School Games

De Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs.

De Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


We are just a couple of weeks away from that time of year when taxpayers around the country decide who is going to sit on their school boards. In most city school districts this turns into a blame game. Incumbents blame parents for not pushing their kids hard enough, teachers’ unions for keeping “lazy” teachers, the superintendent for not keeping a watchful enough eye, the state for not providing enough funds to help, and even the students for the schools’ failings. Those seeking a spot on the board will throw in blame for the incumbents on top of that pile. It is the rare soul that suggests we just need to take a calm step back and ask ourselves: what has been working, what hasn’t been working, and what larger, societal, problems might be adding to these challenges.

It is not just city schools that are failing, by the way. Sure suburban districts do a fine job of getting their kids to pass all the right standardized tests, tests that do serve some purpose if they are done right. More of their students go to college and much more go to the elite colleges. That said the fact that only a quarter of all adults can pass a basic test in science cannot be laid strictly at the feet of city schools. We as a country lag far behind most of the developed world and even some countries that are yet to join the developed world in some important categories.

We need to do better by our kids. We are not preparing them for adulthood in general, and definitely not for the competitive world so many Americans seem to idealize. They will not be able to fix our infrastructure, work our (dwindling) manufacturing lines, or acquire the sort of job that will keep the wheels of our economy going. If we are to remain a capitalist culture (and I am not convinced we should, but many of my readers see even questioning that as silly) then we need people who can move our economy by doing the above. We need people in good jobs, earning good money, so they can buy and keep the machine of consumption going.

Personally I would like to see us break out of that mold, but no matter what sort of society we have, we need a population that gets the basics of reading, writing and math. If we are going to have active engaged members of a democracy (you know that form of government we all claim to love so much) we need the people of this country to have enough knowledge of science to be able to call shenanigans when our elected officials parrot big corporations when they claim their practices are safe. We need them to have a proper understanding of civics so when they can fully participate in the responsibility of a citizen in a democracy: active engagement in our political process.

There are those that do not want to see that happen of course, and they play so many games with the public. They bark the loudest to get people to play the shell game of blame mentioned above. They benefit from an ignorant populace. They convince people without children, or whose children are grown, that somehow, despite the fact that they need their neighbors to be educated, they no longer have skin in the game and should not have to worry about higher taxes. They appeal to the worst instincts in our hearts and minds. They appeal to selfishness, to arrogance, and to xenophobia (as they convince you to blame people from “those” neighborhoods, all the while never letting you take the time to reflect on the real reasons those neighborhoods may be so poorly off.)

We have to stop treating this like a game. We have to start taking it seriously. At the risk of sounding like an over the top, doomsday prophet, I do not think our society can bear much more than a generation or two of the assault on our education system. If you think things are bad now with the economy and your taxes, wait until twice the percentage of people cannot perform the basic tasks employers require of them. There is no shame in working in fast food, but that kind of employment does not make for the backbone of any style of economy. We need to head that trend off at the pass, before it becomes far too late for us all.




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