Education — December 2, 2014 at 9:53 am

Fixing Education: The conversation we never seem to have


Public Education is a partnership and has been for many decades now. That partnership includes our local communities, the school board, our cities, the state, and the federal government, to simplify this part of my message. For many years Public Education was working well. It educated us all, kept to constitutional promises, improved over time. It was a natural or organic improvement that didn’t threaten the core concept of what Public Education is and it has served us very well for a very long time.

For many decades, that partnership, for the most part, worked really well. On that I think many of us would agree, right?

I am not smart enough and have not studied enough or closely enough the “evolution” of Public Education to know the exact moment where the wheels started to come off the wagon, to steal a cliché. There are noxious names that I can point to though. Names like John Engler, Eli Broad, Bill Gates, Dick and Betsy DeVos, to name just a few; people who saw an opportunity to drive more public tax dollars to public companies for profit. They have been keenly effective at this game and have changed the conversation on Public Education and “reform” so successfully that the lies they tell have become legend and, in many minds, the truth.

When the media at first wouldn’t bite, they formed their own “media”. Think Tanks, Educational Foundations, and other groups, through money and power, bought off politicians and hijacked Public Education for their own personal profit. It’s true, Google it!

The American public has been fooled into thinking that if something called No Child Left Behind is a bad thing, then why would it be called that? The American people think that something called the Education Achievement Authority, by its mission and its name, cannot be a bad thing. That something called Common Core State Standards is in no way threatening by name, right?

We have testing services that write tests using scientists, not educators. The idea that measuring what a child learns is an absolute necessity without knowing how a test is formed and then adopted makes no sense in any way, but we never question that, do we? The American people have bought into a variety of “truths” that are so roundly accepted that to even suggest they are actually part of the problem enrages some people. In fact many people.

We now see another disease in Public Education that was formed as a message based in what powerful, wealthy, and mostly white guys knew would be the critical piece: Openly and publicly getting the American people completely on board with their tarnished – and that is being charitable – image of the average public school teacher. I won’t try to define what “average” is in the world of education, but just go with me here, please.

We now know that, although it’s completely and utterly wrong and not in the least bit provable, teachers work nine months a year. They have weeks off at a time during the school year. They get paid NOT to work in the summer months. Teachers have become an elitist group of spoiled union brats who, once they are tenured, can do anything they want to do without fear of losing their jobs. Oh, and I mean anything.

Of course it’s all wrong, misplaced BS by the same people who today profit personally off our tax dollars to supposedly educate our children in controlled atmospheres that give them opportunities that Public Schools will never be able to give them (another lie). Charter schools, especially for-profit charters schools, are perceived as being free private schools, and who doesn’t want their child educated in a private school? This is in spite of the week long exposé by the Detroit Free Press this past year that exploded the myth of what charter schools are. Still, the vast majority of people still hang onto the idea that they are wholly good and the wave of the educational future.

OK, all of this meandering is just my entrée, a background, to the conversation that we are not having about Public Education, at least not in public in any formal way.

The conversation that we should be having is not about bad teachers, bad unions, bad ideas, bad testing, bad outcomes and bad results. The conversation we should be having is about bad parents who are producing bad kids.

Say what?

Yup, reread it if you have to, but that part of the conversation is what is missing and in large part because parents have become lazy. They have bought into the perception and lies because it let them off the hook. Once that happened, they started openly believing and talking to other parents about how Teacher X treated their snot-dripping child with contempt because that child dared to challenge authority in the classroom. And, of course, their children are perfect, right? These parents saw a path to relieve them of the responsibility of the partnership I began this with and ran away very quickly from their part of that relationship with the school.

OK, let me be clear here: I will admit that this is an overgeneralization. I know plenty of good, engaged parents who hold their children to a standard that many of us were held to as students. But, ladies and gentlemen, the majority of parents see school as a taxpayer-funded babysitter. If, in that process, their kids learn something, well, good for them. And, you know I am right. You know parents like this. Every single one of you do. But it is not something that is talked about, it is? It needs to be so I am starting that conversation now.

Parents and children have their own personal dynamic. Many parents, and most these days are two-parent earners without enough time for anything but to work, pick up fast food, and tell their children to shut up at almost any cost, don’t even realize what they are doing.

Many parents need as little stress in their lives as possible, so when their child is having trouble at school, trouble that traditionally would require a parent to invest time at home in assisting that child or in setting parameters that would correct bad behavior in the classroom, they instead tell (beg?) that same child, “Just do the minimum and I will buy you that violent video game that keeps you quiet and out of my hair.” Again, we all know that parent, don’t we? I mean it’s never us, but we all do know that parent. We also have admitted, even if it is only to ourselves, that, although this is the wrong way to raise children, we are just too dammed tired to do it any other way.

It is true and I know some of you right now are red-hot pissed off at me for writing this. But we do know it’s true.

By the way, so we can get this out of the way, I am NOT a perfect parent. I have made plenty of mistakes over the years. But I was always a partner with my children and their school and teachers. Did I like every teacher my kids had? No. Were they all great teachers? No. But they at least were present. They knew my child and I know that sometimes my children got lumped into the same categories with others kids because, god forbid, teachers are people too. Really! They get tired and stressed dealing with you and your child. For every great kid they have they have a subset of kids that require more time and energy then they have. Oh, and by the way, teachers are aware of what the public thinks about them in 2014 and are tired of fighting the lies because they cannot win. Why can’t they win? Because they made the decision to use their time in a proactive way in the classroom instead of fighting the perception of whom they are outside of the classroom.

In many ways, and I don’t think too many people think about this, what the American people have allowed in plain sight – that’s you and me, by the way – is that we are creating and molding a new generation of teachers who will use teaching as a stepping stone until they find a job where they are valued. Where their education is compensated properly. Where their benefits are equal to their commitment and where they actually are appreciated for the sacrifices they make and the ongoing commitment they make to continue to educate themselves in order to be better teachers, not better compensated teachers. How people don’t see this is beyond my comprehension.

There is more, much more, that I could add, and I will over time, but if we are going to have the conversation, we might as well start with this one and see where it goes.

I believe that if you want to fix Public Education, start treating teachers with respect, start holding your children and YOURSELF responsible for your role in this education partnership, and start pushing back against lawmakers who don’t have clue one about what they are really doing to our children. I honestly believe that one day we will wake up and ask ourselves what happened to our children. How did they end up NOT doing better than we did? Because, as many of us know, one of the unspoken promises from one generation to the next is to make sure that our children have it better than we did, right? We are failing miserably at that and until we are ready to admit that, expect nothing to change. Because it won’t and we’ll only have ourselves to blame.

Not teachers.

More to come, I assure you.