I’ve been thinking about education today which, since it is my business, is probably a good thing. Two incidents of note happened today. First we received an angry email from one of the All-American High parents, and second my friend over at The Family Blender posted about her frustrations with her son’s school.
Incident number one began when my boss came in and asked me for the copies of our character education announcements for December. We have daily announcements to go along with our district’s monthly character education themes. These readings take about a minute and follow the pledge and state-mandated daily moment of silence. December’s theme is compassion. You’ll note the irony here soon. The parent in question was upset because her daughter had reported that we had been announcing “all month” about Kwanzaa and Hanukkah and hadn’t said a thing about Christmas. The reality is that we had a total of five days in which the announcements focused on a holiday or holidays, and they were equally split between Hanukkah and Christmas, with one mentioning all the December holidays, including Kwanzaa. This parent wants no other holiday other than Christmas recognized and keeps reminding us that the Supreme Court says it’s okay for public schools to recognize the secular aspects of Christmas. Yes, it’s legal, and I’d say we do that to the extent that is appropriate, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore all our other students who are celebrating different holidays (or none at all).
I believe this incident demonstrates the challenge of working in a public school setting. If we only had Christmas announcements, we would definitely have complaints from those who do not celebrate Christmas. If we did no holiday announcements, we would be criticized for ignoring the season. When we try to be equitable in our recognition, we are criticized. Too often public schools must spend too much of their time focused on this type of disagreement and criticism and not enough time focused on the real work of educating kids.
That leads me to incident number two. Today’s post on The Family Blender expressed frustration with the public school system and a characterization of school employees as unwilling to go beyond the bare minimum required of them. The situation described is inexcusable, with teachers and other school personnel clearly not focusing on what’s best for kids, or at least for this particular kid. I don’t doubt at all the truthfulness of the post, and it’s situations like this that lead to public education being thought of as ineffective. This saddens me too.
On the whole, I work with a team of dedicated professionals who want the best for kids and who often go far out of their way to provide an excellent educational experience. Our school system is recognized for its excellence and, just this semester, I’ve been in sessions with visitors from both China and Japan as well as from other school districts across the country who are visiting to see what we’re all about and how we generate the success we do with our students. I doubt it’s widely known that American education is looked upon as a model for many countries in the world, including those after which we seek to model ourselves. That said, it troubles me that there are too many schools in the U. S. where mediocrity is acceptable and where students as well as school personnel are not held to high standards.
I wish I had all the answers on how to “fix” public education. At times, I think the entire process becomes overwhelming. I know I am often bone tired from the ups and downs that come with working in a school. I know that people in the education field are underpaid. I know that quality varies from district to district and even from school to school. I know that the public schools are inundated with various mandates about what to teach and how to teach it. But I also know that, at the end of the day, American schools are educating more students to a higher level than ever before in history. A fact that often gets overlooked amidst the rhetoric.
So I say to all of you who are with me in the effort to educate the next generation. Hang in there! Keep striving for excellence; keep expecting excellence from your students, or start expecting it because you’ll be surprised to see what happens when you do. For you parents out there, don’t hesitate to demand that performance from your child’s school. Make the calls, ask the questions. Our kids deserve it!