“We are in a race between education and catastrophe.” – H.G. Wells
This quote from almost a century ago has often been on my mind throughout my decades of teaching. I’ve done what I could to give my students all the things my teachers (with some exceptions) didn’t give to me, to try to overcome the catastrophe that silence caused.
First on the list was a joyful music education that releases and cultivates the musical promise that every human being has. Which turned out to also mean how to create a loving and supportive community that understands children’s way of learning through play, celebrates their dignity and delight at each stage of their development, reveals their unique genius to both themselves and the group.
I also used the opportunity to tell my students the truth about how things have worked in this country so they understand why everyone knows Elvis and few know Big Mama Thornton, can make sense of the unbelievable fact that Ella Fitzgerald was removed from her first-class airplane seats en-route to Australia to show the world the beauty of American jazz. To give them both the facts and the habits of thought to connect the dots between Miles getting beat up by police outside the club he was performing in and George Floyd. To give them the opportunity to express their own thoughts and views on what they’ve seen, heard, read, played, experienced and begin to practice a lifetime of both personal reflection and active citizenship. Throughout it all, it felt clear that such practices indeed can serve to steer us away from catastrophe. Education of the next generation was the key to progress, the kind of progress that brings more beauty, truth and justice to the world.
And now, education is the catastrophe. With all the Republican governors scrambling to shut down “critical race theory,” we might as well be burning books and censoring all material that doesn’t support their big lies. The education I’m talking about is the same one Martin Luther King meant when he said, “Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.”
And yet here we are. Anti-vaxers who die of Covid and their husband goes the next day unmasked to an anti-vax rally. People elected to some of the highest offices in the land blaming Jewish space lasers for what’s happening. People huddled in their Texas homes without heat or power talking about the hoax of climate change. An entire political party supporting a Big Lie that hasn’t a shred of evidence to back it up, crying about stolen elections while putting forth hundreds of new bills designed to suppress voting rights so they can steal the next election.
In the face of overwhelming evidence of the catastrophe upon us and that to come, I have long been a keeper of hope, especially with all those decades of first-hand experience of how a true education makes an impact and changes things both personally and collectively. But the deepest blow to hope is the death of an education that can distinguish fact from fancy, value evidence over insane, blind belief, cultivate critical thought over following the rantings of demagogues. And now the moves to make a real education illegal.
Catastrophe seems to be winning, but fellow teachers, parents and kids, don’t give up! Double down on your efforts to get these bastards out of office, insist on an education worthy of and necessary to our future, keep reading yourself and get your kids reading before the important books are banned or burned. Amongst other things, in the race between education and catastrophe, critical race theory is critical to the race.