I just got back from a Thanksgiving trip up to Connecticut to visit my friends and their families. It was supposed to be a super quick visit of just 24 hours or so, but with some serious arm twisting I was convinced to stay on for another day.
One thing that tends to happen when I gather with friends like these is that I end up thinking about stuff on a much deeper level than I would otherwise. And with someone like Lauren, I usually do even if I really don’t want to. Yesterday at brunch was one of those times. At some point over eggs, French toast, and some type of mayo-less wrap thingy, the three of them decided to try to solve the ills of the American education system.
Now, Heather’s a lot smarter than I am (well, they all are, actually), and she knows her way around the education system. And Mike just knows everything (he reads, try it). And, if I have anything to do with it, Lauren is going to save the world someday. So as the conversation progressed, I really was just trying to focus on the football game being shown over Lauren’s shoulder. But as I sat there desperately hoping the waitress would show up with a second cup of coffee, my comrades seemed to get stuck where you would imagine most people would. The fact that our education system is broken is the very definition of a no-brainer.
But how do we fix it?
The waitress was nowhere in sight. Dammit.
[I’ve expanded it greatly here, but this is basically what I said or at least wanted to say. And, by the way, “GROSS OVERSIMPLIFICATION OF A TREMENDOUSLY COMPLEX PROBLEM” alert on my part. I get that, really I do. But it’s my blog. If you don’t like it, start your own.]
Here’s how you fix it. You get 10,000 Mikes, Laurens, and Heathers to run for office across this country. And you need them to win. We don’t value the right things in America. We say we want strong family values, and yet we debate whether or not stores should make their employees work on Thanksgiving. Because family is important, but so is being able to go to Walmart at 5PM on Thanksgiving even though some poor schmuck making minimum wage has to be there to serve us. We say we value kids. But we don’t want to don’t even consider the possibility of any sort of firearm legislation that could maybe, just maybe, prevent the next school shooting because we don’t want to politicize tragedy. As if politics were the most important factor in the conversation.
We value money. We value stuff. We value a sense of freedom to choose that might still make us the envy of the world if it also didn’t simultaneously make us look like a laughing stock.
The things we did on my ‘extra day’ in Connecticut—waking up and making breakfast together, driving up into the mountains and cutting down a Christmas tree, stopping on the side of the road to take a picture of the sunset, picking up a friend’s ill father and taking him out for drinks and to share food together, sitting around a fire in the freezing cold and looking at the stars (and wishing the security lights weren’t activated by things like ‘wind’ or ‘thought’)–those are the types of things that have value. And sure, there’s freedom involved in that somewhere. And a tree was sacrificed. But that’s not my point. We don’t value things like a humane nature, or generous spirit, all of these different ‘childlike behaviors’ that exhibit value. We admire them, but we don’t value them.
Not on the scale necessary, anyway, and definitely not from a public policy standpoint. If we did, we wouldn’t even have to talk about things like this and I could have just watched my damn football game. If we did, the 5th-grader who isn’t up to reading level wouldn’t just be funneled into a remedial program designed to pretty much guarantee he’s dropping out by 10th grade, entered into the criminal justice system by the age of 15, and viewed as a community development data point for how many prison beds we’ll need by 2030, because we need to start planning on how we’re going to pay for a new prison with all those TAX DOLLARS.
If we valued all children on the scale necessary, we would do something about that 5th grader yesterday. And we wouldn’t argue over how much it costs. Children are valuable. Their education is an investment. And it’s one we all have to make. Because what we’re doing now is not working on the scale needed in order to achieve what we all say we want from a values standpoint: the opportunity to live our lives peacefully amongst each other and pursue that Happiness thing. The kids that we are failing are the ones who will typically end up in our prisons, in our food banks, and in our emergency rooms, draining our system and taking away our resources and just generally being a burden on the rest of us. And they’re just as likely to turn out to be a Republican as they are to be a Democrat. Blame them, blame yourselves, blame me. Whatever, I don’t care. But it needs to be fixed.
Am I saying that the entire system needs to be turned upside down, and we need to evaluate how we pay for our public education system, how teachers are trained and supported (and yes, ‘supported’ includes being evaluated and, sometimes, fired for cause), and how we should prioritize taking small local success stories and bringing them to scale with little or no regard for cost or who gets the credit for that success (charter, public, private, etc), or who has to pay for it (btw, that’s us)?
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a football game to watch.
Incidentally, it turns out when you say stuff like this and you’re running for office, even in a fairly ‘liberal’ district, you still lose. At least you did 7 years ago. But that also could mean that person wasn’t the right one for the job. Which is why you, Lauren, Mike, and Heather, have to run, and you have to win. All 10,000 of you.