Save Our Schools is hosting a Valentine’s Day blogging festival called I Love Public Education Blogging day. I’d like to participate, but I do not love public education. Here’s why:
I do love teaching and working with young people of all ages. Teaching is fun and inspiring, at least it was until the Ed Deformers really started to go crazy with accountability, testing, and attacking teacher compensation, tenure and pensions. I still learn a lot from my students and from my colleagues, which I really appreciate. I like the fact that education is free for all children, theoretically giving all kids the opportunity to grow and develop. Clearly, education is necessary so that people can learn the basic skills they need to survive in this world. It is also my livelihood, so I do not want to see it debased or eviscerated any further.
Herein lies the rub: Public Education has always existed as a tool for maintaining and enforcing the existing socioeconomic relations (i.e., ensuring that the rich remain rich and the rest of us have the minimal skills and attitude necessary to help them to do so). I do NOT love this most fundamental aspect of public education. The notion that education is the great equalizer is nothing but a liberal myth. It helps bolster the American Dream fantasy and it draws many do-gooder types to the teaching profession who make increasingly desperate sacrifices for “the good of our students,” and sometimes to the detriment of their colleagues. Yet the vast majority of people still end up in the same social class as adults as their parents, despite their schooling.
Certainly there is the potential for individual teachers to enlighten children and inspire them to resist the injustices in the world and to help some of them move up the social ladder, but even the very best teacher is fighting against tremendous odds. The fact is that the socioeconomic relations outside of school play a much stronger role in a child’s academic development than do the school or teacher. If we really want to see significant improvements in graduation rates and closing the achievement gap, then we need to be fighting for greater social and economic equity. We need to be organizing to take back the wealth that the rich have been sapping from us. We need stronger unions and higher pay for the 95% of Americans that are not part of the ruling elite. We need universal health care for all. We need childcare for all parents who want to work outside the home. We need mental health services and drug rehab for all who need it. We need affordable housing. We need to stop locking people up for nonviolent petty crimes like drug possession.
So for me, saving public education is about much more than just getting the billionaire (and millionaire) Ed Deformers off my back. Of course I would love to see an immediate end to NCLB and Race to the Top. It would be great if the voucher, charter-school and “choice” advocates would quit trying to raid public funds and even greater if we could start funding public schools generously instead of miserly. And it would be fantastic if we really did lower class sizes, provided adequate books and supplies, clean and well-maintained facilities. And while we’re at it, how about providing elementary teachers with a prep period or giving secondary teachers two or three prep periods so they had the time to really read all those essays and lab reports and to develop exciting new hands-on activities? How about providing full-time nurses and health clinics on campuses, reinstating counselors and librarians, arts and music? However, if we don’t also start organizing and fighting for some serious social transformations, even all these other great improvements will only help a fraction of our students to achieve at the high levels we have set for them.