Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Orphaned Education, Forgotten Children

These are depressing times. Let me tell you why I'm bummed, but first, let me tell you a story.

Almost a decade ago, I was the local union president during a contentious contract negotiation that became a strike. That was probably the lowest part of my teaching career. If you've taught for more than a year or two, you know, somewhere back in the back of your mind, that a lot of people are not really pulling for you, don't really respect the work you do, don't think you should get all uppity about wanting good wages, good working conditions, some sort of say in how the work is done. 

You know all that, but you put your head down, focus on the work, the students, the people out there who respect and value the work you're doing. There are plenty of them, sure enough. But those others. You know they're out there, in many cases in positions of power, but like I said--you keep your head down. But during the strike, I couldn't ignore them. They stopped me on the street, called me at home. I had to look right into that dark maw, and it was deeply disheartening. 

I feel like we're back there again. Seven months of this pandemess, and I think we've become numb, used to just how much education and children is NOT part of the ongoing concerns before us at the moment. On the one hand, it's not news--public education has been a political orphan for at least thirty or forty years. Go ahead--name a prominent political figure who's known for being a champion of public education. Name a Secretary of Education who did their utmost to stand up for public education. I'd punctuate this by saying "I'll wait," but I don't have that kind of waiting time. 

Education had its fifteen minutes in the Democratic primary, with candidates falling all over themselves announcing how many times over they'd multiply Title I, and some even showing a rudimentary grasp of the problems of privatizing public education, of handing it over to "market forces" to get the job done. Sanders had a good bit of platforming, and it even made it into the "unity committee" aka "will progressives please hush and play nice" document, but Candidate Biden's education "plan" is the same old weak sauce. So once again, the closest we get to an education candidate is "the one who isn't openly hostile to the very idea of public education." 

The coronavirus spread and the national conversation started including the question, "What about the kids?" And for a half a second you might have thought, "Great! This is the perfect opportunity to start talking about how we can remake public education in a better, stronger, more equitable form." But no. The next part was not "How will we insure their education" so much "How can we get them out of the way so that the economy can start reviving."

Jan Resseger gets to the point right here-

I do not remember a time when the wellbeing of children has been so totally forgotten by the leaders of the political party in power in the White House and the Congress. This fall, school district leaders have been left on their own as they try to serve and educate children while the COVID-19 pandemic continues raging across the states. School leaders are trying to hold it all together this fall at the same time their state budgets in some places have already been cut.

Teachers are being ground down by the new and stressful demands, but it's not like anyone is truly shocked or surprised that it has come to this. There are a million nuts and bolts that need to be put in place, and each one of them costs, and yet nobody in power is seriously trying to deal with any of it (unless you include Betsy DeVos calling public education names and trying yet again to get tax dollars to her beloved voucher schools).

Even when people try to address some of those nuts and bolts, it's, well, a bummer. A great Canadian article about the need for decent ventilation in schools ends like this:

There is overwhelming evidence that addressing ventilation in schools improves academic performance, decreases absenteeism and reduces asthma. When you total up all the economic benefits, it’s an economic no-brainer.

In other words, never mind the moral and ethical considerations of taking care of young human beings--let's look at the return on investment for providing schools with adequate air to breathe. I don't blame the author--you make the argument that you think will get the job done. But it's a bummer that this is the argument he figures will get the job done.

From our lousy parental leave laws to our tepid support of public education, the US has always talked a bigger game for caring for young humans than we actually walk. The pandemic has just underlined that and put it in caps. 

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