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This weekend I watched the news, listened to talk to radio, and became repeatedly incensed. What started to put the proverbial icing on the cake, however, was the Melissa Harris-Perry May 26th show on education.
On this edition of the show, Ms. Harris-Perry and other pundits discussed the problems of education and the history of the fight. They discussed everything from the fight against unions, teacher pay, segregation in schools, charter versus traditional public schools, and No Child Left Behind. Everything was great, right up until the end of the discussion, where there was a call to stop polarizing the issues around education by basically speaking one’s truth. That is where I became physically disgusted and realized that the ones that seem to have the microphones still don’t really get it all the time, and I should never expect that they will.
One of the problems in discussing education is the manner in which professionals, whether teachers themselves or corporate interests that have privatized schools, have perfected the art of finessing the conversations in such a way as to avoid speaking about the underlying and historical problems in education. Let’s start with the fact that when we discuss the “problems” in education, the context is solely what is wrong with public schools. We are able to have an entire discussion about education and ignore private and parochial schools, and many times not even bring up home-schooling and the reasons many choose that option. Second, let us stop pretending that public school was ever started to educate any and all who wanted to learn. In fact, there were many families in the Northeast of the United States who did not want to pay taxes to help educate the poor. Additionally, in order for former slaves to be educated during The Reconstruction Period and years of legislated non-education, Blacks had to rely on the pity of conscious and wealthy Whites, foreigners, or the Freedmen’s Bureau. Women had it no easier. Native Americans were educated publicly, only in so much as they could be acculturated into a society that would concomitantly co-opt and destroy their heritage. These are polarizing events in the past, but they are true and they still inform the inequities in education, whether it be traditional public, public charter, magnet, private, parochial, or solely in the home.
Another thing about the discussion of education that incenses me is how we as a people forget that we are daily being educated in ways that may be extremely harmful, and are the REAL causes of the so-called polarization. What do I mean? Glad you asked . This morning, on Soledad O’Brien’s Starting Point, the discussion of Romney’s alliance with Trump arose. The discussion went to the normal place of Trump being crazy and ought not be listened to. However, one of the panelists chimed in concerning why Romney is such an interesting figure. She stated that many White Americans were so concerned about the changes in the demographics and how those changes would affect the values of America. I nearly crashed into the car in front of me because I immediately had a mental discussion about what the underlying assumptions of such a claim were. Now, I don’t know if she was correct, but I pray that she wasn’t. I mean, she basically said that many White Americans believe that the values of Whites and the values of Browns may be not only vastly different, but diametrically opposed! So, my skin color may cause me not to want my children to be properly educated. My ethnicity requires that I ignore laws and other means by which the public is protected. The hue of my skin causes me to desire to breakdown the family unit into parts that are convenient to myself only, but not to others within the unit, or the community at large. What does this discussion have to do with education, though?
Teachers are fleeing the profession in droves. It isn’t only the poor teachers who should’ve thought twice before pretending to teach, but it’s the wonderful ones who fight daily to ensure that all of their children have a chance at equity, not only in education, but for the sake of the future. It’s the good ones that are leaving. The ones that teach children that ALL people are created equal, no matter what some ignorant fogies may say about it. Those soldiers are leaving schools because they are exhausted, disrespected, observed and “corrected” by people who have no clue what teaching is really about, AND they are underpaid. So, we can’t stop the polarizing discussions, because we have yet to really talk about it. Education in America is messed up by what we are teaching, and what we teach informs who gets the microphone when we talk about education.