Thursday, January 21, 2016

Who Cares?


I was at a meeting recently where everyone researched where Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton stood on different issues and where they agree and where they differed. Each of the people there picked a topic of interest—the economy, health care, climate change, gun control, Black Lives Matter, the military and so on. I picked education.

What I found was their respective positions on the exorbitant costs of higher education and the crime of a Federal Government that earns 110 billion dollars a year from high interest student loans. So when an issue hits our pocketbook, the people and the politicians pay attention. I get it. Everybody cares about money.

But not a single word about “lower education,” the place where habits of mind and heart are really built long before college education. Not a word about the fact that we’re still reeling from 16 years of mindless testing, about teachers feeling dispirited having to tether their passion to the next fad that comes down the pike, about arts still being cut or off in the margins. We have millions of kids who go to school everyday feeling like it’s an interminable prison sentence and speaking of that, we continue to spend more money on prisons than schools in many states. And of course, money is a key player and budgets often don’t meet the real needs of the kids.

But the real issue is the quality of the education. Growing future citizens who have the capacity to actually think, to feel, to dream, to care. And the irony is that from my point of view, education is THE crucial issue. Voters who can’t distinguish fact from fantasy, who go to rallies that feel like bullies fighting in the playground with the emotional maturity of spoiled 3-year olds, who can’t dream beyond their own narrow situation and whether their taxes will go up, who not only have a low capacity for caring about others, but don’t care to develop it—all these people are graduates of our failed educational system. How did we let them graduate? The 5th graders at my school studying the plight of refugees, discussing intelligently the complex issues, imagining solutions and feeling the pain of their plight under the guidance of an intelligent, caring, dedicated teacher (well, yes, she’s my daughter, but the other teachers also do this kind of work)—well, they seem to be far ahead of a sizable portion of our voting public.

So education, a real, vibrant, dynamic, imaginative, intelligent and effective education, the lack of which just about every other issue can be traced back to, doesn’t even make it onto the table. The issues that do are all about dollars and cents and ideologies, but where is there discussion about how to grow decent human beings who stand a chance of getting along with each other better and maybe even turning around, with shared intelligence and imagination, the havoc we’ve wreaked on our fragile planet and continue to wreak? I know it doesn’t make for sound-byte debate, doesn’t play well with posturing, seems too abstract to solve, but hey, these are real issues that we face everyday in schools and why the hell can’t a candidate at least mention that we need to think about how to do this better? Shouldn't they care? Shouldn't we?

And why won’t whoever wins appoint me (or my daughter) as Secretary of Education? Just sayin’.

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