The Public's Relationship with Public Schools

The recent discussions of what's going to happen with the passage of the tax amendment in Florida -- in combination with the already sinking state revenues -- have got me thinking. And got me pretty down. Actually, what has me down (aside from the possibilities that this all holds for me personally) is reading commentary about the grade schools in the local papers and the comments section on any of the stories, particularly on the stories about what's going to happen to higher education.

I know that many of those people posting comments are not in the majority. But the absolute hatred for the schools -- at all levels from kindergarten to graduate school -- astounds me. And certainly, it's clear that many of the posters don't know the different terminology that's used in the stories -- many don't seem to know (or care about) the difference between a private university and a public university. People use the term tuition rather loosely at times, when colleges and universities mean a very specific things with the term (paying for an apartment in South Florida, as expensive as it may be, is not tuition). Maybe I shouldn't be listening to people who don't know how education works.

But still, the attitudes that people are willing to express towards the school districts and the public universities of this state is disheartening.

When I was a college student* I majored in English and education. I planned on becoming a high school English teacher -- I went through the program, went through the student teaching, and was certified to teach grades 6-12 in Illinois. I worked in a high school for one year (not as an English teacher, but as an assistant in the music department. Long and very different story). I became frustrated with the way that general public opinion would undermine the authority of school administration and the knowledge of teachers in terms of things like, you know, how to teach. Or knowing how to control the classroom. Or knowing what students need in order to receive a quality education.

The public complaint about how schools were run and the tendency to see high stakes testing as a way to hold students and teachers accountable made me realize that I was not cut out to teach public school. The desire to force standardized tests on schools in most states goes against everything I know in terms of best teaching practices and adolescent psychology. And I began to recall my own high school teachers' hatred for these tests -- and for having to sometimes "teach to the test." Nevertheless, in order to continue teaching in this situation, I would have to just deal with it.

So I quit. I went to grad school. (Okay, other mitigating factors are involved in my decision to leave off teaching high school. I have a huge respect for those who are good at it. I am not. I am much better at teaching college students than I was at teaching high school or middle school students.)

I'm noticing again that hatred for people with any sort of knowledge or experience in how to run things. Certainly, I think that school budgets should be fairly transparent to the public -- it is, after all, mostly public funds. But the absolute undermining of the schools at all levels -- and the belief that the schools most certainly can and should "do more with less" -- destroys the ability of schools to do their work.

The undervaluing of education has always baffled me. Even if we want to turn all schools into vocational training (as some posters on the Sun-Sentinel boards suggest about colleges), we still need to fund them. Schools need people to teach -- and teachers, instructors, professors and all the necessary support staff need to be able to make a living.

Most importantly, I think, we have to recognize that the vast majority of people who work in public education are not doing this to get rich -- none of us has any illusions as to that. The vast majority are there to do their jobs and do them well -- and those people have been prepared to do that.

(It occurs to me that many of these people who assume public school teachers, professors, firefighters,** police officers, and -- I'll even say it -- administrators*** are terribly greedy individuals are themselves greedy and selfish individuals. They can't imagine anyone doing something for anything other than money ...)

*and in the interest of full disclosure, I did go to a small, private liberal arts college. I went to graduate school at a state funded public research university

**One of the comments at the Sun-Sentinel suggested that firefighters are overpaid -- and that they're paid over $100,000 each year. I'm pretty sure that's not an accurate figure, but honestly, even if it were accurate, I'm willing to pay someone who risks his or her life a great deal of money to continue doing that in order to protect me. But, you know, I'm just a tax and spend liberal.

***are administrators overpaid? In many instances, probably. However the marketplace does demand that they get paid that much and as long as we're using the argument that higher education should be run like a business, we have to accept that administrators are going to get paid a lot. I don't like it either, but at the moment, that seems to be the way it is. Still, I feel like most of them are not particularly corrupt and greedy, since they probably could make more money working in the private sector.

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