It will be a great day when schools have all the money they need and the Air Force has to run a bake sale to buy a bomber.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against the Air Force, and bombers, when used against the right people, can right some of the world’s wrongs. But the point of the bumper sticker is still cogent. Why do schools have to struggle to fund their programs while millions are doled out to other causes?
The above issue came to fore this past week as I read of three San Leandro High students in California who had begun a hunger strike to protest a school board decision to cut $1.4 million from its budget. The cuts would, in the opinion of the students, result in devastating teacher layoffs and the gutting of important programs. While the student reaction is rather extreme (hey, it is California) it does reflect a painful reality that will only worsen as austerity measures hit schools across the country. And, while I do realize that other important areas, such as health care, are frequently targeted as well, I still wonder, do people fully appreciate the value of education? Why is it that schools run bake sales and the Air Force does not?
It would be easy and convenient for us to turn the blame on an unappreciative public who do not understand the challenges involve in the education of their children. We would love to put all those who joke “those who can’t, teach” in front of an overcrowded classroom and see if they could survive, much less effectively teach, for even one day. But that would solve little. Let’s face it, there is a widely held sentiment that believes anyone can teach. Something anyone can do is usually not valued. So, they get the millions for bombers, we get bake sales.
What we must ask ourselves is why does the public perceive the teaching profession thus? After all, every member of this ‘public’ has been exposed to teachers and to schools. They have seen us work; they have been in our classrooms. Why the low opinion?
Perhaps there is a message here for America’s educators. As painful as it might be, maybe we should take a long and hard look at how we run our schools and try to figure out why we are undervalued. Perhaps too many negative experiences have doused the enthusiasm John Doe might have once felt for his educational career. Maybe the fact that many of our schools can be described as ‘islands of excellence among a sea of mediocrity’ will result in the public simply not being very interested in spending scarce dollars to fund yet another mediocre program. Excellence sells even when money is tight, anything less is left to fend for itself.
My humble opinion is that the world needs an educated America no less than it needs a strong America. In fact, our future strength will be determined by our ability to educate our youth. Making the needed upgrades in our institutions so that teachers and the teaching profession are held in the highest esteem should therefore be a national priority.