Thursday, August 18, 2011

I'd Like to Explain -OR- Excuse # 4 (swerving off on a Rant)

As it truly is easier to ask forgiveness than permission, I beg yours. You may have noticed a steep drop-off of my efforts here beginning in June. When bloggers fall off the radar without explanation it's usually not a good sign. Health issues? Money problems? Extraordinary Rendition? Arrest? Imprisonment? Committed to a mental health facility?

In my case, thankfully, it is none of the above. I am one of the fortunate. I'd like to say I've been touring the world, making stops in interesting and exotic ports, meeting new and interesting people from different cultures... That's not it either.

The plain fact is that I had the amazing good fortune to marry a teacher. If any of you have an opportunity to do the same, I highly recommend it. After 26 years and 24 summers during which either I was working and/or my teacher was enrolled as a student to augment/enhance her teaching talents, this year we had a unique opportunity to do nothing this summer. Consciously. Willfully. Gloriously, IDLE.

There was plenty of nothing in need of doing. A garden, some necessary organizing and purging of our natural accumulations, movies and tv shows we've neglected, books to be read, a house to repair/improve/keep standing, events to attend... IOW, roses to be stopped and smelled.

It was not a total escape. If you recall, just as the school year was ending, the attack on teachers in the war on public education entered another SURGE period. Firings, layoffs, big budget cuts, daily sorties on teachers' Unions and collective bargaining rights, every planetary pundit wading in and weighing in on the dismal state of Education in America.

Wherever we went, socially, we were at DEFCON 2. Serve and volley. Serve and volley.
Within 5 minutes of arrival, I could usually tell how the morning, day, evening would devolve into spewage of the day's talking points on the state of education. Even at the "pro-teacher" gatherings there was always that undercurrent of survival instincts, fight or flight.

None of which explains or excuses the neglect I've shown to this place. In fact, I could have written of the experiences; sort of a running record of the battles at ground level? I did not. I tried. I really did. I have a draft folder with the beginnings of dozens of posts about this summer's reindeer games. In hindsight, I'm actually glad that I didn't finish any of them. In the end, it would have been pointless. Adding to the distraction that was the whole point of the surge in the first place.

We've been occupied in this public education debate since the first release of the fictionalized "Grace Report" of the Ray-gun administration. Those were the "rules of engagement" that laid out the battle plan and forced educators to almost constantly defend the basic concepts of "free" public education. The report's self-fulfilling prophecies of our dumbed down schools and the tacit encroachment and erosion of
trust in the institutions through which the overwhelming majority of Americans spent their youth were plausible only if you were willing to disregard the unprecedented progress and relative harmony our public schools enabled and underpinned.

That's right. Overall, PUBLIC EDUCATION has been a monumental societal success. There are acute, isolated situations that are less so, but not to the pervasive extent that has dominated the field for a couple of generations now.

At root, the goal of every syllable of anti-public education rhetoric has been to raise the status of an elite by diminishing the potential of everybody else. It has been the deliberate introduction of a contagion with no known cure short of isolation and genocide. Now that might seem downright uncivilized thinking and certainly no candidate, pol or pundit would use those words in public, but the strong message, decoded, delivers precisely THAT message. We only need our schools to be just good enough for THEM. (why isn't there an easy to use "dripping" font to denote disdain?)

The corporate purveyors of "education", -including, but not limited to the secular exemplars, stand ready and willing, eager even, to do for education what for-profit pursuits have done for health care. A fully tiered approach based on access. Those with "options" will opt them. And isn't THAT what America is all about?

As someone who has been relegated to the sidelines because my observations and ethos skew toward inclusion and community and a level playing field, I can HOPE that someday the country will skew back to such ideals, but the odds are certainly stacked against spontaneous reclamation.

As a parent, I've already been through the public/private wringer. I had a front row seat for the consequences of abandonment of public education. I railed against it, I spent years trying to resolve the prevailing acceptance of failure, I got a close up look at what happens when the reality attains the perception. Despite a nicely diverse population and relatively stable communities, it's a plainly known "fact" that the high school exists only for them not us nudge, nudge wink, wink. Anyone with options opts out. What remains is proof positive of the failure of public education. And still the school manages to produce more than a few silk purses out of their sow's ears. There's still "education" within those walls. Of course there is a whole `nuther education to be had there too. That one is the predominant outcome for most students. They learn that there is a club, and they're not in it. They (and WE) pay dearly for that going forward.

So what do we make of this? How do we slow this infection? How do we cure this dis-ease? We have to realize that our education is what's left after we finish going to school. In a country, generally, that eliminates through arbitrary achievement standards, our kids IS learning the lesson. When more of them do, the goalposts will be moved again and new standards set that fewer can meet. Addition by subtraction.

It's our kids and their dedicated, tireless teachers who can and do make the difference. When you opt for greener grass because of your perception, based purely on skuttlebutt not of your kids or their teachers, but somebody else's kids and teachers SOMEWHERE that's not where you live, the infection spreads. The disease is yours.


amber ladeira said...

As with all our other societal problems, until the society as a whole improves, little will change.

It infuriates me, for just one example, that incomes over $106K don't contribute to Social Security.
--That makes sense, how?

Oh well. At least we still have our First Amendment privileges.

Best, A.

matt jacob said...

trudat about teachers.