If there is one area of expertise everyone feels they have, it’s in education. All of us have been students in the classroom, right? We’ve all experienced good and bad teachers. We know what we’d like to change. But how to do it remains the question. After Bill Clinton’s “Benchmarks,” George W. Bush’s, “No Child Left Behind,” Barrack Obama’s “Race to the Top,” after segregation, desegregation, and resegregation, after Brown vs. the Board of Education and busing, after alternative schools, voucher programs and Charter Schools, is anyone happy?
Maybe that’s the problem: too many solutions. To survive, most depend on the day’s political climate and the money flow, because, believe me, Republican or Democrat, politicians follow the money. And, as Diane Ravitch writes, what the money guys love is “deregulation, testing and Big Data.” (“The Miseducation of Liberals,” by Diane Ravitch, New Republic, June 2017, pg. 17.) To Ravitch’s list of monied interests, I’ll add fat cats promoting religious proliferation. But the goal isn’t openly stated. It appears under the rubric of “choice.” (Blog 3/27/17) Oddly enough, “choice” is word Evangelicals use with mixed feelings, depending upon whether it’s applied to education or women’s reproductive rights.
Of course, educational choice makes no guarantees about quality. But that little matters to Charter School supporters. Reading, writing and arithmetic are secondary ambitions. Religious indoctrination is primary. That intent is why, until recently, parochial schools have been outside the public school system. By pledging to expand choice, old taboos seem less problematic. Yet by any measuring stick, children who attend Charter Schools lose academic ground. (Ibid, pg.17.)
Incidentally, “choice” also means segregation. (Ibid, pg. 17.) The rich already go to private schools, ones that don’t accept vouchers. Vouchers students are clumped together with other voucher children — poor minorities who, like them, are bussed across town to unfamiliar surroundings.
Why the mystery persists about the elements of a good educational system baffles me. Start with teachers grounded in subject matter not “teaching methods.” Pay them well. Give them decent class sizes so children get adequate attention. Pay for classroom supplies, instead of hoping teachers will use their paychecks to buy them. Stop thinking about instructors as novitiates of a holy order. These saints wear out in underfunded classrooms. Think of teachers as professionals. Give them the tools they need, a union to express those needs and they will give our children a good education. It’s simple.
(Originally Published 7/5/17)