While discussing faith, I am reminded of a lyric from an old religious song: “Let hope rise and darkness tremble.” Too many people imagine a bleak and hopeless future, and it shows in the choices they make in their work, their relations, and in their outlook on life. The glass is half empty. Darkness and desolation will always be all they see and find.
If we want our students to make more meaningful contributions to our society in the future, we must make sure our classrooms are filled with optimism and hopefulness. Public education is at a crossroads in Tennessee. There are no simple solutions to complex problems.
People say public education is broken and beyond repair. I tell those critics that they are wrong. I still believe the best is yet to come in our state and our nation. Tennesseans fear no challenge.
We succeed every single day in small victories across our classrooms and schools. When was the last time a public official in our state praised public education? Our success far outweighs our failures, and we can acknowledge those failures and take on those challenges head-on. I believe in the hope and promise of public education. Abraham Lincoln said, “The philosophy of the classroom will be the philosophy of the government in the next generation.” We must get this right.
Our K–12 system largely still clings to the century-old, industrial-age factory model of education. We must have the political will to improve the factory model public education system. The change will continue and, in education at least, more change is always on the way.
We should welcome any debate in public education and continue the discussion, knowing that a one size fits all strategy does not work in any school, district, or community. Copy-and-paste policies driven by out-of-state groups delay community-driven change, but more importantly, these policies silence the voices of actual citizens and stakeholders.
Parents, taxpayers, and educators all have rights and responsibilities within public education. Educators must be treated with civility and respect. Public education will succeed when parents and educators work together to make their voices heard. Research validates that the more family is engaged the more effective schools will be in raising student performance. Parents should know what their children are being taught and see all documents about their child’s education.
Schools must protect children's privacy and keep educators, staff, and all children safe. Parents should be able to have their voices heard to influence public policies that impact their children. School spending and school budgets should be readily accessible to parents, taxpayers, and educators. School boards must be more transparent and maintain open and honest lines of communication, keeping the public informed on decisions.
All of these are common sense ideas, and many are already laws. This would be a good policy for any entity that educates children and is searching for opportunities to improve transparency with stakeholders and policymakers. The change from an industrial model public education system will not happen immediately. We must incorporate innovation and new ideas about systems and processes, giving preference to those voices with actual skin in the game: our parents, employers, taxpayers, and educators.
In Tennessee, and throughout the rest of our nation, we have never demanded so much of our education system as we do today. It is time we rise to meet our challenges head-on. Public education will always succeed when parents and educators work together to make our voices heard. I see hope in this world in the education of children. It is worth fighting for.
JC Bowman is the executive director of the Professional Educators of Tennessee