Saturday, January 7, 2012

Schools: America's Face in the Mirror

The thing about mirrors is they reflect reality with remorseless accuracy. Do we exercise and watch what we eat? There it is in the mirror, flat belly, taut muscles, and all. But if we sit on our duff and gobble Twinkies, the less flattering consequences are also reflected with implacable exactitude. 

America's public schools provide a similarly accurate mirror image of our nation. Like it or not, what's wrong with them is, for the most part, wrong with us. And what is right about America is generally right about our schools, too.

Public schools didn't used to provide this accurate an image if our nation. In the  'good old days,' most of the kids from the 'wrong side of the tracks' dropped out of school long before graduation. Consequently, public schools provided a more flattering reflection of America. Today children from this "other America" tend to stay in school. As a consequence, public schools now accurately more reflect America's failings as well as its successes.

Look at today's public schools and we immediately see the consequences of the growing social inequality that is one of America's least handsome aspects. The U.S. has the most uneven distribution of wealth of any major industrialized nation. And the richest Americans dominate our economy and our government. These are the Americans that write the rules that usually end up favoring the privileged and powerful.And this is why Congress stands idle while real earnings decrease, average family income erodes, and deregulation demolishes housing values, industries and lives. This is why millions of American's jobs are being sacrificed to "right-sizing," job exports and mergers — all without government challenge.

As the rich get richer, the rest of America gets left behind and an unacceptably large number of America's children end up poor in shattered neighborhoods. And the social consequences of this whole sad mess ends up in those chronically underfunded classrooms that serve America's poor where their teachers bravely try to keep destructive social conditions, inadequate resources and public criticism by dishonest politicians and their apologists from destroying even more kids.

Ironically, those who benefit most from economic and social inequities, preposterously overpaid corporate CEO's for example, scapegoat public schooling to dodge responsibility for the social consequences of their own excesses and heartlessness. Meanwhile many of the nation's governors bash teachers, issue bromides about the need for educators to raise their expectations, caution against "throwing money" at school problems, and emphasize the "need" to "break the public school monopoly."

To be sure, our public schools reflect all of America's sins, not just those of the corporate power elite and their government lackies. Consider parents, for example. Far too many of them are stupid, selfish, cruel or foolish; and too many believe that material possessions equal the good life. And like the finest plate glass mirror, our public schools reflect the melancholy consequences of all of this.  

For more on this see 

No comments: