This is part three of my ongoing series. In this series of articles we are exploring the effects of what I have termed “Cultural Inertia” in our society, with the hope of helping us to recognize and overcome some of the issues that are not only holding us back but in many ways leading us in the wrong directions.
For the purposes of this series, I am using the term Cultural Inertia (#Culturalinertia) to refer to issues that we have accepted in our every day lives as norms. Norms which have become so deeply ingrained in our society that they influence our discussions of progress without our even being aware of them. One excellent example was raised recently by Jackson Katz as he showed an audience of about 400 people—students, community members, faculty, and staff—how common language used to discuss the issues is perpetuating gender violence today.
In part 1 we explored many of the high level aspects that bleed through all aspects of our society, including topics like gender norms, bigotry and racism, marriage equality, and many others. In part 2 we focused on a specific aspect of the history of the denial of racial equality.
Here, in part 3, we explore the cultural inertia embedded within the claims that educational quality in the United States is steadily and rapidly declining.
There are many aspects to this that we could talk about which include:
- The school to prison pipelines.
- The initiatives to defund public education in favor of private school charters in order to educate a selective audience with a restrictive curricula agenda.
- Established racial and class bias in standardized testing, “gifted and talented” advanced placement selection,
- Established racial and class bias in selective criteria for allocation of funds and support resources to specific school districts.
- Poor pay and support for educators in specific districts leading to less qualified instructors in far too many positions.
Honestly though, many outstanding articles and essays have been written on each of those subjects, and quite a few excellent and thorough studies have been conducted and published on each of them. There is little point in rehashing them here again.
Instead, we’ll turn our attention to two much more pervasive, less discussed, and deeply intertwined societal norms that contributes to all of it without us even recognizing that we’re feeding the problems with our own accepted bias,
Abdication of Parental Responsibility
We are told that children have become so disrupted and unruly in classrooms that teachers can no longer control the educational environment. This has become so problematic that school districts have their own police departments with “resource officers” on campus, or at least at those schools considered most “at risk.”
But a good number of those troubled and disruptive students often turn out to be intelligent students who finish their work faster than their classmates and are expected to sit, bored and quiet, while waiting for others to catch up to them. They become fidgety and distracted and mislabeled as the problem themselves. The better educators recognize these kids and find ways to challenge them or keep them engaged in additional tasks to prevent disruption.
If we take those students out of the equation we are left with a much smaller number of real classroom troublemakers; those that are intentionally disruptive and sometimes violent beyond any reasonable expectation of a teacher’s ability to deal with them.
Over the course of the last several decades, especially since society began requiring two parents to work at least one full-time job each — and in the case of single parents, more — in order to receive living wages for their family, more and more parents are expecting schools to raise their kids instead of just educate them.
Many don’t even realize that they have taken this step, but when parents are more and more absent from the daily lives of their children, even if by societally enforced necessity, they are forced to have a smaller role in role modeling acceptable behavior and interaction with them.
This has placed the burden on school educators to not only handle the complex and difficult tasks of conveying knowledge and teaching critical thinking skills, but also constantly interrupting those processes to show kids how to be better humans and how to cope with social interaction conflict.
It is beyond unreasonable to expect the teachers we have to expect those educators — especially with what we pay them — to have the training and qualifications to tailor those lessons to each child’s individual learning style and life experiences every day for every student which whom they interact. This is completely exacerbated by funding cuts increase the amount of students in each classroom for teachers to reach, connect with, and educate each day.
Add to this, the fact that turning educators into disciplinarians completely undermines their ability to connect with students and earn their trust. It immediately makes them less approachable. It also deters students from being completely open with their line of questioning for fear of reproach.
The complete combination requires educators to serve as parental surrogates instead of teachers for far too much of their time, and the absorption of that role serves to undermine their entire professional purpose.
So what leads to some of these students become unruly in the first place?
Why do they have so little respect for the educators intrusted with their future?
Deconstruction of the Educational Profession
The role of an educator is the single most important profession any society has. We entrust these people to shape the minds, and sharpen the thinking skills, of the entire future of our communities, nations, and world. They are the ones that convey the necessary building blocks, and inspire the minds, of those that will become our future doctors, community leaders, scientists, and innovators, as well as of all those who will take on the vital day to day tasks that allow those people to focus completely on their jobs. The fireman, police officers, paramedics, plumbers, carpenters, nannies, day care workers, and workers in every possible service industry — all people whose professions are no less important than those others considered “more prestigious” — to the success of the society as a whole.
At some point in our lives we’ve all heard some form of the phrase “Those who can, do; those who cannot, teach.”
The underlying meaning of that simple phrase has pervaded every aspect of all the things discussed above.
In the not too distant past, a good grade school education, from kindergarten through High School graduation, was considered the key to a better future. so much so that daycares became pre-schools to prep kids for the experience instead of just places for kids to play with their peers.
But over the past few decades specifically, special interest groups have been working hard — primarily through funding of the modern iteration of the Republican party — not only to defund the educational system but to discredit and dehumanize those that choose to work within the profession.
As these special interests work at both the national and state levels to remove as much funding as possible from education they they also worked tirelessly to raise the price of obtaining a higher education out of the reach of many creating an economic disparity that provides a barrier to lower income communities, especially communities of People of Color.
This results in the elusive hope of higher education only being available to the children in those communties through two possible means, enlisting in the military in exchange for an education, or winning the gladiator lottery we call a sports scholorship.
In the most recent years , the Tea Party Republicans, especially, have been slowly stripping away at veteran benefits, including educational fund programs. This takes away even that hope of improving their lives for many of those people.
As hope diminishes, the incentive to comply does as well.
But, it still isn’t even that simple.
As the narrative pervades the news that the “American educational system is failing” even though that failure is being manufactured, the kids hear and read about it. It is reinforced as their parents discuss the narrative they’re presented with by the news. A narrative that says that more and more grossly unqualified people are looking for paychecks as teachers because they cannot do anything else. This narrative is allowed to survive by politicians, such as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, who strip away the necessary qualifications to be teachers because they view education as unnecessary.
Now, even the Republican President and his appointed administration including appointees to the Department of Education are furthering that narrative, pulling even more funding from public schools and granting it to religious charter schools, denying science and in the case of the president, communicating in a way that would make any educated person cringe. All, while they strip away all the civil rights gains on the path to equality of opprotunity for the students we entrust to them.
Why would anyone expect children to have any respect for the authority of their educators, or the quality of the information those educators convey, in a society that is constatly working so aggressively to deconstruct the integrity of the educational system and profession?
What incentive is there for them to comply other than fear of punishment, which has never been a great human motivator to instill respect and compliance?
How Do We Fix It?
The only way to fix this is to address the core problem, aggressively.
We must elevate the profession of educators at all levels to its proper place at the highest level of of presitige in our nation.
We must pay teachers well enough to attract the best minds for every subject to the profession with the intent of passing on their collective knowledge to new generations.
We need to make teachers into heroes for our children and the schools they work within the places of hope for the children of all our communities to inspire them to want to learn everything they possibliy can from those teachers.
Doing these things, will address not only these issues, but the list of items presented at the beginning of this essay.
The quality of life of our descendents, the future of our communities, the future of our nation, and the future of our world hang in the balance.
It is time to break free of this Culural Inertia and set a new path forward.
If not now? When?
If not us? Who?