Sunday, September 23, 2012

Public Education Under Attack

My insightful friend Ronald Bruce Myer (aka the pseudonym "John Mill") recently posted an outstanding essay about teachers under fire in today's America (also posted at American Heathen).  I really can't add a lot to his essay.  Teachers are not deserving of the criticisms currently being leveled at them as a result of political issues that have no roots in education, per se.  To teach in public schools today is to be forced to accept pitifully low wages in return for an enormous workload if the teacher truly is committed to being an educator.  I absolutely endorse Ron's statement:

Teachers deserve respect, not derision. If they are protected from being fired for reasons unconnected with job performance (tenure), that is a good thing. If they make good money, that’s another measure of respect. Teachers are not the problem. They don’t teach because they make a lot of money, they teach because they make a lot of difference.

My contribution to this topic begins, like Ron's, with some personal observations.  My family raised me to have a great deal of respect for public education.   Although I have some issues with the public education system (see discussions here, here, and here), time has reinforced the message I first heard at home.  I'm going to resist extending this discussion into the challenges with fixing the real problems of the public education system, though.  That topic may be the subject of a future post.

Education is an essential component of creating a truly informed electorate, an important component of a nation deeply dependent on technology, and an important component in the pursuit of individual, personal goals.  Without public education, the government is free to dominate a nation of predominantly ignorant citizens.  Ignorant people have no bullshit filter, are unaware of the lessons of history, the nuances of where modern science interacts with public policy, the validity of what they see in the media, etc.  They don't have a deep understanding of the issues in political elections and so have no guidance about for whom to vote, save the evil of "party loyalty".  Such "sheeple" are far more easily led down the paths leading to tyranny and oppression than an educated, knowledgeable electorate.  The commitment made in the USA to public education has been a commitment, ultimately, to freedom and liberty for all of us.

When the education system is not just being criticized (and some aspects of the system certainly deserve criticism), but is under open confrontational attack, all of us should understand that our future as citizens in a free nation is being threatened.  As a schoolboy, I was aware that teachers were respected for what they were attempting to do:  to make a positive difference in the lives and futures of the young people they were charged with teaching.  Teachers deserve respect because they're doing their jobs at considerable personal cost - many of them could have taken better-paying jobs elsewhere that would have required far less effort.  But they chose to teach, many of them owing to a personal commitment to being an educator.  In effect, teaching in public schools is charity work for the benefit of all!

The problem public school teachers faced when I was a boy has remained a problem to this very day.  Public education is paid for with taxes, and many taxpayers actually question the value of the public education system - evidently they have little or no real understanding of public education's role in maintaining the high status of the USA.  As our commitment nationally to public education has declined, so has our stature around the world declined, by any of a large number and variety of  measures.  Public education has been a shining star historically in the USA, but its status and funding (which have been and remain very low) have never been remotely comparable to its real value in the American form of democracy (which is very high).

Public schools are being micromanaged by incompetent local school boards packed with people who have few or no qualifications to manage the educational system but often with a political agenda (and even a religious agenda!).  The schools themselves have become supersaturated with parasitic bureaucrats who claim high salaries but do no teaching and who bring no useful skills to the system.  These bloodsuckers presume to "manage" education in ways that simply impede the education process, and siphon off much needed resources that teachers require to do their jobs at the appropriate level. 

Now we add to that niggardly attitude about paying for the value of public education a declining respect for the teachers themselves.  They're being targeted by the so-called Tea Party conservatives, apparently as representatives of a whole class of imaginary parasites pulling down big salaries at taxpayer cost, when the reality is far from that false image.  We're actually experiencing the lowest tax rates in recent USA history!  The whole campaign against teachers (here is an example) is simply a cog in the wheel of the right-wing religious extremist agenda.

We need to repudiate this attempt to belittle and downgrade the public education system, and return to a high level of respect for teachers, as well as to reverse the long-standing trend to spend the least possible on public education.  If our young people are our future, should we not be willing to invest heavily in that future?  I've never understood how anyone could believe otherwise!!  

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