When you become a teacher, you know you aren’t going to end up in Forbes, and that’s okay. The trade you make is the gratification that at the end of the day you’ve done an honest day’s work, you’ve helped others, and are a part of the promise of a free society; the continued implicit promise by the state which sponsors you, that we are still working toward the starry-eyed ideals which you signed on to: that we still believe in liberty and justice for all, that no matter what situation you were born into, our society agrees to level the playing field for awhile, to allow any child access to know what others know, and a chance that with that knowledge a person may elevate their own status and condition. Public Education is the place where we yet try to suspend marketplace forces, and truly, for a time, attempt a foundation of liberty and justice for all, the cradle of our civilization, the hope of free people.
When you unleash the hounds of marketplace forces, you unleash again the forces of inequity, and people are held responsible for the circumstance into which they were born. Social strata are reinforced in this, and a caste-system is created with no holding out of hope for the ideals which we started out with. Teachers who once took up that yoke because they believed in what they were doing, like soldiers who find out their cause is not just, lose the benefit of the strength of belief in their cause, become mercenaries instead, and may work to contract, or if it is just another job solely for the purpose of making money, without ideals, then teachers may choose a job that makes more money.
There is a teacher shortage in America.
Instead of working toward improving the education and training of teachers, paying teachers more money, or improving infrastructure, the country is opting for simple minded solutions such as Teach For America, and other band-aids, which actually reduce the training and qualifications of teachers, as well as reducing the numbers of those who want to become teachers. See these articles about Georgia, Utah,Wisconsin, New Mexico, California, and really, the whole country. I was at a meeting last night where it was reported that some districts in Illinois are traveling to Europe to recruit teachers. They are now paying third parties to guarantee some of their own graduates go into teaching for a minimum of five years, rather than simply raise the salary of teachers directly.
Last week, while working on our OpenSourceEd.org development camp, a teacher told me that the definition of public schools in New York is that you now apply for a public school, the “good schools” get first dibs, and students who don’t make the cut, go to the schools which get “the leftovers”. We are no longer working toward our ideals, the great melting pot, the opportunity to rise. In these incarnations we are reinforcing socioeconomic disparity.
Sound the alarm. Lines have been crossed, public schools are shutting down. When charter schools, and private schools, coexist with properly funded, professionally staffed neighborhood schools, then all is well, but service is now denied to children because money and advocacy have been siphoned into exclusionary settings. With this we make a lesser promise to future generations. Remember your pledge, remember the ideals of liberty and justice for all. With all of the problems and drudgery that Public Education has, it still is hope to fulfill that pledge. Public Education is still worth fighting for.