Destroying public education when we need it most

It's time for educators to take control of the reform conversation
By: | April 21, 2016

The recent racial upheaval in places like Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere illustrate just how far apart we have drifted as a people. Somehow, we must find a way to repair the damage that has been done and the trust that has been lost.

We must begin closing the gap between the white community and the communities of African-Americans and other minorities; between the rich and poor, the sick and the healthy, and the hopeful and the hopeless.

If we have learned anything from the last 60 years it is that we cannot legislate a change of heart. The only thing we can do is see that every American child—irrespective of race, religion, creed, color, sexual preference or relative affluence—has an opportunity for a quality education.

It is only through education that a young man or woman can emerge from childhood with sufficient skills and knowledge to make a place for themselves in the world and to exert control over their own lives.

The federal government, corporate reformers and state governments are engaged in a relentless attack against public schools, community control of education and public school teachers.

Now they are even attacking programs for our nation’s special needs children. It is, however, understandable that these reformers feel compelled to act because our professional educators have not stepped up to acknowledge the deficiencies in our education process, deficiencies that only they are qualified to address.

Reformers on wrong track

The would-be reformers of public education have not taken the time to understand that the problems with education in America exist despite the valiant efforts of our public school teachers. The reformers aggressively promote standardized testing, a process that distracts educators from what is important.

Reformers also drain resources from our most vulnerable community school corporations with vouchers to encourage parents to send their kids to a small number of unproven charter schools and to other parochial and private schools that cannot begin to meet the needs of every child in their community.

To offer what they believe to be a lifeline to parents who want the best for their children is a cruel strategy, indeed, if it can bear the weight of only a small percentage of the families of our communities.

These corporate reformers have not spent time in our public school classrooms so that they can witness, firsthand, the deplorable lack of motivation to learn on the part of children across the spectrum of our student populations. Nor have they made the effort to investigate the absence of parental support in so many of our public schools.

If they did they would discover that many of the parents of our most vulnerable children are themselves victims of an outdated education process and have no more trust in our systems of education, public or private, than they do in our systems of justice. These reformers would also discover that far too many of these men and women have lost hope and faith in the American dream.

A new reality

It is time for our professional educators who teach in or manage our public school corporations to step forth and acknowledge that our systems of public education are struggling and to accept responsibility for leading us to a new reality.

In this new reality, every child is given the opportunity and the time to learn under the tutelage of qualified teachers—in an environment in which they are evaluated against their own performance rather than against the performance of their classmates.

Creating such a reality is our only hope for a future in which our aggregate dreams can be realized.

Until his retirement, Mel Hawkins was a consultant specializing in leadership development, human resources, and strategic planning. He is the author of Re-Inventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-first Century America.