William E. White @ The Huffington Post
As school reconvenes all over the country, William E. White, of the Colonial WIlliamsburg Foundation, opens his opinion piece with a provocative title, indicting our culture of perpetuating an overwhelmingly negative myth about teachers and schools. It is a sharply insightful assessment of how our culture views education in what can only be called mixed terms.
White clearly has an alternate view, which he elegantly argues here.
We have an unhealthy attitude about education in this country. We treat education like a commodity bought and sold on the futures market, a manufactured product, or a clear process for simple implementation. In fact, education is a responsibility. It is an opportunity in which young people must invest themselves. It is a duty families owe to the development of their children. It is a community obligation to insure the republic has qualified citizens to perpetuate our system of self-government. Education is a responsibility that we, the citizens of this republic, should take up gladly with excitement, enthusiasm, and an eye to the future.
Sadly, education is only increasingly seen as a commodity. More than ever, in the media, we here our schools referred to as an education marketplace. Even when the message of the importance of education is trumpeted it is framed in terms of credentials, “You have to get a degree to get a good job.” It is a necessary evil of sorts, like the heaping spoonful of castor oil in cartoons of yore – part punishment part health concern. This is what I mean by a viewing education in mixed terms.
White’s notion that “education is a responsibility” is an admirable one, noble even. Unfortunately, far too many see it this way.
Also in the piece, White celebrates superstar teacher Rafe Esquith’s newest book Real Talk for Real Teachers as a window into the day-to-day life of a teacher. Having read most of it, I can affirm It is a good book for that. The passages White selects in particular speak to some of the challenges teachers face when confronting this unhealthy attitude on a variety of fronts. White also probes the recent “Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools,” from Phi Delta Kappan and Gallup, highlighting an illuminating disparity in perceptions.
Ultimately, he concludes with an urgent call to action. It too is admirable, even noble. Beyond getting involved, White makes his declaration, which might be most resonant of all.
Talk up the importance of education to our republic. Yes, there are problems, but for every concern and issue there’s a story about a student and teacher’s success. Most of all, let us remember that education is not a gift bestowed upon each new generation; Education is a responsibility undertaken by students, teachers, parents, and the community at large to ensure the continuation of a viable republic. Therein lies the future of us all.
Everyone in society has a stake in the education of our youth, and I love White’s framing it as a responsibility. That stake is not for adults to find ways to exploit education for individual gains but to help students seize opportunities for deeper, richer growth, experience, and learning. That way, everyone who has a stake also benefits.