Thursday, March 10, 2011

Education is No longer a Public Good

Today, most Americans are detached from public schools. It is clear in our incoherent debate about how to evaluate educators. Communities are laying off hundreds of thousands of teachers without any consideration of the impact it will have on the future of the nation. Welcome to an America without any sense of community.

If Americans truly cared about education, then raising revenues in this time of hardship would be on the table to maintain low class sizes and push innovation. Even if you add all the reform suggestions I have mentioned in previous blog posts such as students learning in teams in larger class sizes, it still raises issues of competency. Even after honorable efforts at using technology to improve efficiency and competency, what if that locality still lacks the needed services? American taxpayers for some reason are detached or mired in a fantasy: if you want more public services, taxes will need to go up. A voter cannot choose representatives who proclaim fiscal austerity then be angry when their child’s teachers get laid off, surprised when after school programs disappear they may depend on and disappointed when standardization becomes the cheap and awful way to prepare their child for a global job market requiring problem solving, technology and team building skills.

Education is losing itself as a public good and this disconnect is becoming deeper everyday. Millions of baby boomers who are anti-tax are leaving mounds of debt and a public education system resistant to change. This generation is very much disconnected from the reality of the millennial generation’s experience. In turn, meritocracy, cultural apathy and nepotism prevent this public good from reforming to meet the 21st century kid.

In addition, with the rise of charter schools, private and parochial schools as champions of innovation and experimentation, parents give up on public schools rather than doing the hard work of being a community participant. Getting double taxed by taking your child to school rather than him or her riding a bus is a great illustration of this detachment. If your tax dollars are going to public education, demand it innovate, demand school board members change teacher evaluation by a thought out, comprehensive, 21st century process. If nothing changes, forgot cultural norms and fire (vote out) school board members. Yet, in reality, many voters know little about their local elected officials, how to keep up on their voting records, their source of electioneering money or attend or view meetings online? How much of your local media deeply investigates school funding which is taxpayer money? Is it transparent and online? Look and listen closely, privatization of public schools is nearing.

Voters share responsibility for the current challenges facing American public education. After seeing over the years many adults texting while driving in a school zone it is reflective of detachment. I can almost hear their thoughts, “my life is more important than yours, my child’s, I am special”, again reflective of this detachment from community that only gets questioned when a one or two ton vehicle harms another human being.

Americans are citizenship flunkies and young reform minded educators like myself are fed up with a pubic system that does not innovate, a media that demonizes us and recirculates a myth that because we are public employees we make more than private workers. Too many elected officials pronounce instead of listen to us, clearly showing they are frauds. We educate your child, work during the summer, take classes while holding down a teaching job and often are leading innovators with technology. We give your child a needed esteem boost because you work those long hours or when you are home ignoring them engrossed in a job you cannot leave at the door so easily because of new technology. It’s time to accept responsibility as citizens and that includes acting, instead of complaining about decisions you often made as voters or nonvoters.

If you are insulted by my comments, because you are engaged parent in your child's education and community so be it because for every one who is a model there are dozens more who are disengaged, detached and ignorant about what pays for public services. Say something to them about it. Every American benefits from a 21st century education system only if they really care. We need this attitude and mood shift before we can truly get serious about many reforms that many in the field and my fellow bloggers on this site promote. Voters want efficient world class services without any substantive input from them, democracy does not work on autopilot.

Ben Nicely is a public high school teacher of 12 years in Central Virginia. He has taught AP Government, US Government, US History, ESL and World History from 1500. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science with a minor in International Studies and a Masters in Teaching from Virginia Commonwealth University. He is currently pursuing two graduate certificates through American Public University in Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Ben has served on many high school committees on technology in the classroom, balanced assessments, school scheduling, and school safety. He is a strong advocate for teachers being treated fairly and moving away from educational norms to truly move students into a 21st century learning environment. In his spare time, Ben enjoys running, traveling, kayaking and helping others in his community. He is married with two dogs


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