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OPINION: Educational Reform: Another Brick In the Wall?

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“Hey, teacher, leave those kids alone” — Pink Floyd

by Gerard Renfro

The Act 46 forum at the Kellogg Hubbard Library was a refreshing change to the usual debate and I definitely appreciated Dave Kelley’s caution that theory is no substitute for reality. Even so, focusing only on the details of legislation is not adequate when there are many big picture issues that make our present reality.

ECONOMICS: Our school system was designed during the industrial age by ultra-wealthy robber barons who decided that cheap factory workers would be trained at the expense of the taxpayer. Now, with our factories gone overseas, we have lost the taxes from this labor source. The corrupt real estate/stock market crash has also ruined the tax base. Now austerity is the new mantra to shave and save- one example of this is loss of government jobs last summer. School austerity cuts are, strangely, being done in the name of “the children”- the same children of parents who became unemployed when we trashed the working class.

Our ridiculously expensive national priorities are also not helping. This includes the cost of our prison industrial complex which connects to another issue:

DRUG ABUSE: This was discussed at the forum, but not coherently. Our current drug problems are partly an artifical construct of hypocritical laws, cultural prejudices, and elitist privilege. Our country’s “drug problem” started at the turn of the last century when our government decided that qualified doctors could not give perscriptions to addicts. These addicts were fully functional, responsible people of the working classes that happened to be hooked, but were otherwise harmless. Now, a century later, in last years “State of the State Address” Shumlin admitted that regular folks were hooked on opiates because opium is a component of prescription pain killers. As I understand, these pain killers were often given to folks who injured themselves on the job. The resulting addiction is affecting the middle class, which is in turn affecting the costs of medical insurance, yet another drain on the economy. So, instead of having responsible physicians proscribing opiates in controlled amounts, we have irresponsible harmacuticals dumping drugs on unsuspecting patients. Our economy, and thus school funding, suffers from this in a way that school reform can not fix.

Our public school system is perceived as a step to the “better life” thru college. The big crash and the college debt crisis have put that myth in the grave. Meanwhile, it is the finest colleges that have the biggest drug usage because wealthy students do go to college to party before they enter their world of upperclass privilege. Serious students are finding other options through less prestigious institutions.

ME BEING CAUSTIC: Lastly, to paraphrase a comment made by educational reformer John Gattom — we do not send children to school for 12 years because it takes that long to teach them, but because it takes that long to break their spirit. School sucks, not because teachers are bad or overworked, but because it is not natural for the human mind to be told what to think. Learning is a healthy extension of curiosity- with some people are more curious and expressive than others. Neither intelligence nor initiative can be enforced upon the mind. Our system ignores this and has, throughout its history, by substituting genuine learning with artificial conditioning. First there was the devotion to industrial agenda and the belief in the “survival of the fittest” ideology. Then came commiephobia and the traumatizing effects of “duck and cover” training in school. Now we have jettisoned all that and, as was admitted at the forum, we are focusing on making our children “competitive” for the global market so they can “get ahead”. The simple truth is that our educational curriculum is so boring that students, already cynical about adults and our collective future, do not care much about curriculum. We now “teach to the test” just so schools can have standards of achievement, however meaningless.

We want to believe that there is some kind of cure for education that we will find if we only keep striving. This is the same failed myth that has been applied to agriculture, medicine, transportation, militarism and many other institutions. We are ignoring the realities (historical and current) that overwhelm school consolidation theory; yet we fixate on legalistic technicalities. Anyone with an ounce of common sense can see that consolidation is not about “the children”. It is about justifying the decay of our educational system. I do not expect anyone to “do” anything to fix the above issues as they are too large and too deeply entrenched into our economy. However, if the Bridge is going to sponsor a discussion about school reform, let us be honest about the depth of the problem we are facing.

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