I can't help wondering what would happen if the question were phrased as a constructed response. What if we asked parents, childless millennials or retirees: What's the purpose of public education? Why do we collect taxes and build buildings and elect school boards and argue about phonics vs. whole language? What's the end game?


We've got information and images a-plenty, if we want to look at states which might have some educational moxie. Teachers are now talking to each other across district and state boundaries, sharing information about how education policy is impacting their daily practice, where market-based reforms have the deepest roots and where teachers' judgment and experience is most devalued. Where would YOU go, if you could go anywhere, as an educator?


This seems to be the long-term outcome of being attacked on our own soil: more division, self-indulgence, and deepening racial fault lines. Winners and losers. To hell with unity or even civil behavior--dominance has become our national goal, our trickle-down response to all conflict.


Every school music teacher in America has wrestled with the national anthem. Hard to sing (covering an octave and a fifth), written in an unfriendly key signature, lyrically confounding and attached to a disreputable tune, it nevertheless maintains a strange hold on public sentiment. We expect to hear it, for some hard to trace reason, every Friday night at football games, and a raft of other occasions. We expect citizens to show reverence for this music (although singing the words is considered optional, even embarrassing).


There is no "right to teach," in a public institution, for compensation. None. Nobody has the right to decide--hey! I think I'd like to work with children, mold their little minds. I'm smart! I'd probably be great--with no preparation or experience whatsoever. The "right to teach" and "teacher shortage" blah-blah masks a darker truth. We're not willing to solve problems--health care, clean water, racism, rampant childhood poverty, neglected schools--with hard work and investment in our collective future.


I had a colleague who spent most of August sorting books into leveled baskets, going steady with the laminating machine, and running up colorful curtains for the door to her classroom. Her husband, conversely, would mark the beginning of the school year by wandering around the house, trying to find his thermos. This was immensely irritating to her, of course. But it's hard to say who was the better teacher.


Women are role models for each other in all fields, including those that are supposed to be open to females. We've got nobody else. It was downright heartening to see a woman my age who successfully made it all the way through a grueling presidential nomination, the ultimate glass ceiling in America, because she was just that stubborn--no matter what you think of her politics.


It's difficult to teach young people the concepts of generating original ideas, combining multiple ideas into a coherent whole or rationale, making a point using the researched or time-tested ideas of others, or extracting those ideas and rewording them. It's even harder to get them to acknowledge that stealing other people's creative products is unethical.


It seems--again--patently obvious that opening a glitzy new school will automatically change the education market (whether you call that disruption or destabilization) surrounding it. Every child that previously attended a public school will become a unit of displacement. How soon does this negatively impact public systems?


All the good intentions in the world cannot override the conversion of a long-established public good into a profit-making commodity. I no longer believe that there is a magic legislative formula that will allow "good" charters to exist harmoniously with public schools. I now understand that the end game of unfettered charterism: privatization and exclusivity.


The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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