The endless war at home
By John Louis Meeks, Jr.
“I see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
National Security Adviser Walt Rustow assured the nation in 1967 that there was an end to the calamity in Southeast Asia.
Now, we know how that story ended for a nation that declared an undeclared war on Communism abroad.
Closer to home and in our time, we are in the middle of a domestic war to reform public education. Much like the conflict in Indochina, we are blindly and aimlessly pouring resources into an effort that seems to bear no fruit for our students.
There will be no light at the end of the tunnel for us if we continue to treat our loyal foot soldiers the way that our returning heroes were treated when they returned home from miles away scarred by battles that we only half-heartedly supported.
There will never be an equivalency between the horrors that my father’s generation witnessed as death and destruction were splattered across the front pages and were beamed into our living rooms on the evening news.
There, however, is a weariness that is creeping into the hearts and minds of educators who have never been called ‘baby killers’ but have been maligned by well-meaning politicians and bureaucrats from the comfort of their ivory towers and their cloistered offices.
The mission of education reform is noble. The strategy is questionable, but demands the attention of all education stakeholders. The tactics, in my opinion strike at the hearts of those who are silently toiling in their classrooms and their homes with no real reward but the continued derision and disrespect of those who claim to support better public schools.
What is most appalling in this current quagmire is that educators were not drafted – they volunteered. They agreed to serve a mission that will never see the glories of victory as each gain is fleeting until the next round of test results.
To borrow a phrase from Pete Seeger, we indeed are waist deep in the big muddy and our leaders tell us to march on. The allegedly foolish and stubborn gang of men and women who teach have followed their orders to a fault and will continue to do so because it is their ethical and moral obligation to do so regardless of whether the experts are wrong or mistaken.
What is shameful about this education reform is that we have successfully trained a generation or more of public school teachers to be silent. The fear of retribution trumps any freedom of speech that they would otherwise enjoy. The fear of reprisal negates any chance that educators have to speak truth to power.
There will be no real casualties in the war on ignorance, but the continued killing of the spirit and morale of those in the teaching profession should be a warning sign that this war will be one that lasts longer than any real conflict ever has or will.
The current regime of siphoning money and resources from public education makes the military-industrial complex look benevolent by comparison. Test publishers, textbook publishers, charter schools and other hands in the public till depend on the failure of public schools. They stand to lose a whole lot if we were to announce anything other than continued defeats due to legions of incompetent educators who either do not care enough or are unwilling to do what the taxpayers expect of them.
How many tests must a student take before we afford his educators with dignity and respect?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.
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