Monday, March 20, 2017

Education: The One Step To Improvement

If there's one thing everyone agrees with, it's that education in the United States is not what it once was. That, however, is probably not true. The truth is that education in the United States is precisely what it once was, mostly stuck in a 50s era mindset of how education ought to work.

Sure, things have been tried, but the basic model hasn't changed.

And, certainly, Betsy DeVos doesn't want to change that model. In fact, she wants to reinforce it by funneling the "right" kids into the Right kinds of schools so that we can get back to schools full of wealthy white kids to bring back excellence. With her model, that's what will work, too, because it will be select schools which are well funded by affluent white people, and everyone else... Well, everyone else can go to hell because, if you're not white and not rich, you don't deserve an education anyway.

So, while DeVos pushes vouchers and school "choice" (which, by the way, is just a code for affluent whites to get to put all of their kids in schools together in places where minorities can't afford to get their kids to (just in case you didn't get that from the previous paragraph)) and everyone else pays administrators huge salaries and experiments with programs, the education system is still missing the mark on how to fix itself. And so is everyone else. Except, maybe, teachers.

After all, there is only one real problem with education: teacher pay. That and the fact that we don't pay them. Well, pay for them to be teachers.

See, teacher pay is also, really, stuck in the 50s, so what we have now are babysitters. That's what we pay for, so that, on the whole, is what we get. A big, national system, state by state, of babysitters.

Before anyone starts taking umbrage, I don't mean any disrespect toward teachers. This is not a statement about "bad teachers." I've known some really great ones. But, having been involved in teaching, I also know the general state of teachers, which, actually, is most often tired. It is, beyond doubt, the most over worked, under paid "profession" out there. And, yes, the quotation marks are to indicate the lack of being paid to do the job they are hypothetically being paid to do.

I'm not going to try and break all of this down and make it into a numbers game to show just how little teachers are being paid per hour (and don't start yelling "summer" at me, either, because that doesn't balance anything, especially when many teachers have to pick up some kind of summer job to make it through the summer). What I'm going to say is this:
If teachers were paid more, there would be more teachers in the teaching profession. By that I mean that many people, especially men, who would be good teachers (and might have been a teacher at some point) don't teach (or quit teaching) because they can make more money somewhere else for far less headache and less time on the job. More money, fewer hours: Who wouldn't take that, right? Only those extremely highly dedicated to teaching.

I actually hate having to bring up men specifically, because that's part of the problem. Men are more likely to leave teaching because men are paid more than women just in general and men are more likely to find higher level jobs that pay more in and of themselves. All of that while teaching is seen as a woman's job so is inherently less likely to receive wage hikes. All of this is wrong and plays into why teaching suffers.

If teachers were paid competitive salaries, you'd find people, both men and women, competing for teaching positions, which would weed out those people who go into teaching because "anyone can teach." Come on, I know you believe that. That's what everyone thinks. "Well, if I can't get a job doing [X], I can always teach." And that is not what we want from our teachers, people who opted into it because they weren't qualified or smart enough or ambitious enough for anything else. We want people who want to be there even if that desire is spurred by a good salary. People who know they have to do good work because there is someone else waiting at least as qualified as they are will do better work, will be more invested in the job, than someone who knows they're not going to lose their job because there's no one else waiting to take it.

And, seriously, if you have good, motivated teachers, you don't need to focus on programs because one good teacher in a room with nothing more than a chalkboard will motivate even poor students to do well; while, one bad teacher, no matter what kind of programs you have in place, will kill the desire to learn in all but the best students (because they're already doing it on their own, anyway).

Look, I'm not saying anything new here. We've been, as a society, talking about teacher pay for... decades? Since I was in high school, at least. However, instead of just paying teachers more, we've been funneling money into programs and to administrators and, as a result, other countries, countries in which teachers are held in higher esteem, have continued to outpace the US in education. And that gap keeps getting bigger. So, if we're going to be serious about educating the next generation, and if we really want to "make America great" again, it starts with education, and that starts with paying teachers to be more than babysitters.

And all of that means we, as a society, have to start looking at education and being educated as something worthwhile again. We have to start looking at science as something more than just an opinion. It's time to quit with the whole Right wing/Conservative/Republican view of education and science as the enemy. We live in an information age where facts, real facts, are right at our fingertips. It's amazing, actually, and it's time to start making the most of it by grasping what is real and true and dumping disinformation and lies, and all of that starts with education.


  1. I also think we have to stop focusing on standardized testing. I know good teachers who have quit because they're sick of teaching to the test. Not that the devaluing of teachers and education isn't a huge problem that's only going to get worse with this "Education Secretary" (in quotes because she isn't qualified to hold the title).

    1. Jeanne: Standardized testing, the way it's done now, is just one of the programs. There's nothing inherently wrong with it. Pay teachers more, good teachers stay with teaching rather than leaving for better paying jobs, standardized testing becomes just a thing that happens from time to time, not a classroom focus.

  2. I don't think schools of the past could have been that great because I've known too many older adults who were pretty much illiterate and and didn't know basic grammar. If they had learning disabilities, then they were SOL. A woman in her sixties told me (about thirty years ago) that she went all the way through school without learning to multiply. At my daughter's prep school, not a single teacher had a degree in education. They had degrees in the subject they taught, and all but one had a master's or a Ph.D. Pay people to work in a decent environment and good teachers will compete for jobs.


    1. Quality of education is a relative thing, so, in the 50s, the education system in the US was the best in the world even though it didn't do a lot of things we would now quantify as essential. The problem is that we're stuck in that model and most of the developed world has surpassed us because we refuse to treat education as something important.

  3. Well obviously, as a public school teacher, I wholeheartedly agree with all of the above.