One-Room Schoolhouse Ablaze!

Hypothetical Situation

Tell your community property taxes should be increased in order to fulfill local educational needs. Chances are, the majority would raise arms in protest, complain of “big government,” and state how schools must be more “cost effective,” and keep a better eye on “the bottom line.”

Ask that same protesting majority to lend their support for more law enforcement, including additional prisons, and it’s possible for the slack tax support to suddenly sway.

The irony: those people we build prisons around could be members of society we’ve failed to educate.

If “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” why are so many giving up on the best, most effective preventative medicine our society has for many of our social ills and ailments?

Certainly, our schools can be held for partial blame, but in recent years, schools have been somehow cast adrift by the very communities which spawned them.

Like abortion, censorship, drug policy, and affirmative action, education has become yet another stalemate in the ideological battle for the heart and soul of America.

The Learning Process as Religion

The American Student has become passive. In many cases, they expect the knowledge to fall in their lap, or, in worst case scenarios, they feel if they “just do their time,” that is, “just show up,” that’s adequate performance. The pseudo-literate culture to which they are accustomed spoonfeeds them a superficiality that doesn’t and cannot convey the rewards and virtues of truly attained knowledge, wisdom, and insight.

The learning process is a humiliating one. The more we try to attain knowledge, the more we have to recognize our shortcomings and how naturally inept we are. Achievement usually begins in failure. Wisdom is gained through experience. Experience denotes conflict. Conflict is scary, and in our society, portrayed mainly as being bloody, gruesome, and violent.

Contemporary American culture doesn’t do just service to humility. It’s generally about ease and natural success. Youth, good looks, and athletic prowess dominate our media. When somebody does achieve through hard work, discipline, and perseverance, the usual and logical path, it’s presented in a way as to seem as enigmatic and incomprehensible as possible: “Yes, your research has come to save a great many lives, but you had to wash dishes to put yourself through Pre-Med?!? Amazing!!!”

Perhaps it’s possible that instead of blaming and even suing their former institutions and instructors, students and their parents could take some of the responsibility and liability for their education, rather than attempt to displace the blame. In public schools there are just as many — more — opportunities not to learn as there are to learn. Our country descends from a long line of successful people who not only independently supplemented their education, but in many cases, took up the task of educating themselves.

People in this country are far too eager to shed themselves of the educational experience. Considering the demands and challenges of today, it’s a shame so few pursue a college career, or don’t at least explore looking at the world in an educational light. If more people had the humility to not assume a “plateau” and keep ascending intellectually, seeing everyday as another of learning, the world could assimilate greater potential.

A Decade Late and A 3.65K Short

Education is generally a decade behind demands the world requires. By the time beginning teachers hold their first day of class, the world has changed considerably since beginning their professional and academic training. As a result, very few schools can boast of being on the “cutting edge.” As of the 98-99 school year, being a decade behind can mean all the difference in the world, considering dramatic changes in our culture and industry, i.e. the Internet, wireless and digital technology, etc.

Maybe, since schools cannot keep up with the times, we should stop investing in them. Or maybe industries, particularly new, growing, and changing ones, should be more directly involved in education. Unfortunately, it’s more likely industries will use the growing “inferiority” of American education as an excuse to ship more jobs overseas, meanwhile not raising a single financial finger to do anything about it.

Meanwhile, schools could not so much focus on the specifics of learning with regards to “novel” technologies and technique, but could focus more on “abstract” skills that have more universal applications and increase the students’ ability to adapt and teach themselves. Large parts of educational budgets are continually invested into researching, purchasing, and installing technologies, only to be outdated once they are finally in place.

Bad Teacher Mythology

There’s a pervading myth about teachers who are uninspired, apathetic, and complacent. It is true there might be a few complacent teachers out there, but probably no more than there are in any profession. More likely less. As overwhelmed and unappreciated as teachers are these days, if a teacher’s heart isn’t truly into their job, chances are they won’t survive. Soon enough, the parents, other teachers, the bureaucracy, and the students will eat them alive.

Can we blame the youth of America? Teachers hopelessly vie for students’ attentions against 64-bit games, MTV, an endless assault of insurmountable stimuli which burns so bright as to dim the traditional classroom approach into insignificance.

Chances are that a beginning teacher’s rapport with his or her students already start off on a sour note prior to their entrance into their career — “I mean, c’mon, they’re TEACHERS!?!?” Teachers are portrayed as buffoons; the inconsolable clownface of an archaic establishment; out of touch with the biggest craze in potato chips, cookies, soft drinks, and video games; Monotone dribble serving as background noise to the melodramas of Saved By The Bell and 90210. The irony is that teachers generally are often one of the punching bags being struck by both sides between the state and the masses.

The truth is there are not as many bad teachers as one would think. Of course, the majority of the few times teachers are portrayed by local and national news is when there are isolated incidents of teachers abusing their power by molesting or physically accosting students. For as much good as teachers do in the world, it’s a shame they’re not treated with the respect and admiration they so often deserve — considering it’s more than likely they’re not in it for the money.

Generally speaking, when you look around, your teachers were and are genuinely idealistic people — it’s part of the profile. Of course, there are some “war-weary” teachers who have lost some of their youthful enthusiasm and vigor, but they tend to have developed a successful curriculum to compensate. They’re not as personable as one would like or hope, but who would be after thousands upon thousands of names and faces have crossed their portal for the extraction of intelligencia?

The “Business” of Education

More and more charter and private schools will appear in the next few years. They’ll have a facade of organization and industriousness, promising a good education, with close attention to that “bottom line.” The scary thing is that many of the companies vying to educate are children are the same sorts who have privatized much of our prison management. At least they’ll have experience in giving the more sardonic factions of our country what they want.

Prototype charter schools, run by private companies in educationally-needy cities such as Baltimore, have failed miserably. One of the main reasons schools cannot be run like a business is because of an unpredictable raw material — the student. This is why industrial-age schools that are attended today are considered such a failure. For every student, particularly in a heterogeneous society such as ours, there is a different combination of intelligences (yes, plural), talents, skills, and disciplines. To expect all, or even a majority of students to have identical, or even similar results when walking out of the same classroom is ludicrous. The idea of education norms (usually signified by test scores) demeans the individuality of the student and establishes standards which become useless to many of those they are meant to serve. Some of us use our high school Algebra, but definitely not all of us.

If anything, we don’t need to treat students like widgets, but instead give them the skills and tools to explore a more individualized and independent potential. To reiterate, education needs to be more abstract versus becoming more specialized. Today we’re forcing too many students down the wrong funnel of citizen production and conformity.

1998: Education as THE Election Year’s “Hot Button.”

It’s no mistake school shootings made great headlines in ’98. School violence did not increase the ’97/’98 year, only media attention. The fact is the average American student has a better chance of being struck by lightning than being shot at school. This election year, education will be the political football around which a host of adversaries will organize.

A dividing line has been drawn between those who want to “gut” public education by offering tax breaks/vouchers to attend private educational institutions, including some religious schools, and those who want to invigorate public education by endowing it with additional funding.

Chances are the debate will only create further division in America, in general. And when the election year fireworks subside, more will have been done to damage American education than to further it. Students will hear one side demean the status of education, which will only demoralize the American student, planting seeds of self-doubt as to whether they’ve received a proper education. The true irony is that education should be one of the few things we can rally around as a community. If we cannot work together for education, what’s left to bring us together? And, on a more cynical note, is there anybody left who really wants to be brought together?

And just to throw a little conspiracy into the mix: Thomas Jefferson believed the maintenance of a democracy relied heavily on having an educated electorate. What does this say about those who retract support for the improvement, maintenance, and involvement of our schools? What is their diagnosis regarding the political and social health of our great nation?

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