Hey Teach!!! – The Famine of Our Times (and Those Who Feast Upon It)
Illustration by Sam Cardelfe for Paradigm Magazine
Column Written by Jason Finn
Jason Finn, Ed.D., is a former U.S. Fulbright recipient, an author and English teacher of adolescent youth where he crafts lessons full of sublime stupidity with whimsical abandon since 1994.
Are we a poor country? Are we a country that requires the help of more developed countries for basic necessities? No, of course not.
Then, why do we starve our children? Why do we provide them with anything less than a stellar education? Why do we leave so many children hungry, their schools left to nibble on scraps – dull curriculum with scarce resources in antiquated buildings? Because education of our youth has become a profit machine and, while our children hunger, quite a few feast upon them.
A healthy democracy needs an educated citizenry that can think critically, solve complex problems, and engage positively in an ever-increasingly interconnected world. Our children are being schooled to fill in a bubble.
No longer is the question regarding how to educate our children about just effectively allocating resources, balancing a budget, and fielding a football team. This is a human rights issue! And in this moment in our history, our children are being shafted. On purpose, for a profit.
How could we leave educational decisions to corporations whose priority is to make a profit and to politicians who only care about being reelected? What has happened to the common good? What has happened is that we no longer live in a representative democracy, but a ‘consumer republic’ where everything is for sale, even our future, even our children.
How did this happen?
It happened when we switched from multiple, complex measures of assessment to ones that were easier to measure, but ultimately cost so much more: standardized testing.
Once, our public schools were controlled and funded mainly by local communities for the common good. Now, national, state and corporate interests have taken over and, in some cases, run by a corporation that sees students as clients and teachers and resources as expenses to be minimized to the lowest possible cost.
Once, your child’s teacher evaluated your child using various types of tests, even standardized ones, projects, observations and anecdotal write-ups to provide parents with an in-depth understanding of their child’s intellectual, emotional and social development. Now, corporate standardized tests with questionable validity and reliability that measure low-level intellectual aptitude are the only evaluations that matter for children and schools.
Once, a child could engage in an enriching, deep, and innovative curriculum that stimulated many aspects of a child’s mind. Now, the curriculum is designed by corporations far removed from a student’s presence and based on a stereotype of what a child is.
Once, the teacher fostered a child’s growth at a pace befitting that child’s individual needs and based on the realization that life is full of many questions with various possible solutions requiring deep analysis. Now, learning is impersonal in a predetermined approach with one question at a time that demands only one right answer.
Once, education was to provide a child with a strong foundation to succeed in any endeavor they choose, and the ability and confidence to make our society a better place. Now, school is to provide corporations with a profit and future consumers manipulated by advertising and the status quo.
Educating our children is no doubt a complex situation, but we cannot honestly say that the current education environment is what we want. For example, I live in Philadelphia where my son attends a public middle school. The School Reform Commission, a state entity not elected, nor answerable to the people served by the school district, governs The Philadelphia School District. Right now, the school district is 440 million dollars short in funding next year’s budget and that’s not mentioning the immense amount debt already accumulated. The City of Philadelphia and State of Pennsylvania have not provided the money, and the School District is then forced to beg to them. As long as I can remember, this happens every year. A school district cannot possibly plan for tomorrow if it is constantly trying to pay for yesterday.
Sometimes charter schools are formed and some of them are great alternatives to the local school. But in some cases, a charter school is formed and run by a national entity with the means to provide ample resources, hire dedicated, passionate staff and deliver a stimulating curriculum. But, here’s the reality: the school no longer truly answers to the local community, resources are provided at the lowest possible minimum, young teachers are hired at entry-level salaries with little mentorship and the curriculum is rigid and standardized. Sometimes what seems like a good idea is not on closer inspection. For instance, Teach for America is a great idea. Take young, energetic, passionate, smart people and put them in challenging, sometimes dangerous, schools in a poverty-ridden community to teach for two or three years. Is this for the best? A charter school can hire these people at a low cost because it is a non-union environment. But, what expertise do these new teachers have? What on-the-job mentorship do they receive? What happens after three years? What happens is the children are provided with a programmed curriculum with a constantly rotating staff at bargain prices.
So, who profits at the expense of our children?
- Since only a standardized test matters, the test makers.
- Corporations that make standardized test preparation materials.
- Some national, regional and local organizations that take over public schools at taxpayer expense.
- Politicians who are publically funded by campaign contributions from corporations and individuals who wish to change public education from the purpose of the common good to one of privatization and profit.
Education of our children has become big business and many profit, but the losers will have much more impact on us as a society if we do not change our course.
We must make public education once again an entity for the common good and fund it as the moral imperative it is. Not elect politicians who sell out our children. We must make public education a result of local involvement and decision-making. Not a boxed idea of a standardized curriculum brought to you by this test and that company. And, most of all, we must again tackle poverty and inequality, and understand that living in impoverished conditions hinders education – not blame children of poverty for failing at measures preconditioned for such failure.
We must nurture all children with a banquet of a feast that enriches every aspect of their life.