paste the demands for you:
- Federal Bailout…Many experts are calling for at least $500 billion in additional federal assistance this year, and a commitment to continue support over several years.
- Fully Fund Title I
- Fully Fund IDEA
- Medicare for All
[That’s right. The Los Angeles Teacher’s Union is demanding they control what kind of health insurance I have here in East Texas.]
- The California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act of 2020, aka Schools and Communities First [This is a proposition on the November Ballot. They are including an outcome of a yet to be held election in their demands.]
- Wealth Tax
- Millionaire Tax
- Defund Police
- Housing Security
- Paid Sick Leave
- Charter Moratorium
- Financial Support for Undocumented Students and Families
This is from their published document. I did not get this information from a right-wing news source, I got it from their own site. This is the conversation being driven by one of the largest teacher’s unions in the nation.
Does it match how you feel? Are these the hurdles you think should be overcome in order to best serve your child? Is this what you think education should be about?
I am going to say this as clearly as I can: If we really want to deal with systemic racism, truly, we must acknowledge that the single greatest perpetrator of it in this nation is the public school system.
They regularly, publicly, promote a narrative that reinforces limited opportunities and demand handouts for people of color. Some of the worst schools in the nation are in predominantly minority filled neighborhoods. Rather than promoting education as the key to a free and better life, they ask for handouts that tether people to reliance on the government for survival.
And they fiercely fight against the opportunity for parents to choose better (or even just different) schools for their kids.
The benefits of school choice to minority communities are deep, wide, and profound. As Heritage.org says: “For instance, students participating in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which helps low-income students attend private schools of their choice, experienced a 21 percentage point increase in graduation rates.”
There is no more passionate enemy of school choice than the public school system, as the LAUSD teacher’s union’s demand to put a moratorium on charter schools illustrates.
We should celebrate every single child who is educated well. It should not be offensive or insulting if that education takes place somewhere else. One school’s success does not guarantee another school’s failure. There is more than enough room for a thousand different kinds of schools to succeed in teaching millions of individual students with unique strengths, interests, and needs.
However, in the public school system, as it stands, there is only room for one way of thinking: theirs.
This is a beautiful opportunity to change that. Rather than seeing this entire debacle-ish situation as a choice between one disaster and another, it could be an opportunity for radical, systemic shifts that are dynamic and thoughtful. Need ideas?
I thought you’d never ask:
What if school districts offered different types of schools, rather than similar schools in different locations? In this virus-filled era, there is no better time to consider several of these:
- OUTDOOR SCHOOLS I am not an expert, but an outdoor school is more than simply having class outside. It is building learning and curriculum around activities that are–you guessed it–outside. For those kids who actually suffer when they have to stay still and clean, this is a beautiful option. Getting in touch with nature, learning about the ecological systems, gardening, moving, journaling about the experiences. Literature filled with stories about life outdoors, connecting reading to real-life experiences. How many kids would thrive in such an experience? Learn more here.
- UNIVERSITY MODELS My daughter was educated in a university model high school, and we loved it. (“It” being the University Model Method, not necessarily the school we attended.) This quote sums it up: “The immediate goal of the University-Model® educational system is quality, cost-effective college-preparatory education accomplished in a way that gives parents more time for imparting the faith and values they hold precious.” It is designed to combine time at home and time at school. The time management aspect readies kids for college very effectively. You can learn more here. That is a faith-based program, but obviously it would not be in the public school system.
- MONTESSORI SCHOOLS. A district in my area here in East Texas has a Montessori charter school. You can learn more about this method of educating here. This particular method of educating encourages self-discovery and exploration. It would be a very doable thing to add the cleaning and sanitizing of the stations, by the kids, as part of the learning experience. It lends itself to the teaching of hygiene.
Obviously, that list is not extensive. There are many more ideas, but why not start talking about ideas rather than limitations? Rather than growing a generation of kids that are afraid and think in terms of limitations, we could start something better than what has ever been before–and NOT have it dependent on voting the way the teacher’s union wants us to.