19 | From the Editor: My Two Cents
Thoughts on the U. S. Public Education System; or, Public Education is the Maginot Line
Perhaps I have become a bit too cynical. Perhaps not. More than ever, I view public educators as the last defenders of a besieged outpost, its walls falling in around them, beam by beam, stone by stone. The unfulfilled potential of a great but troubled society crumbling with those walls. Cut off from substantive societal support because broadly speaking, education is valued less than TikTok or professional sports and teachers are viewed with derision. I see educators as being the ultimate crime fighters, and the classroom is their bat cave. They work daily to diminish the ever-more-looming specter of a crime-filled future for our society. More than ever, I see the correlation between a lack of education and a life of crime. When people lack the skills to become successful, whether or not the blame for their predicament is in part a consequence of their own doing, they are far more likely to resort to the criminality that we see on the nightly news. I’m not talking Ponzi schemes and sophisticated financial crimes.
Our public education system is failing catastrophically to meet the needs of fulfilling its mandate to provide for a vibrant future. An important and seemingly overlooked part of that equation is ensuring that teaching is a sustainable profession for its practitioners. This is not the case. Teachers are fleeing the field in alarming and historically unprecedented numbers. A great rout of our army of educators, those who work tirelessly to build a better future for us all, is underway. I have never seen anything like it in fact. The lip service paid to teachers can’t be brought to the bank and deposited and the platitudes concerning the importance of the profession are old and hollow, when no significant or meaningful follow-through in increasing salaries, resources, and support is taken. Further to this, the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the mental well-being of teachers and has greatly exacerbated the rate of teacher burnout. The brunt of the existing flaws in the system, their impact pronounced by the pandemic, have been borne far more heavily by teachers, than, for example, district-level leadership staff. If anything, the pandemic has highlighted just how little the upper echelon of leadership, top heavy with redundancy and overpaid, actually does. Teachers, meanwhile, are in the trenches.
Ineffective educational leadership is destroying the profession. As with a collapse of command authority in the military, a lack of effective leadership in education is a key factor in this rout. To be clear, there are other enemies in this battle, a battle for the very survival of an effective public education system, but utterly misguided and frighteningly ineffective educational leadership that profoundly disservices every aspect of a teacher’s daily, professional existence — and ultimately, their personal life — is a fundamental reason for this rout. To be more specific, it is the policies subscribed to by educational leaders and the way in which they are applied that is the problem. Their thinking and their approach are flawed. The consequences are already evident. I will leave it at that, to delve any deeper into this aspect of the crisis — and it is that — would require far more of me than I am willing to give. And it is a crisis of historic proportions. The proverbial shit is hitting the fan like never before — although, really, I think it has been for many years now. It has just become more noticeable. Much more noticeable, because the whole system has eroded enough for all to see. And everyone is responsible for it, the students, too. Yes, even them. The little cherubs. But especially the adults, because we should know better and do better.
Education is a reflection of a society and of what it values. It would appear that our society is coming apart at the seams, unraveling more quickly by the day. The problems have taken on a critical mass that can no longer be outweighed by what is going well and what we do right. The insulation is wearing dangerously thin. I think that at this moment in our history, we are in a very tenuous state of counterbalance, seesawing up and down a bit but very gradually descending past a social tipping point, that we are being pulled inexorably in the wrong direction — downwards, in all facets of productive societal functioning. Catastrophic social collapse is not just a theory, or an abstract idea dreamed up by clueless academics. It can and does become a reality in some situations. Look at the various nations around the world for whom this is all too true. The telltale signs are all about us. Our public education system is the canary in the coal mine.
We know that all empires eventually fall. They always have. They always will, I suppose. Look at the history of humanity. Great confluences of events and factors that change the world as it is known are the norm, not the exception. Look at natural systems. Entire ecologies disappear. On a geological time scale: here today, gone tomorrow. I’m writing this from what used to be the bottom of the sea, a great inland sea. The dinosaurs came and went. In principle, we should be no different. Nevertheless, I think that maybe we are — or more accurately, can be. Because we are capable of critical thinking. And further, of metacognition. We can change perspectives and value systems. We can invent and we can innovate. We can adapt. We can change. It’s just not going to be easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. This experiment of ours has some unique elements — and hope springs eternal. Educators see the reflection of a snowballing social entropy dancing madly upon the walls of their classrooms, while Nero plays across the rooftops, or sits watching football. Oblivious, or worse, unconcerned. But where there is a will, there is a way.
Public education is the social equivalent of a Maginot Line. And there are others, equally as important, like a functional system of values, an ethos of personal responsibility and accountability, family — the list goes on. Without which, civilization falls — not just our society. But public education is a social structure that we have built and that should involve and reflect the input of just about everyone — after all, we pay for it with our tax dollars, it is a public service. So, perhaps that makes public education the Maginot Line. To quote Mirabeau B. Lamar, the second president of the Republic of Texas and the “father of Texas education”: disciplina praesidium civitatis.
— The Editor