What is Our WHY for Educating Children?

Dec 19, 2022 at 07:32 am by JC Bowman

(Submitted by JC Bowman - Commentary) My friend John Carver raised a great question on what is our WHY for educating children.

Certainly, we want all children to realize their potential as human beings, develop their abilities to the fullest, and make a positive contribution to the community in which they live. Do we educate for the sake of the child? The family? Educators? Businesses? Government? Society? How you answer the WHY we educate question will determine what policies you will embrace.

Teaching is one of the most important jobs in society. Yet too many of our education policy discussions are being controlled, not by policymakers or stakeholders, but rather by people with no experience. These people tell us how to fix public education or how to raise our children yet would never step foot into a classroom themselves let alone teach.

Recently I read an article that depicted public education as a battleground. Anytime I see an academic trying to portray themselves as a “warrior” I get amused. The truth is that most of those glorifying wars or battles are armchair generals who never served, just like many of the education critics out there. I am a Marine veteran and an educator. I don’t think education is a battlefield. I do believe it is a critical investment in our future.

Does that mean public education is without problems? Of course not. In public education, we are guilty of preserving antiquated traditions and expecting less from disadvantaged people or minorities. We should hold all children to the same standard of behavior or achievement. George W. Bush described this as “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Bush added, “No child in America should be segregated by low expectations, imprisoned by illiteracy, abandoned to frustration and the darkness of self-doubt.” We must stop accepting excuses and tackle the problems of education together. We should listen less to armchair generals, and more to parents and teachers.

We need to quit trying to manage everything in education from state capitols or Washington DC. It doesn’t work. A lot of people, myself included, would like to see a more limited Federal Government in public education. There is too much power at the US Department of Education, and they make too many decisions for us. We need decisions made as close to the child as possible. Each school and each community are different. That is why local control of education is critical.

We have falsely believed that there are magic bullets like more rigorous standards, nationalized curriculum, additional testing, and increased accountability. What has it done for students in the last twenty years? It has failed them. What has it down to the education profession? It has failed them as well.

Remember those groups that peddled Common Core State Standards here in Tennessee? Those that gave us Race to the Top? Most of those groups get funding from Bill Gates also known as “the godfather of the Common Core subject-matter standards” according to Lance Izumi of the Pacific Research Institute. Did the Common Core improve education for millions of students? Izumi disagreed, “Common Core has actually decreased the level of student achievement.”

Izumi, a noted policy expert explained, “Some blame the failure of Common Core on process issues, such as lack of adequate teacher training, but the key culprits are the standards themselves and the type of teaching promoted by Common Core.” It can be summarized with the mantra that “anybody can teach,” along with guided lessons, chosen curriculum, and test, test, test. Rinse and repeat.

It is time we look at our standards yet again. We need our teachers---Tennessee Teachers—driving the discussion. Yes, we need high standards. But we should simplify the standards. It is time to admit that year-end standardized, or “high stakes” testing is not yielding valid results.

The results are too late to improve instruction and too late to be used for the following year’s class assignments. Testing is a billion-dollar industry treating taxpayers as suckers. When we make education decisions based on unreliable or invalid test results, we place students at risk and harm educators professionally.

It is time we stand up for education. We can tear down the traditions if we must, but focus on a modern educational mission, priorities, and strategies. We should expect all children to excel. However, let’s get our educators front and center in the next debate. It is time to ask ourselves, “Why are we, as a society, educating our children?” If we gain clarity on the “Why”, much of the remainder will fall into place.


Submitted by JC Bowman
JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee

Sections: Education