I’ve enjoyed putting together my Redefining Education series of articles and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them. It’s been an interesting journey.
There have been some articles I wanted to jump up and down and shout “READ THIS!” from the rooftops and then there were others where I was stunned and dismayed that anybody could be that far off. Regardless, this past week has been an education for me.
The first lesson I’ve learned is that many people have a very different opinion of the school system than I do. Although I’d like to say I’m right and they’re wrong, I won’t. I will say, however, that I’ve seen the system through the eyes of a long-term teacher. Most of the most vocal critics haven’t even seen it as a parent.
When I read things like this it shows me how far apart our perceptions of the schools are: …children need a doctor’s note to go to the bathroom when needed, a federal “504 Plan” to eat when hungry, …
I’m fairly certain that there was a child somewhere who had a bladder issue and they wanted it written into that child’s IEP that she could leave class whenever she needed to. I would imagine there was another kid who had some kind of medical condition that required him to eat frequently so that was written into the IEP as well. That’s not a bad thing – it’s a way of saying to every teacher that it’s a need that needs to be addressed. I think that’s a good thing.
Yet Laurie A. Couture makes it sound as though because one person needed every teacher to know she had a problem, that other children were not allowed to go to the bathroom or to eat. That’s hogwash.
To me, examples like this tell me our school system needs to do a better job in letting people know what REALLY happens within those walls. If people really, truly believe our schools are prisons where kids are tortured and brainwashed, then there is a lot of work to be done. Because I can tell you with absolute certainty that some of the criticisms that have come out this week were not based in reality – or at least not reality in the schools I’ve worked at.
On the other hand, there were some suggestions that I think are very definitely worth considering. Many people seem to think schools are not teaching kids what they need to know for today’s world. That’s fair. Maybe we shouldn’t be teaching reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. Maybe we should change that to art, music, sports, debate, and Spanish. I’m OK with that.
Or maybe we should not have any kind of set curriculum at all? One school could teach art and Spanish and another school writing and science? It would be up to parents to choose which schools to enroll their kids in?
But is there value in having a standard base of knowledge that we can assume all Americans will know?
Are there certain historical events that we, as a society, feel are important enough to make sure everybody has at least a rudimentary knowledge of? Do we want all Americans to know why we celebrate the 4th of July? Is it important that we understand the struggle that caused the Civil War?
How do we go about establishing that set of knowledge?
I think we can all agree that the overall emphasis of our schools should be on learning how to learn. Kids need to learn to think creatively and critically and be able to come up with new solutions to unique problems. But should there also be a set of facts and figures we want all Americans to know?
I’ll be honest in saying that the thought of the importance of that standard base of knowledge never occurred to me until last week. If every parent chooses which things his children will learn, what ramifications does that have for our nation? Some people think it would be better, but I’m not so sure. If we don’t know about our country, will we still have pride in her? Will we still defend her? I don’t know the answers, but I certainly have questions.
I loved Jennifer Miller’s article about parents needing to man-up and take charge of their children’s education. If more parents would step up to the plate and make sure their children are getting the best education out there – regardless of whether that education happens in the schools or at home – our world would be a better place.
And that thought leads me to the idea of compulsory education. Quite a few of the articles in this series talked about abolishing the law that mandates education so that parents can do what they want. For me, I would love that. And for the other “good” parents out there too. I know those parents would make sure their kids got a good education whether it was mandated or not.
It’s the “other” parents that I’m concerned about. As Clark Vandeventer always tells me, “I want the rule, but I don’t want it to pertain to me.” That’s exactly how I feel about compulsory education, and I think others feel the same way. I’m perfectly capable of making sure my kids get a top-notch education; why should the government mandate I do?
I’ve been a teacher long enough to understand why education is mandated.
There are parents out there who shouldn’t be parents. They most certainly shouldn’t be homeschooling parents. Can we, with a clean conscious, turn our backs on their kids and walk away? Can we look them in the eye and say, “Sorry kid. You were born to a worthless parent so you’re screwed. Nope, I won’t help.”
And that, my friends, is the dilemma we’ve found ourselves in. Part of me says go the tough love route. Pull the welfare. Pull the food stamps. Pull the schools. Make them stand on their own two feet. Buck up or shut up.
But can we do that to the kids? Can I – as a fellow human being – look at those children who, through no fault of their own, were born to drug-dealing, whoring alcoholics who either won’t or can’t take care of their kids? Can I turn my back and walk away from a kid in need?
I know the schools aren’t perfect. There are many aspects of our schools that could be improved. But for thousands upon thousands of kids, school is the best part of their day. When they walk into that school building they don’t care how pretty it looks or that there are only three working toilets, that school is safe. And it’s the only place in their life that is.
When those kids go to school, they’ve got a teacher who loves them and they know what to expect. They’ve got food to eat; it might not be as good as some would have it but it’s better than what they get at home. School, as routine as it may be, is the highlight of many kids’ lives.
Can we, as some people have suggested, abolish our school system and compulsory education? Can we rely on those drug-dealing mothers to educate their kids?
I’ve lived in countries without a compulsory education law.
- I’ve seen too many people walk into a grocery store and have to ask someone to read directions to them.
- I’ve seen too many people sign their signature with a thumbprint.
- I’ve seen countries with high levels of illiterate people and how society is designed around them.
- I’ve seen too many politicians take advantage of that illiteracy.
And I don’t want to see the United States of America go there.
Are our schools perfect? No. Are they the best they can be? No.
But, as Dr. Seuss said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”
You can read the posts in the Redefining Series here: