Submitted Commentary by JC Bowman: One of my favorite authors is Erwin McManus, who writes “we all need self-reflection, and more importantly, we must master ourselves.” In public education, we have sometimes forgotten the basics.
Public schools have sometimes neglected reading, writing, and arithmetic. There are some very justifiable reasons, but secondary issues have often replaced primary functions. Because of these issues, some of the support for public education has been lost. Public education runs on trust. We must keep our learning priorities in order.
Parental involvement plays an important role in student success. Research has shown that students achieve more in school when their parents are involved.
Educators are often ill-equipped to complete some of the tasks that are being put on their plates. Teachers were never supposed to be first responders at school shootings---yet they are doing it. Teachers are not mental health experts or criminal investigators—but every day they are being asked to take on more and more challenges not related to education.
Educators cannot be expected to address greater societal issues like poverty or hunger. Many of these issues would be better addressed in other settings outside of public schools. Teachers were not trained, nor did they sign up for these extra tasks.
Teachers tell Professional Educators of Tennessee that they are stretched “too thin” and there are “not enough hours in the day.” The public school’s mission is to educate the next generation. It is also how we are ultimately judged.
I have increasingly been speaking out about outside influences and outside money that is being injected into our public education mission. In Tennessee, groups funded by the Gates Foundation are abundant, active, and engaged. They get preferential treatment from many state leaders and policymakers.
I don’t always disagree with some of the objectives that these outside groups may have, but I do recognize that often their goals are secondary to the purpose for which public education was designed. Let’s also be honest, some of the people spending money to shape our public education agenda are not experts in education or child development and they have ulterior motives. We need to be better at tracking outside influences and dollars within public education.
Education is supposed to be the great equalizer. All children, no matter their parents’ income level or origin, must be treated equally. When children can read, write, and do basic math, the possibilities become endless. Giving students access to quality public schools is good public policy and is in our best interest as a society.
No school or educator should expect less of a student because of race, gender, or national origin. They must expect the best, as well as give their best. Students must master the basics if we expect them to build a better society in the future. A child who cannot read is never going to lead.
Some children are born into circumstances that we cannot possibly imagine. Still, it is our mission to educate all children so they can grow up to be responsible citizens who will fight for those causes they wish to champion.
John Stuart Mill contended that, “Nobody alone knows the truth,” or that “No one idea alone embodies either the truth or its antithesis.” He believed that truth left untested will slip into dogma. We need each other. We need debate. We should welcome civil dialogue on the future of public education.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what happens in the White House, or even the State House. How we all are judged is how our work affects those who live in the communities we serve and what happens in our own house.
School Boards must commit to working with ALL parents and ALL educators in their community, listening to their voices first. We believe in local control of education. The federal government or even our state government should not be allowed to make decisions in education that are best left to the local level.
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson saw common schools as “the central and main hope for the preservation of democratic ideals and the endurance of the nation as a republic.” We need to work closer together and reflect on the role of public education. We are all stakeholders in the American Dream.
JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.