The Wrong Enemies
Fellow public school educator-types, we have a problem.
OK, we have a plethora of problems currently, both locally and nationally, but in this case I’m talking about something we can actually control. I’ll confess up front that I’ve been one of the worst offenders. And I’m sorry.
We’ve been choosing the wrong enemies.
We’ve been falling into the same sorts of traps so easy to recognize when others do it, and categorizing our entire edu-world into an “US” column and a “THEM” column.
US is, of course… US. The “good guys.” The public school educators, or at least the ones who seem to agree with us about most things. Mostly teachers, and maybe a few administrators we like. Those supportive parents who advocate for us on Twitter. And those eleven legislators out of 150ish that we kinda trust.
Everyone else is suspect. Everyone else is “THEM.” And while most of us gladly make exceptions on a case-by-case basis, we too often throw them all together into one giant, hostile stew, and start passing out social media spoons.
If we had real power, we might get away with that approach. It would still be wrong, of course, but it could still work because that’s how power is – you say and do whatever you want and the masses simply have to adapt.
And boy, do they adapt.
But we don’t have that sort of power, and we won’t anytime soon. This is going to be a brutal legislative year both nationally and here at home, and we’ll have little voice, if any. We lost on a grand scale, and the best we can hope is that the winners will throw some lip service our way.
Oklahoma voters threw us and our kids under the overcrowded school bus last month, but most of them still want to feel like they care about public education. They want to be short-sighted and ignorant, but they don’t want to feel short-sighted and ignorant.
Our elected officials recognize this. It still doesn’t give us much to work with, because the folks who won everything know they won everything. The vouchers and consolidation and re-segregation and teacher-shaming that’ve been barely restrained over the past decade of one-party rule will now be fully unleashed – but with a thin veneer of caring deeply about kids and education.
We may even be asked to choose the form of our destructor. “Zuul days, Zuul days, self-righteously cold and cruel days…”
In the midst of this, my Eleven Faithful Followers, I respectfully suggest that if public education is to go down swinging, let’s at least swing the right direction. Let’s stop targeting the wrong entities and ideologies.
It’s counterproductive, and it tarnishes those martyr complexes of which we’re so proud.
I thus offer my top five “wrong enemies” for your consideration. If you are, in fact, a member of any of these groups, please take this as my apology for anything I’ve said to malign you in the past.
Unless you deserved it.
1. Private Schools / Parents / Educators
Public educators often feel backed into the corner by the recurring accusation we’ve somehow seized enough power and influence to force unwilling parents and children into our government-loving, reality-free, brainwashing machine. How can we continue to shamelessly strip parents of their most basic desire to protect their young, casting aside their desperate pleas as we leap away like hell-spiders, clutching their children in two arms and their tax dollars in another four?
Usually we try to explain how civilization works, and about the social contract, and how parents in Oklahoma already have choices, and about public money being public, and how equity serves the whole, and…
At that point, the frustrations of trying to reason in a post-reality world often reduce us to lashing out at anything in the vicinity.
There are numerous valid private school options across Oklahoma. Some are academically amazing, others meet needs beyond the four cores in their own unique ways. Many private school teachers make less than those of us in public ed, making what they do even more of a labor of love. And there are all sorts of reasons parents choose to send their kids to those schools. That’s a choice they have, and should have, and which we’re all better off for them having.
They’re not the problem. They’re really not. If you’re afraid some other school or teacher is doing something better than you, then (a) thank them for what they do for kids, and (b) get better.
I remain hostile and critical, however, of legislative efforts to further undermine public education in order to subsidize unbalanced systems or sectarian choices. A quality education for all is a valid government goal; taxpayer support of white flight and pedagogical cherry-picking is not.
2. Charters / Magnets / Other Public School Formats
There are so many varieties of what these terms can mean that it’s not practical to even attempt to cover them here. So, I’ll generalize:
If you’re a parent trying to do what’s best for your kid, I support you.
If you’re an educator trying to do what’s best for your students, I adore you. That applies whether you’re traditional or alternative, full-time or part, TFA or career. If you strive for similar goals, we’re on the same side.
If you’re a businessman trying to figure out how to siphon money from the system, using loopholes and lofty rhetoric to rationalize your fiscal priorities, then go to hell. Like, literally – I’m pretty sure you’re going to hell for that sort of thing.
Jesus – the old-school, classic version, at least – loved kids (red and yellow, black and white, etc.) He hates the crap you’re pulling, and He knows the Bearded Old One.
Any public school teacher can tell you there are two types of kids who show up in your class from a homeschool background. About 2/3 of them are amazingly well-rounded, inquisitive, with solid character and usually in good shape. They may be stronger in some areas than others – but aren’t we all?
The other 1/3 have clearly been either playing video games or binge-watching Netflix for several years and know virtually nothing on which we can even begin to build. Their mothers are inevitably excited to tell you how much their child enjoyed some History Channel special about the pyramids and so she just KNOWS he’ll love your class.
Your American Government class. With all the thinking, and writing, and questioning. And no pyramids.
Homeschooling is neither good nor bad in and of itself. Like any other type of education, it’s all about who’s doing it and how they choose to make it happen.
Well, not all of them, at least. Not even all Republicans.
And yes, that hurts a bit to say.
There are a handful of office-holders at the state level who aren’t set on destroying all that is holy and good about America’s potential or our Judeo-Christian-ish ideals. Some of them even want to use their positions to serve the state and its people.
They’ll lose, of course – they’re far too outnumbered. But that doesn’t mean we have to sweep them up in our diatribes as we plunge into our own pits of despair.
5. Other Public Employees and Professionals
This periodic conflict is largely manufactured by those creating many of the state’s difficulties to begin with. Rather than address the reality that increasingly generous tax cuts in the service of their fiscal overlords and radical ideologies have not, in fact, resulted in a waterfall of prosperity, those in power deflect every request for educational resources as some sort of attack on DHS, or Law Enforcement, or Health Care.
“What makes you deserve it more than them, hmmm?!”
“Hey, did you guys hear what the teachers said about you?”
“WHY DO YOU HATE FIREMEN AND PARK RANGERS?!?”
And really, that’s not so different from the problem in all of these cases - misdirection, or at least a general misunderstanding of the real issues. It’s rarely other people in comparable situations, doing their best with the resources at their disposal to accomplish whatever it is they’re called and hired to do. They don't have the time or energy to be the real problem.
Sometimes there are fundamental issues about which we disagree. We rarely get to them, however, because of the obfuscation and misinformation slung about to distract us (and, more significantly, the general public) from the very tangible truths and preventable problems we currently collectively face.
From power corrupting. From money dictating. From inner ugliness clinging desperately to patriotic or spiritual gilding.
I’m not interested in a general “kumbaya” or “why can’t we all just get along?” I’m just tired of somehow picking fights with folks who aren't part of the principalities and powers pulling the strings. I’m resolving to do a better job of maintaining focus on the real issues in play and the underlying values in dispute.
I respectfully suggest that many of us could do a better job of insisting on clarity, and honesty, and saving the right outrage for the right time.
I’m certain I won’t do a very good job of this at first, having practiced so many bad habits for so very long, but I also can’t think of a better time or place to start. Feel free to let me know when you think I’ve strayed.