School talk today is generally around rigorous content and 21st-century skills and how we can measure those to make schools accountable. There is, however, a much more powerful, if subtle, set of factors that makes going to school worthwhile for both students and teachers.
We ask more of babysitters, playground monitors and burger flippers than substitute teachers--more qualifications, more on-the-job training, more care in selecting and retaining the right person for the job. If you start with the bar for admission and reward extremely low, you're making a statement about the work, as well as the people willing to do it.
If you had told me--on New Year's Day, 2016--that we would end the year with Donald Trump headed to the White House (at least occasionally, to govern, if not to live) with Betsy DeVos as his nominee for Secretary of Education, well... it's hard to finish this sentence. Let's review 2016.
The actual truth about public schools? Well, as always, it's complicated. And we are not fond of complicated, in America. We'd rather grab onto a catchy meme--Dump Devos!--than explicate the pros and cons of a national curriculum, explore the long-term consequences of privately-managed, publicly-funded schools, or carefully deconstruct overly casual (not causal) use of student achievement data.
If you want to know what end-stage, terminal charterism looks like--how it impacts the educational ecology, when it is fertilized by policy tweaks, and allowed to flourish--take a look at the reality of Betsy DeVos's accomplishments in Michigan.
We are on the very edge of destroying what makes America truly great. America is a place of free thinking, brainstorming, and giving every child the chance to receive a quality education free of charge.
When does human decency surpass Don't Rock the Boat school leadership? Aren't these extraordinary times? Aren't the lives of children and the fate of public education at stake?
I asked, as a teacher, what German schoolchildren were taught about Germany's role in World War II. We do not avoid our history, he said. So what do you do in America?
I think a case could be made that the last two administrations have so morphed the originating aims of a federal department in charge of educating all students--whether intentionally or not--we might not find the loss of a department of education and burning down 16 years of questionable policy such a loss. But then--I think of equity. We are responsible for all children. Aren't we?
When the election is over, schools will still be expected to exemplify neutral public spaces, accepting all students and honoring all family beliefs. Media and money, helped by attractive electronic technologies, have reshaped our values, and we will not be able to acknowledge that, as public institutions.