Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Some Thoughts RE: Public Education

Our education system is under attack from a segment of our conservative population. Public education and higher education, iconic foundations of our strength as a nation, are being undermined; indeed, to some degree, it appears they are being dismantled intentionally.

It has been said, and I concur, that democracy needs an informed electorate in order to thrive. I know: there are some who split hairs over whether we are a democracy or a republic. That’s a smoke screen. The reality is that we are both. Democracy identifies the source of our authority (we the people), while republic identifies the way we organize our governing process.

So, let’s not try to sidetrack the conversation or misdirect it. The education system upon which our wellbeing depends is in jeopardy, and in some quarters its demise is welcomed—even orchestrated! As a result, our freedom is threatened.

I am educated. I have a bachelor’s degree from a state school, and two post graduate degrees, although neither is a product of public or state systems. I often have been called “over-educated,” and have been accused of being brainwashed by a leftist/liberal system. My intelligence has been questioned by an implication that my thoughts are not my own, but, rather, simply “regurgitated leftist talking points.”

It’s true: with all my degrees I didn’t learn to weld or to repair a washing machine or to run a lathe or milling machine. But I have rebuilt two automobile motors, a clutch assembly and more carburetors than I can count—in my garage. I also have rebuilt a washing machine and two dryers. And I was able to do those things because the greatest benefit from higher education, to me, has been the ability to do research and to educate myself. And I was doing that prior to Google; indeed, before I ever had touched a computer or a cell phone. Yes, Google has extended that benefit and made it more easily accessible; nevertheless, sometimes the Card Catalogue and the Dewey Decimal System remain the most productive resource.

The greatest benefit of education, in my experience, was not the content of what I learned (although that is of great value), but, rather, the process of learning, itself. Using the process, I have educated myself in management and administration procedures (an area that was inadequately covered in my seminary experience) and have kept up with emerging trends in my profession.

So, why is there such strong opposition to public education and higher education? Can we be honest? I suspect the most basic reasons are because public schools consider evolution as a valid theory, they expose students to a variety of social and political ideologies, and they don’t embrace and enforce a very specific theological doctrine. To some extent the opposition to public education is a renaissance of the age-old legalism/diversity dichotomy that characterized the confrontations between Jesus and the Pharisees of his day.

I have a hunch that if opposition could be quantified and measured, the opposition to public education would be seen to grow directly out of the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial,” and it would be seen to pick up steam with each succeeding expression of public tolerance toward social, cultural, ideological and theological diversity. The opposition is not to public education, per se, but to diversity, which is a direct result of, and therefore a prerequisite to, personal freedom.

Perhaps the half-century decline in effectiveness of mainline and evangelical churches has played a role in the increasing opposition to public education. Since churches have lost their effectiveness and (maybe more importantly) their influence and power, there may be some who wish to shift their pedagogical responsibility to the education system; that is, to have the public schools do what the church and the family have not been able to do effectively. I have no data to support that idea; but, it’s hypothesis that might be researched.

Or, maybe those who oppose public education are seeking a scapegoat, and thus are blaming the education system for the decline in the influence of church. Again, it’s a question; not a statement.

So, what can be done to resolve the ongoing disruption of our children’s and youth’s development? I don’t know if I have the slightest idea. Historically, in circumstances of ideological gridlock, when either or both sides have been unwilling to consider any variation from their own specific doctrines, our freedom has been compromised; and virtually nothing has been resolved.

Sadly, I think the gridlock resulting from such a refusal to negotiate puts us in a win/lose situation. “My-way-or-the-highway” always does that; but, it doesn’t have to be that way. It is possible to resolve any issue—ANY ISSUE! The first step is to define the issue in terms of need. Most people define most problems in terms of some preferred solution. And the saddest part of all is that too many people don’t really want to resolve the issues between them and others. They just want to win the fight.

Until there is a willingness to enter with integrity into a valid conflict resolution process, I suspect it will remain a win/lose situation that will continue to be resolved—one way or the other—at the polls.

That’s how it looks through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,