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America Not Ready To Put Learning In Prime Time

Everywhere you turn, there is much commentary these days about the education oriented documentary Waiting For Superman. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it really doesn’t matter, because I would be biased before I walked in the theater. My mother, her sisters, in fact every aunt I have except one was or is a school teacher, and the one who wasn’t still wound up working in the public school system. These are women who molded the lives of thousands of students, training their charges to read, write and reason. In fact, there were only two adults who were not educators in my entire neighborhood (it was small) growing up, so I will probably be pro-teacher or pro-professor for the rest of my life.

I’ve said it here before and I’ll say it again, because somebody needs to call a spade a spade—America as a nation is simply not ready for prime time when it comes to getting serious about educating our nation’s children. It is not ready, nor is there any preponderance of the population that is seriously interested in real solutions to maximize the effectiveness of our educational process. The majority of us are not interested in real solutions because real solutions would require changing the day-to-day habits of parents, instead of offering one of those presto change-o magic silver bullet answers that puts the entire responsibility on someone else, as if these are not our own children, and allow us to avoid the sorely needed rearranging of the priorities in our home lives.

Moreover, we as a society are prone to ostracize and ridicule high academic achievers as if they are lepers, and celebrate those who happily demonstrate their ignorance as if they are worthy of their own Nobel Prize category for proudly displaying an often astounding lack of the most basic general knowledge about the world around them.

I really don’t give a good god damn about the feelings of those who cry about the common man and their lack of interest in anything complex or sophisticated  —as far as I’m concerned, poorly educated citizens are worse than any terrorist threat will ever be to America’s future.

The Davis Guggenheims are going to take care of their children. Even in a deep recession private schools are close to full enrollment. And a lot of our newly minted upper middle class have not forgotten that it was academic excellence that put them there, and won’t let their children forget it either.

But the majority of the country doesn’t fit into either one of these categories. Most Americans cannot afford to simply pick up and move to where the good public schools are, and even if they did, there is more to the equation of having a well educated child than living in the right zip code.   

Education is not an American priority.

Getting rich is an American priority.

Being entertained is an American priority.

Building winning sports franchises in educational institutions is an American priority.

Professing the depth of our religious devotion is an American priority.

Blowing up entire cities in foreign countries that we then pay handsomely to rebuild is an American priority.

Your child, and the children in your neighborhoods build their attitudes towards learning and education at home, not at school.

What do they see in your neighborhood?

In your home?

Do you have more remote controls than magazine subscriptions?

Have you gone to more sporting events this year than lectures?

Does more of your news consumption take place through watching video or TV than reading the text or print versions?

Are there more shoes in your closets than books on your bookshelves?

Is your video rental card more worn and creased than your library card?

We seem to have a new movement that pops up every week to either take back, restore, revitalize, or regain someone’s notion of the cherished ideals that the country supposedly lost over the last few generations, cherished ideals burnished by nostalgia that often never really were lived up to by the general population in real life.

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But there is no movement among the American adult population that carries even ten percent of the effort we put into protesting and proselytizing about days gone past to encourage all American adults to commit to becoming better educated and more literate. There are no televised rallies to motivate all American adults to always keep seeking a higher level of intellectual mastery, to always keep sharpening their deductive reasoning skills. 

Whipping yourself into a frenzy about the failings of your local school system when you have compartmentalized learning into the “been there, done that” part of your life that has passed you by is not part of strategy for a successful retooling of our educational system.

It is not a vote of confidence for the process that you want your child to believe should be the central focus in their lives.

 Until the majority of the adult population in this country can truly commit to the idea of an education as a lifelong process that they themselves are willing to participate in on a regular basis—winter, spring, summer and fall—we are wasting our time demonizing teachers for failing to wave a magic wand over our nation’s students.


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