We desperately need dedicated educators willing to build a career around serving today’s learners and today’s communities-our tomorrow depends on it. Under the guise of “reform”, public education and teaching have been under a years-long attack driven by private interests in collusion with policymakers looking to profit from and gain control of a private education market while alleviating financial obligations to the public and public servants. For teachers this has led to increased frustration and willingness to get out of the profession and retire as soon as they can- or even retire early. For young college-bound people who could be great assets to communities as teachers it has led to them being pushed into other pursuits. This past September, U.S. News reporter Lauren Camera wrote:
The problem is multipronged: At a time when public school enrollment is on the upswing, large numbers of teachers are headed for retirement or leaving the profession because of dissatisfaction with working conditions in a profession seen as less desirable than it once was. Meanwhile, enrollment in teacher preparation programs is dropping dramatically, falling 35 percent nationwide in the last five years, the report found. (U.S. News, Sept.14,2016)
On the other side of the bare-bones, quantitative, supply and demand take on a teacher shortage is the more qualitative argument for prioritizing teacher recruitment and retention: our communities need stable pools of dedicated, professional, career educators. Our children, more than ever, need that home away from home and that caring “family” that their local school often stands in for. Researchers at the National Center For Children in Poverty (NCCP) have found that while the total number of children in the United States has remained about the same since 2008, the number likely living in poverty with families barely able to meet basic needs has increased.
“The fact is, despite the significant gains we’ve made in expanding nutrition and health insurance programs to reach the children most in need, millions of children are living in families still struggling to make ends meet in our low-growth, low-wage economy.” (NCCP Director, Renée Wilson-Simmons)
This research only confirms what teachers have seen happening in their classrooms with the passing years, and what average citizens have watched happening around them in their neighborhoods, in the job market, and in the nation. The wage gap between the wealthiest and the poorest continues to grow, college debt is a present day problem that only got attention in the current campaign because Senator Bernie Sanders forced the hand of the DNC and Hillary Clinton. The jobs market may be growing nominally, but family-sustaining opportunities just aren’t out there. Even Walmart, headed by a family notorious for using it’s incredible wealth to fund “reform” is reducing it’s workforce-eliminating cashiers and replacing them with self-checkout technology. So despite the “college and careers” rhetoric forming the foundation of school “reform”, it is clear that the wealthy and policymakers should really be engaging more in lobbying and funding policy for better jobs, wages, and equity in opportunities-less in undermining public education in order to better protect and serve their own corporatism.
As everyday citizens subjected for too long to the ramifications of what looks more and more like oligarchy, we should be a united front pushing for the reforms most needed. While educators are partly responsible for the preparation of future citizens, and the new Common Core Learning Standards have an emphasis on critical thinking, recent trends in policy have worked to isolate and measure educators, take us away from each other and sometimes ostracize us in the eyes of our communities (i.e. attempting to publicly label effectiveness, going to lengths to define educators as overpaid and under-worked, publicly detailing pensions and retirements with tactics clearly meant to incite class conflict…). This has only served to further destabilize under-served neighborhoods, weakening our resolve and forcing us to compare ourselves to each other. This sets us against each other under the supposition that competition in the free market is the best means towards advancing our condition; and as a preventative measure the trend is to mandate that public education be a preparation for that kind of life- dancing, performing and fighting in the arena for the pleasure of the few who can afford a seat in the stands.
Returning education to the educators; to the local schools and communities who most know what their children need instead of destabilizing communities, schools and teaching-basically turning moral and social obligations into no more than brief gigs in a “gig economy”, will help to bond us to each other with a common purpose for the common good. Education has been recently framed as a market of opportunities that can be measured and valued by bits of data and that dog-eat-dog approach to humanity has had a devastating effect on families and children. Allowing a continual overemphasis on test data and judgmental labels for schools and teachers erodes the purpose of what is supposed to be a humanizing endeavor, and only hastens our descent as a society and keeps (intentionally?) our eyes and minds off where we are really failing children. To see an example of how this society is failing at educating our people look no further than the presidential race we are now being victimized by. On one hand is an undesirable candidate who has been in the public eye for decades, unlikable, plagued by scandal, and having a tenuous relationship with the truth at best…
And then there’s Donald Trump.
Clearly we need great educators more than ever- not conforming, obedient, test-training task-masters. If there is a better argument for respecting, listening to, and empowering this glue that holds us together, has the potential to protect us and reverse further decline and decay-I don’t know what it might be.
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