I’ve been on a West Wing kick lately. For reasons I’ve not been able to explain, perfect opportunities for references to this – one of my most favorite television shows of all time – have been making themselves available to me over the last month or so.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what value we place on education and on the people who do the work of educating. While listening to an NPR piece about No Child Left Behind the other day, I was struck by just how fragmented our educational system is and by the seemingly oppositional forces that are in play in public education. Now, I have to disclaim here to those of you who don’t know that I DON’T work in public education; I’m an adjunct at a small, private community college in New England. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a stake in the quality of public education, however; almost all of my students come to me from public schools and I have two children enrolled in my town’s school system. I really do care; I just have very little to say in the matter.
A lot of people are making a lot of noise about the poor condition of our public education system. Our schools’ structures are run down (the high school in our town, for example, is an embarrassment). Our classrooms are overcrowded. Our students are falling behind in comparison to children in other nations. Yes, all of this is true. I think, though, that the answer is less about test scores and money than it is about the fact that we can’t get serious and reach consensus about what we feel as a society it’s important for our students to learn.
Do I have the answers? Nope – I’m not standing here claiming to be an expert in anything. What I AM saying, though, is that I think we’re missing a big part of the equation; that we’re not looking at the whole picture – or the whole student – and that we’re not putting our proverbial money where our mouths are (recognizing that I just said I don’t think it’s mostly a question of money). We’re giving lip service to the importance of education, but we’re not behaving as though it’s something we value. Until we start acting like education is the most important thing in the world, nothing’s going to change.
I promised a West Wing tie-in, and here it is. It’s a quote from Sam, played by Rob Lowe, arguing about the idea of school vouchers.
“…education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don’t need little changes. We need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense. That’s my position. I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet.”