Saturday, September 08, 2007

Getting Edjacated

Although my kids (and my wife, who is a teacher, and even me, who is again teaching this semester at Southeast Technical Institute) have been back in school for three weeks now, most school districts, it seems drag their feet until after Labor Day, meaning that we are now inundated with after-the-fact back-to-school stuff--"news," ads, helpful tips, etc.

What always strikes me about these items is their negative tenor. Here's a recent opening line from an e-mail newsletter I subscribe to: "By now, most kids have (begrudgingly) headed back to the classroom to begin a new year of learning. Most parents have begun their silent celebrations for reclaiming their homes."

You see that sort of attitude repeated all over: Kids hate school, going back to school is a chore; parents hate their kids, getting the kids out from underfoot is a blessing.

As they say--what sort of message does this send?

Truth is, my kids have always looked forward to the start of school. I remember a few summers ago, heading toward the swimming pool at a park in our neighborhood, when the kids got to the corner where we crossed on the way to their elementary school...and they turned to head toward school. We pointed out to them that we were in fact heading the other direction, toward the pool. And they both expressed a lament that school was out, and began calculating the days left before it started.

(My wife is sometimes less enthusiastic. I have occasionally said that we need to find a way to get the kids back in school a week or two before the teachers. Still working on that one.)

The negativity expressed by the various media toward schooling undermines, I think, the importance of education. It teaches kids--and parents--that kids should dislike school, that parents should dislike having their kids around, that school is a chore, a drudgery, a drag. It erodes respect for the institution, it signals that kids who like school (a majority, in my unscientific observation) are abnormal ("weird")--and since the last thing school-age kids want is to be "weird," they quickly adopt that I-hate-school attitude. And the whole thing spirals downward.

Much the same can be said of the resolutely unfunny "comic" strip Mallard Fillmore, with its constant denigration of public education. Sure, some public schools are in bad shape. But in slavish lock-step with the right-wingnut philosophy seeks to dismantle the education system that, in large measure, has made America great, the strip's "creator" (in quotation marks because I've yet to see any creativity evinced in the strip: the guy is simply a shill, a dittohead) tars all public education with the "bad" brush, spreading the message that, by definition, all public schools are inept, corrupt, and a waste of money.

That's the point, of course: Wealthy white right-wingnuts object to having to spend tax dollars to educate unwealthy nonwhite kids. (Well, they object to having to pay any taxes at all, but that's another issue.) So they seek to undermine the system, convince everybody--most important, those who benefit from the system!--that it's "bad" and must be "fixed," i.e., done away with. Witness ye No Child Left Behind: You set artificial test standards for schools to pass--which means some schools will not pass--and then you take money away from those schools if they fail to meet the artificial standard. penalize schools that are already hurting.

And then you come back and say, "See? We always told you that public education is a crock."

And then a bunch of kids say, "Yeah, what do we need this crappy school for, anyway?"

And then they drop out, and take a down-spiraling minimum-wage job, and live unexamined lives in which they never, ever think critically about--well, anything, but certainly not the private-school elitists who run things.

It is the modern equivalent of ancient Roman rulers' bread-and-circuses philosophy.

And look what happened to Rome.

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