Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wrong Story, Wisconsin

School's got 99 problems and money ain't one.

I'm not old enough to remember a time when the media referred to groups of teachers acting as “political demonstrators.” As a public school teacher, it's a bit unsettling-- but, I can't help but feel a bit of apathy about it. If you've seen a hundred protests, you've seen them all.

In fact, I suspect the whole “protest movement” looks a bit passe to people under the age of 50. On TV, I've seen marches for everything: civil rights, women's rights, gay rights, black men's rights, white men's rights, Puerto Ricans' rights, gun rights, Glenn Beck's rights, Howard Stern's rights, potheads' rights, and recently, moderates' rights (thanks, Jon Stewart).

I've also seen marches against everything: gun control, abortion, gay marriage, Bush, Obama, the war(s), oil companies, liberal media, Fox News, taxes, the government, and, sadly, dead soldiers (thanks, Fred Phelps). Protest marches don't seem to mean, well, anything. Protest marches often look fun, like a cool party or something, or scary, like a group of wackos, but they don't seem effective.

Protest marches just seem to highlight divisions. And, in this case, they are keeping us from focusing.

The Wrong Problem Problem

As the palpable tensions in public education bubble to the surface in the midwest, the whole country is finding that old arthritis of education woes more difficult to ignore. It's foolish to try and blame anyone, of course, but absolutely unsurprising battle lines are being drawn. The easiest narrative for both politicians and the media (our time's most powerful storytellers) is that the tension grows out of a clear rift in our country-- between those who support smaller government and those who support bigger government.

This story of big government versus small, of left versus right, will only keep distracting us from the cancerous problems of education. I'm not saying that we don't have a money problem. We do. But it is NOT the big problem. And it has to stop driving our discourse about improving education.

Here's what we keep talking about:
1.People want lower taxes
2.American students are getting whooped by students in other countries
3.Teachers' pensions are out of step with other professions
4.There are too many bad teachers
5.Teachers have “short” work days and have summers off, holidays, etc.

The budget constraints are making it more difficult to ignore the big problems. Look, when your mom gets an aggressive form of cancer, you don't say “what's the most cost-effective way we can save her?” Sure, you have to talk about money in that situation, but it's not the ONLY or BIGGEST concern.

Raising taxes, lowering taxes, abolishing unions-- none of these “corrections” address improving education. Sure, we can try and save money. But when do we start talking about better education?

Here's what we SHOULD be talking about:
1.Attracting and keeping great teachers-- and making them the most important element in our schools
2.Evaluating students to test skills and critical thinking, not regurgitation
3.Rebuilding our school infrastructure so that it serves the primacy of learning (not student containment)
4.Resisting the colossal error of making education a “customer service” industry

As long as the battle is between politicians and union members, we're going to have the same, tired arguments with the same, feckless results.

Education is the mother f#$%ing future of the country! When can we get serious about fixing it?

For some of my ideas about fixing education, read my fun-to-read (and smartly handled) four part series “Scapegoats and Saviors.” And I barely swear at all in these articles.

Use the search box at the top of my page. Tell your friends!

1 comment:

  1. AMEN!!! The "money" issue may now result in them cutting out medical assitance services for the disabled who make too much money, so basically all speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavioral therapy, home services etc. for those affected with Autism and much more will be cut. What will the system do when these children arrive having had NO help and no support when they enter the schools? Everyone wants to focus on the money issue of everything, and they get away from the core problem. It's such a mess.