I spend far too much time on Facebook these days. Being quarantined at home has it’s own toll on your mental health, but scrolling Facebook for hours on end also has it’s own toll. One of the tolls Facebook creates is actually a dichotomy. On one hand it’s a false sense of empowerment. The feeling that you have a voice and can tell the world exactly your stance. On the other hand, it’s an inescapable feeling of powerlessness and depression when you notice that no one is listening. We spend so much time shouting into the echo chamber that the chamber becomes a void. Like a vacuum, it eats our words regardless of the ideologies we support.
One of the subjects that has caught my eye more than once has been the idea that education needs to change. Yet, I can’t help but to notice that whenever the idea is brought up, no one has an answer for how education needs to change. This is where my vacuum comes in. This is where I am going to shout into the void for a bit, so bear with me. I don’t think education needs to change.
Now, in all fairness, I have been known to argue vehemently for hours on end only to realize that I am wrong and change stances as the end of the ordeal. This may end up being one of those cases as I am writing in stream of consciousness. But I have been thinking about this for some time now. I don’t think my mind is going to be changed as I process the argument further.
Education is about teaching. It’s about guiding students through modeling and practice and mentorship to help them grow and become wise citizens of the world. Our system already does that. Every year we see tens of thousands of students who use what they learned to either move on to post-secondary education or dive into the workforce where they apply their skills and knowledge to everyday life. That is a successful model. That model works. But what about the tens of thousands of students for whom the model doesn’t work? What about the inequities of race, poverty, and other social injustices? Don’t those alone point to the education system as a failure? No. They don’t. They point to something else.
We educators are our own worst nightmares when it comes to advocating. Why? Because we take on every problem the world throws at us and make them personal. Covid-19 is a great example of this. Unequal access to high-speed internet and at home technology is further stretching the opportunity gap between those who have and those who have not. Many students are struggling with screaming siblings in the same room as they sit on the floor to work while others sit in their own bedroom at their own desk in peace and quiet. This is not a problem of the education system. This is a problem of America. This is not something that we can fix by upending the system because we are frustrated and angry at what we are seeing and feeling. To take this on as our own problem would only work to further the inequities our students currently face by allowing society to continue to lay it’s problems at our feet while they walk away with their hands clean.
I’m worried that in the aftermath of all of this that we are going to go back to the norm of laying the problems of society at our feet. Why? Because we can’t say no. When we don’t say no, we are being enablers. We are enabling all parties involved to pretend the issues don’t exist and to continue to ignore the world around them. We need to learn to say no. But saying no and not feeling like shit about it takes a mindset shift. We have to realize that the short term harm that is done to the issues we say no to is the catalyst of change that will make things better in the long term.
I’m not advocating for turning kids away. Nor am I saying that we need to be dismissive of our own role in helping perpetuate inequities. However, I am saying that we can lift our own burden by proverbially and physically saying no. No, you don’t get to half-assed fund schools. No, you don’t get to make students and families pay for lunches. No, you don’t get to blame us for low test scores. If Covid-19 has taught me one thing, it’s that we take on too many problems that we could fight against. The U.S. turned upside down when schools closed. Imagine what would happen if we closed for reasons that benefited society in the long run? But what about the here and now? What about those students who would suffer (and are suffering now as a result of closed schools)?
In the movie Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan, Spock sacrifices his own life to save those on board the starship Enterprise. One of the most famous lines in cinematic history was spoken in that scene between Capt. Kirk and Spock when he said, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” By taking a stand and saying no we could change the future for the many. By saying no to working inexcusably long hours and refusing to give up our personal lives we would actually be helping our students by being more present in the classroom and modeling a healthy work life balance.
We already hold ourselves accountable for our own actions. It’s time we hold others to the same. The kids deserve better than us enabling society to forget they exist because we can’t say no.