Americans rightfully worry about the war in Iraq. We should worry a
lot more about the conflict we're losing on our own soil that's
getting worse by the minute, is taking far more lives, and has the
potential to destroy our nation. I'm referring to the battle for the
future of public education in America.
While the War in Iraq will progressively require less financial
support, no amount of funding for public schools will ever be enough
until its inept leadership changes. Local school districts should
actually be given less money and not more, until they agree to hire
competent financial professionals to handle their budgets, and stop
funneling all their funding increases into unwarranted administrative
bloat. The only school budget item which does justify an increase -
teachers' pay - is the one area where school leaders refuse to spend a
dime. This counterproductive action both drives out good teachers and
prevents strong candidates from entering the profession.
Our hopes for victory in the Middle East ride on the shoulders of
battle-seasoned generals. The fight to save our schools, on the other
hand, is being lead by noncombatants - non-educators with no real
experience on education's "front lines", i.e., K-12 classroom
teaching. For some examples, consider former Education Secretary Rod
Paige (ex-college coach), California State Superintendent of Education
Jack O'Connell (a couple of years in a classroom 30 years ago), and Los
Angeles Superintendent Roy Romer and New York City
Mayor/Superintendent. Michael Bloomberg (not one nano-second as
educators of any kind). Major school leadership positions have become
something that has-been politicians and billionaire business moguls do
for a hobby, kind of like how the NBA Dallas Mavericks owner and
non-athlete Mark Cuban enjoys pretending to lead his team.
When the going gets tough in Iraq's brutal heat and harsh terrain,
leaders give special encouragement to our 200,000 troops, reminding
them that they have what it takes to be successful, if they will only
suck-it-up, be strong, and persevere. Back home on America's education
battlefields, our leaders, too, give something "special" to our 45
million students who are facing challenges...Special Education. The
problem is, Special Education encourages children who need inspiring
words and strong support to run from - rather than at their personal
issues. Special Education is always ready to provide children (and
their parents) with excuses for why they're failing, rather than
showing them ways to succeed. Students who have trouble learning and
behaving are not told to toughen up, be more respectful, practice
different study techniques, and/or work harder and longer. Rather,
they're encouraged to medicalize their social problems, are
over-prescribed psych-meds, and offered a growing choice of
subjectively diagnosed and clinically unproven behavioral/learning
disorders to drag through the rest of their lives
Finally, leaders in both wars have definite goals they want to achieve.
In Iraq, our goal is to help the people work together to learn the
skills necessary to live responsible, free, and independent lives.
Come to think of it, that would be a great goal for America's school
leaders to have for our children, also. But education leaders have a
different goal: their own continued employment and comfort. It's their
only goal, and kids' needs be damned; but this goal is so cleverly
disguised under piles of altruistic, falsely modest aphorisms ("It's
all about the children"; or "I'm just here for the kids,", ad nauseum),
that you have to have a trained eye to catch it.
The history of recent wars teaches us that the War in Iraq will
ultimately be concluded and most our troops will come home. As a
country, we'll move on to new leadership that will try to learn from
our mistakes, and take wiser, more effective actions in the future.
During whatever time period this turns out to be, the battle to save
our public schools will have worsened. That is because the current
crop of ineffective education leaders will have passed the baton to
their disciples: the ones who got their jobs by being even less
visionary, less capable, and significantly more self-serving than the
men and women who hired them.
But recent history leads us to envision a possible alternative to this
depressing scenario. No one ever believed that East Germany would
release its tyrannical grip on its people short of an all-out civil
war...but the Wall fell overnight, and not a shot was fired.
Nation-wide bloodshed was guaranteed in South Africa when Blacks were
given the right to vote and Nelson Mandela assumed the presidency.
Freedom and equality were set in motion, but the predicted race wars
Radical, historical change occurs the exact moment that those who have
been oppressed say, "No more!" Public education's poor leadership
continues to destroy the system for only one reason: we (teachers,
parents, and community members) allow them to. To make a change, we
must collectively stand up and demand safe, secure schools. We must
demand visionary leaders that present academic knowledge as effect, not
cause - the effect of maintaining a moral, values-rich learning
environment. When we do this, the current system will yield to these
better ideas and better leaders that have been waiting in the wings
for a long time.