Finding Common Ground
All of us have experienced the education system in the United States in one form or another, and many of us have strong opinions on what the education system should exist for in the context of our communities. As of late, we, in the education system, have seen those opinions come out in the form of angry letters, protests, social media bullying, and gossip. We have stood by and watched as parents and community members berate the institution as a whole and teachers as professionals.
Even those who walk the hallways of our schools and teach the future generation have different opinions on why they do their job and what their job should entail. Some teachers feel their job is to teach only the academics–just teach kids how to read, write, and do arithmetic. Others feel it is their responsibility to help grow the whole child which, according to the ASCD, would include growing not just their mental capacity but their physical, emotional and social capacity as well.
The division regarding the why of education is nothing new. Education as an institution came into existence in the United States of America in the early to mid 19th century as a response to or in conjunction with a number of other major societal shifts–industrialization, urbanization, a growing appetite for institutional fixes of social problems, and a shift in the view of roles in family systems.
Some have argued that the institutionalization of education came about in response to a growing desire to create like-minded citizens who would promote the growth of the republican system of governance. This view of the origins of education is called the “republican machine”–where the purpose of education was to pump out citizens who were ready to vote and keep our experimental form of government moving forward (Kaestle and Cremin). Of course, at the time, this only applied to white males.
Others suggest that education came about in conjunction with the growing role of states in creating institutional fixes to societal problems–poverty, mental illness, crime, etc. History suggests that as cities grew, charity groups began to try to alleviate some of the growing problems our country was experiencing in the cities, and that as charity groups got involved, they began to push for state intervention because the problems were too big for one small group to fix (Katz). Education was seen as one of those big problems. According to this view, education was established to help create a more moral and just society, not merely a new generation of like-minded voters.
What does all of this history have to do with today? It shows us where we need to focus our attention.
We are not going to solve the issues in education if we only focus on what divides us. Instead, we must focus on what unites us. Whether education was formed to create new voters or to fix the moral ills of society, the truth that unites both of these perspectives is that education is important.
Can we all agree on this statement? Education is important.
If we can agree on this value statement, then we can begin to see some common areas where we can do the most good for education. For example, if education is important, then those who serve in our schools are important, and if those that serve in our schools are important, then treating them with dignity, respect, and a sense of common humanity is important.
Behavioral science has taught us that we do not change other humans’ behaviors or actions through abuse, and many of our school leaders and teachers are being abused by the public right now–mentally, emotionally, and verbally. Some might see this as an overstatement or maybe even a bit of whining, but when you care about education as much as anyone who entered the profession truly does, being told that you are harming students, that you are selfish, that you are pushing a political agenda (and these are the nice versions of the emails and phone calls many teachers have been on the receiving end of in the last year) feels like a form of abuse.
If we want to truly make a difference in education, we need to stop belittling and berating the individuals who have made their life’s work to help the next generation develop into readers, writers, and critical thinkers. We need to invest less energy in divisive language and more energy in getting curious with our educators, asking them questions like, “What do you really need to do your job well?”
Starting from the common value of the importance of education, we can collectively build strong, healthy schools where our students will thrive. However, if we continue the abuse, we will end up with an education system that lacks the adults to lead our children. Most of us will readily admit that we are not equipped to teach our own children–whether that be with talent, time, or energy. We need educators.
Let’s find the common ground and imagine a healthier way forward–with less division, less anger, less othering. Education is too important not to.