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.

images-1.jpg“…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.”

image credit

quote credit 



Filed under admiration, concerns, film as literature, frustrations, General Griping, great writing, out in the real world, popular culture, Questions, self-analysis, Teaching, the good ones, The Job, writing

7 responses to “Amen

  1. Mrs. Chili,

    I enjoyed your commentary above firstly because you admitted to not having the answers. There are so many rants today about education that, quite frankly, the whole discussion bores me.

    Your comments on lip service though, ring very true. And I loved Sam’s vision.

    But it seems to me a pipe dream until we can make the monumental shift from an existence/culture/species motivated by fear (and so the need for a huge military) to an existence/culture/species motivated by love–in which case we would then value inquiry and understanding more than being right.

    Love allows us to seek first to understand before seeking to be understood.

    In other words, palaces of learning will be built not with the ego, but with the spirit.



  2. Chris, I’m not sure I could agree with you any more. It’s all about where our priorities are, and right now, sadly, we’re not overly concerned about our own enrichment or growth so much as we’re concerned with competition and aggression.

  3. Education is one of those items where I think that the sheer size of our country is a hindrance. I mean, how could anyone reasonably expect to get a consensus on the amount of money to spend or the areas to concentrate on or even what specifically should be taught. It is a monumental program that’s growing exponentially and I hope one of us has an epiphany about it soon and then has the resources and charisma to get everyone else on board.

  4. I don’t believe these problems will ever be solved. Not until people want it. And by want it, I mean that there is some sort of strong ethic instilled where people want to work hard for it. (As a parent, I am working diligently to instill that thirst in my children.) Until then, it doesn’t matter what educators do as long as students think they can sit back and absorb, rather than grab, work, sustain, query, and just plain demand more.

    I always tell my students, your education is yours. Not mine to give you, but yours to take. Do it. Make the most of your time in school. You get out of it what you put into it.

  5. damn straight. especially that part about six-figure salaries… 😉

  6. Kim

    Saintseester, you are right on about the kids having to grab on. I deal with that struggle everyday in my classroom, and they’re only 10!

    First off, I love teaching. I love my kiddos, and I doubt I will ever do anything outside of education. That being said, I believe our education system as it exists now is irretrievably broken, and we must throw out all of the “this is the way we do it” and “it’s their fault” (whoever they are) garbage.

    We need to be courageous enough to think outside the box, stop trying to pander to special interest groups (including the unions) and stumping for votes. It’s not about power, privilege, prestige or pride. It’s about KIDS. Once we get that through our thick heads and ruthlessly seek only what is best for them, no matter the cost – personal or financial – we might have a chance.

  7. Pingback: Exactly « A Teacher’s Education

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s