Rationalizing the Education Crisis, Part Two

*You ought to read “Rationalizing the Education Crisis, Part One” first.

Second, the basic ideas in the phrase (and the bill) “No Child Left Behind” are unrealistic and inconsistent with our ideas about public services, and our ideals about education should be re-examined. If we once again view the education system as a function of government, which it is, then we have to apply a rational standard to what it is capable of accomplishing. Similarly, we have to consider the roles of the employees who will carry out the governmental function for the public that will utilize them. For instance, if the need of the public is safety from personal harm or unjust loss of property, then we employ police officers as employees who will work against a problem (crime) in pursuit of a more desirable situation (safety). As another instance, if the need of the public is safety from fire, then we employ trained firefighters to go into the dangerous situation (an out-of-control fire) while the owner of the property and owners of nearby properties stand aside safely until a more desirable situation (an under-control fire) is achieved. So, it seems that our view of public works seems to be that citizens pay taxes to fund personnel and resources that will provide services by trained and knowledgeable people to eliminate undesirable situations and help to create more desirable situations.

The next aspect of our expectations of public service is important to acknowledge: cooperation. The ordinary citizen’s duty is to cooperate with those personnel, including taking proactive steps to initiate those services if they are needed, all while remaining a cooperative partner in the performance of those services. For the police to be able to control criminal activity, ordinary citizens must alert the police about crimes that may occur or crimes in progress, and those citizens with relevant information must follow through by providing true and accurate information during the investigation and during a trial. For the fire department to be able to fight fires, ordinary citizens must take precautions not to cause fires and must report fires that they do witness, followed by cooperation in the form of providing accurate information about the fire’s sources. It seems to me, using these examples, that we know as citizens what is expected of us in order for personnel providing government-run services to do their jobs effectively.

Now, we should apply that idea of cooperation to our education system. The need of the public is to educate children in a variety of subjects and in a way that is beyond the scope of one individual parent or parents. Teachers in public schools do this work through a compartmentalized and specialized system.  Despite the strengths of this system, one weakness is that all students cannot be adept in all subjects, even though all subjects are taught and required. Asking all teachers to ensure that all students succeed in all aspects of all subject areas is unrealistic. It would be like asking every police officer to catch and imprison every criminal for every crime that gets committed every day, or like asking every firefighter to save every flame-engulfed home or property on every call. We know that standard isn’t realistic. We hope for it, but we know it won’t happen. Will some criminals get away? Will some houses burn to the ground? Will some students fail? Yes to all three. For some reason, we are trying to hold public school teachers to that irrational standard. Furthermore, extreme tactics like mass teacher firings in low-performing schools would be akin to firing every police officer in cities where crime is rampant. No one will claim that it is the school’s sole right and duty to educate children, thus the schools should not bear the sole responsibility for the failing child.

The hypocrisy toward teachers, when viewed in connection with the public perception of other public service professions, is astounding. When police officers cannot seem to get crime under control in a city, their department is given more resources, more officers, more technology . . . yet when teachers cannot get tests scores to expected levels, the call is to make them work longer hours, to cut their benefits, or to fire them all! When teachers are not performing to expectations, the call is for more work, more restrictions, staffing cuts, or reducing benefits. When fire fighters don’t save a burning house, people say, “Isn’t that a shame,” but when teachers don’t save a student the response is “Those teachers ought to be ashamed!” When the people want crime to end, they join with the police and say, “Enough is enough! How can we help?” But the same kind of uproar does not come when people are fed up with their schools. The most shameful aspect of the situation is not the teachers’ performance, but the amazingly hypocritical double-standard that some people want to apply.

[Continued in next entry, “Rationalizing the Education Crisis, Part Three” ]

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