I have been an educator most of my working life, and now, after turning 65, I look at my profession with dismay. Politicians have filled themselves with the myth that education is a basket filled with failures, and the result is that they are weaving a basket of failure in which to put the public education system. They are probably doing so in order to hand over the money in the public education system to the free enterprise system, which, should be pointed out, is failing the American public in a big way these days, but much of their reasoning seems to me to be as clear as mud.
The only thing that really does seem clear is that they mistake the purpose of education, seeing it as a product that is part of the making, buying, and selling part of the economy. A recent headline even compared higher education to the housing bubble, a famous venture capitalist claiming that the rise in prices for those who pay for becoming educated is a bubble that will in the near future likely collapse, leaving economic ruin in the collapse’s wake.
No one can argue that education does not have an economic aspect. People who become educated tend to make more money over their lifetime than those who do not and drop out of high school or fail to go to college. Still, there are many reasons to become educated. Learning to read well and eagerly can enhance your life in endless ways. An educated citizen, as the founding fathers almost without exception told us, is a good citizen. If you want to lend strength, knowledge, and wisdom to society, become educated. If you want to do good beyond simply making a living, become educated. By becoming educated you can inspire your children and grandchildren to become educated, thus enhancing their lives. An educated person has more interesting things to discuss than an uneducated person. These reasons do not even scratch the surface of the rationale that sees education as central to our future as human beings and a nation.
Those who criticize our educational system tend to be those who also bewail the fact we are no longer number one in the world according to several education benchmarks. They know the future goes to the educated, but they do not want to spend the money on education that could lead to the country becoming number one again. You can’t just throw money at a problem to make it go away, they smugly say. Americans are no longer tough, and we need standards to toughen them up. We need to starve the government beast, Ronald Reagan said, or face bankruptcy.
As they toughen up the education system, they are loud mouthed, opinionated, and arrogant, often spewing lies out that are easily proven untrue. Teachers are overpaid and under-worked! The system is completely broken and has to be completely replaced. Students are not even taught the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic! Every one of these statements is untrue. Teachers are often clinging to the middle class by slender threads. Forty thousand dollars a year in much of the country is achieved only after a teacher becomes a journeyman educator. The education system that built the strongest and wealthiest society on earth is not perfect, but the vast number of students succeed. Every first grader begins with lessons in reading, writing, and arithmetic.
There are problems with the education system right now, but when Wisconsin, the second best education system in the country and one of the best in the world, is torn down by a Governor who mainly wants to privatize it, the bluster and loudness becomes the fangs of a rattlesnake aiming at the education system’s heart. Poison, rather than reason or beauty, drips from the fangs.
The truth is that the education system needs more money and needs back the prestige it deserves. The more politicians treat it like a punching bag filled with maggots, the weaker the system gets. No Child Left Behind left behind the entire education system, weakening its heart while bragging about making it accountable. It degraded the enormous effort put out by teachers and those who help them to help children see the light and learn.
Give me an educated man or woman, and I will give you hope. Give me political rhetoric, and I will point out that it is all bilious hot air. The hot air, unfortunately, is destroying our public education system while pretending to reform it.