If you are having a great weekend and would rather not think about something completely depressing, something like, say, America’s fundamentally broken K-12 education system, then please do not click on this. If your weekend’s already all shot to hell though (hungover; alone again, naturally; hunting for a job; etc.), I’d like to encourage you to read Jerald Isseks’ honest and disturbing essay about the lies most of us tell and are told about public education. He makes a point that others have made before but can’t be made often enough:
Americans want to talk about how much our kids are failing these days. Those outside the educational system all have their fierce, personal criticisms. And on the front lines, in those faculty meetings, data sessions, and behind the closed doors of ruinous classrooms, teachers and administrators are telling the same stories. There’s the one about the unfocused kids who need to be taught discipline and compliance so they can get a job; the one about the parents who are setting a bad example and creating a negative home environment; the one about the teachers who aren’t a good fit because they aren’t holding their students accountable for doing work that renders them comatose. We tell these stories as we busy ourselves, trying to reassemble the parts of a machine we refuse to admit is fundamentally, and fatally, flawed. Just like we are. Meanwhile, our students are losing interest, losing hope, and vanishing from our records altogether, and for all the productive work we do, we aren’t doing much to bring them back.
Just like Bush before him, Obama has been a complete disaster on education. But Ryan and I have both said this before, and there’s honestly only so much a president can do about a byzantine system of interlocking federal and state policies designed to line the pockets of textbook publishers, tech companies, test companies, test prep companies, union bosses, accrediting agencies, and [insert just about anyone other than students and teachers here]. So yeah, I don’t expect the president (or a senator, or a governor) to come up with some plan to fix K-12 all at once. But I do expect them to be as honest about the state of things as Isseks is. Instead, we get conservatives bleating that collective bargaining is the source of all of our problems, liberals screaming that dumping more money into horribly managed schools is the only obvious solution, technocrats acting like giving every kid an iPad is something other than a giveaway to Silicon Valley, and parents, teachers, and students absolving themselves of any responsibility.
The truth is that we’re all to blame for what’s happening. I teach college in part because the idea of teaching high school kids how to write is terrifying and depressing for all of the reasons Isseks outlines in his article. That’s lame on my part, and I should own that. Still, if Isseks and I are willing to admit our own complicity, shouldn’t everyone else? Shouldn’t our elected officials and technocrat class admit that they totally didn’t see how their fulsome embrace of neoliberal globalization would lead to the hollowing out of the middle class, effectively making a high school diploma worthless to anyone trying to earn anything other than minimum wage? Shouldn’t teachers unions acknowledge that granting K-12 teachers tenure so quickly and placing so much emphasis on seniority at the expense of quality can lead to some pretty perverse consequences? And shouldn’t the president take a step back and think about how his “college for everyone” rhetoric might be hurting more than it’s helping?
Obviously, none of this will happen. We live in a country where a not insignificant portion of the population would rather see us go back into an economic depression than live under the other party’s health care system (which was originally their party’s health care plan, but whatever, nothing to see here). People seem to care more about being right even if that means being completely wrong. Liberals can be just as bad. And so we’ll keep doing the same things we’ve always done, just worse and with apps that make us think we are smarter and more advanced than we are. Happy f’ing Sunday, folks.