Oklahoma’s Rally for Teacher Respect

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It’s been little more than 24 hours since I left the capital; having demonstrated my guarded-solidarity w/ walking-out Teachers. I was reticent to make the drive, as I had no idea where I would set-up, but also b/c I knew that my message wouldn’t find much of an audience.; and may even be conflated with a counter-protest.

The message I was conveying was made with the intention of enhancing the Teacher plea for more education funding and wage-based respect. Neither of which I oppose. I’m actually a certified teacher as well and, due to my business background, could teach classes on Economics, Entrepreneurship, or Career Technology (whatever that is), however I wasn’t completely ‘on board’ with my fellow teachers.

Here’s why: teachers only ‘work’ 3/4 of the year. Legislatures & parents both know that. Our ‘culture’ loves to champion the importance of education, however we white-wash the dysfunction of American education by turning away from its fundamental ugliness. Go take a look at your local school and then take a second look. Do you notice how pleasant it appears? Did you feel comfortable inside? Did you see the ‘smart boards’ and hi-tech gizmos provided to the students to help distract them from the caffeine-induced anxiety? If not, look again. When I teach, and I’ve taught in China, here, & the Bahamas, but especially here, I see narcissistic waste and a disassociation from a Life of substance.

What do I mean by a ‘life of substance’? It’s a moral life. It’s an energy efficient life. It’s a life that is taken seriously. It’s a life in which one’s skills and abilities are cultivated to achieve the capacity for transcendence. That can’t happen if 2/3 of our school districts can’t offer Physics, Calculus, or Chemistry due to teacher shortages. That can’t happen while we allow soda pop machines in our schools, or meat to be served at lunch. There must be a comprehensive reassessment of our approach to Education and we, as teachers, must hold ourselves accountable, or else our students will become corroded with our petty indulgences and replicate the same mistakes made by our generation.

I didn’t have any prepared remarks, but I tried to inspire the protesters to take a look at themselves and to question their own motives. What’s the goal of the protest? What is the end-goal of ‘Education’. Are we trying to train more engineers & scientists so we can compete with China & India? Are we trying to build the best sports programs? Or are we trying to do ‘good enough’ so we can run by a fast-food franchise on our way home from school, feel alright about how we’re doing more with our ‘good’ than anyone else who isn’t teaching?

I wanted them to see beyond the simplistic debate about funding and recognize that the dysfunction in the system is deeper than dollars. It’s a cultural problem in which we value ‘spectacle’ and absurd diversions into gambling, violence-worship, sadistic video games, or the techno-fantasy of rockets to Mars or flying cars., meanwhile children in Syria are living in rubble, & our fellow human beings scrape together a meal by rummaging through piles of refuse. All the while, we pander to our children & constituents by giving them what they think they want; cozy homes, cozy classrooms, and all the high-fructose corn syrup or grain-fed hamburgers they can devour. Then on top of that, we don’t even demand that they brush their teeth afterword. It’s as if the ‘Education-Industrial-Complex’ has joined forces with the ‘Dental-Industrial-Complex’ to profit off of our irresponsibility and moral ineptitude.

There’s a stark hypocrisy in our schools and it’s centered around our lip-service of ‘Earth Days’ & protecting our beloved natural resources. We profess to care about our students and the lives they lead, yet we wantonly waste fuel & fertilizers on the school grounds. We teach them about health and diet, but feed them slaughtered animal flesh & industrially produced dairy. We know that those are inefficient ways for us to use our resources, yet we do it. Why? B/c it’s expedient. So long as the grass is the same height and the people aren’t clamoring at the gates of PTA meetings for reform, then we conclude that we’re doing a ‘good enough’ job. And they are. It’s good enough, for now, but what happens in 20, 30, 40 years from now? Are we preparing them to live healthy, creative & dynamic lives in which they can pursue their ‘BestSelves’? I think not. If we actually cared about that, we wouldn’t let that happen. We would challenge our students more. We’d expect them to treat school as if it were a career-which it is. Life is Education & Education is Experience. Teachers who allow themselves to become obese casino-goers, or compulsively addicted to the myriad seductions of the dominant culture become less of a model to emulate and more a model to oppose.

Please tell me why we don’t have an Educator-in-Chief president? Why don’t we have a nat’l program by which professionals of all stripes; athletes, accountants, doctors, lawyers, etc. who are required to spend two years ‘giving back’ to their communities? Isn’t ‘real world’ experience what’s most important? Don’t we want the values of ‘service’ to be experienced by our young people? Or do we just want to divert them and filter them into the various subcultures of spectacle that are available? If we weren’t afraid to hold ourselves accountable, and if the trappings of a corrosive culture weren’t so seductive then the issue of teacher pay and education funding would be mute. We’d have teachers with the moral high-ground talking with other teachers in legislature about our priorities, and we’d have a society in which the accomodations made in the classroom created a society in which we had a diverse, pluralistic society capable of cohesion and collaboration.

Until we step-up and raise our standards of performance, go ‘harder’, sacrifice even more, then we’ll never get more than the scraps off of the table.

This is a message that goes beyond just education and into the larger culture. The politicians have ceded their authority to the Market and the Market conspires to maximize profit in the short-term with an eye on the mid-term, meanwhile the long-term plans lay buried in the antechambers with Indiana Jones’ Ark of the Covenant.

When I taught in China, the students would bundle-up and wear layers of clothing during the winter time. Why? B/c it wasn’t efficient to waste the energy to heat the entire school. They taught their students how to sit with healthy posture. Why? B/c they knew that life is demanding on the body is critical for reducing long-term health care expenses & maximizing the students/societies quality of life. We have so much to learn from other cultures it’s depressing.

Our schools have become mirrors of the cultural: wasteful, short-sighted, and indulgent. Citizen Solutions is advocating for a massive reform before it’s too late. Until we’ve communicated the long-term costs and benefits of these changes, we’ll continue to see a worsening of these problems and an aggravation of the situation in education. We’re thinking too small. Our kids are our most precious asset, but that doesn’t mean that we should sacrifice their children’s children’s children in order for them to have what they don’t need; especially so we can take another vacation, or give them a gadget to keep them quiet while we watch the latest reality TV hit.

I spoke to hundreds of them and I’m glad I did b/c these ideas needed to be said and people needed to hear another strategy that transcended the over-simplified ‘duel’ between Teachers & Government. It goes beyond that and the issue of funding is merely superficial.

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