The events in Ferguson Missouri illustrate just how far apart we have drifted as a people. Somehow, we must find a way to repair the damage that has been done and the trust that has been lost and begin closing the gap between the white community and the communities of African-Americans and other minorities, between the rich and poor, the sick and the healthy, and the hopeful and the hopeless.
If we have learned anything from the last sixty years it is that we cannot legislate a change of heart. The only thing we can do is see that every American child; irrespective of race, religion, creed, color, sexual preference, or relative affluence has an opportunity for a quality education. It is only through education that a young man or woman can emerge from childhood with sufficient skill and knowledge to make a place for themselves in the world; to be able to choose from an array of meaningful opportunities; to be able to exert control over their own lives and destinies; and, have sufficient strength of character to persevere through life’s hardships and disappointments.
The federal government, corporate reformers, and state governments across the land are engaged in a relentless attack against public schools, community control of education, and the public school teachers. Now they are even attacking programs for our nation’s special needs children. These powerful men and women are no more qualified to fix public education in America because of their success in business than they are to perform surgery at a local hospital. As for our elected and appointed government officials, maybe they should fix our executive and legislative branches of government before they try to tackle something they know even less about.
It is, however, understandable that these reformers feel compelled to act because our professional educators have not stepped up to acknowledge the deficiencies in our educational process; deficiencies that only they are qualified to address.
The would-be reformers of public education have not taken the time to understand that the problems with education in America exist in spite of the valiant efforts of our public school teachers and not because of them. The reformers aggressively promote standardized testing, a process that distracts educators from what is important, and they drain resources from our most vulnerable community school corporations with vouchers to encourage parents to send their kids to a small number of unproven charter schools and to other parochial and private schools that cannot begin to meet the needs of every child in their communities. To offer what they believe to be a lifeline to parents who want the best for their children is a cruel strategy, indeed, if it can bear the weight of only a small percentage of the families of our communities.
These corporate reformers have not spent time in our public school classrooms so that they can witness, first hand, the deplorable lack of motivation to learn on the part of children across the spectrum of our student populations and they have not made the effort to investigate the absence of parental support in so many of our public schools.
If they did they would discover that many of the parents of our most vulnerable children are themselves victims of an outdated educational process and have no more trust in our systems of education, public or private, than they do in our systems of justice. These reformers would also discover that far too many of these men and women have lost hope and faith in the American dream.
Our systems of public school corporations and the obsolete educational process that functions within may be need a transformation but they provide the only hope to begin narrowing the breach that divides this nation and that we observed so graphically, this week, in an American community. The misguided policies of our corporate and government reformers of education can only divide us even more than we are divided today.
It is time for our professional educators who teach in or manage our public school corporations to step forth and acknowledge that our systems of public education are struggling and to accept responsibility for leading us to a new reality. A new reality in which every child is given the opportunity and the time to learn under the tutelage of qualified teachers, in an environment in which they are evaluated against their own performance rather than against the performance of their classmates.
Creating such a reality is our only hope for a future in which our aggregate dreams can be realized.