When one thinks about the most influential people in one’s life, it is a good bet that at least one teacher will be on the list. Whether it was in third or twelfth grade, university or someone who had the role of teacher in a person’s life, most of us would have to agree that we need people to teach us throughout our lives.
Teachers have traditionally held a respected and important role in society since antiquity. We only need to remember Michelangelo’s famous painting ‘The school of Athens’ to notice the importance of a teacher to Western philosophy, science and the arts. Throughout the past several hundred years, many of the leading thinkers and innovators have at one time or another, held teaching posts. Examples abound. We have respected teachers and what they have brought to our children and our own lives for a long time. Up until recently, that is.
I found a blog post by a professor Mark Naison at Fordham University in New York. He writes,
Nothing better symbolizes the way teachers have become “fair game” for public demonization in ways that will make talented people think once, twice and three times, not only about entering teaching, but about remaining in the field. Needless to say, it also fosters an atmosphere of skepticism, disrespect and hostility on the part of parents and students that will not contribute to a good learning atmosphere in what remains of the public schools.
He cites many social and economic reasons for American’s shift away from supporting and respecting public school teachers, which you can read on his blog, http://withabrooklynaccent.blogspot.com/2012/03/war-on-teachers-why-americas-shrinking.html
Reading his article made me feel sad and discouraged, in the same way as watching the protesters who camped out in Wisconsin’s state capitol last year. Tens of thousands of ordinary citizens, including public workers such as teachers, fire fighters, nurses, and other publicly employed citizens protested against that state’s new governor, Walker, and his completely outrageous and harmful proposed laws to slash their rights, their benefits and pay, along with huge cuts to the state’s educational budget. What a debacle, which ended in the Republican’s passing the laws and effectively destroying to a large degree what had been one of the better examples of public school systems in the United States.
This issue is of course personal for me, having three daughters in Wisconsin’s public school system and several friends and acquaintances who are teachers or otherwise employed by the public school. I myself am a product of America’s public school system, having gone through public school from age 5 until 17 in three states, three different elementary schools, two middle schools, and one large, suburban high school with occasional classes at a neighboring high school in the same district. That was back in the 60’s and 70’s, when idealism within public schools ran high and teachers were mostly concerned with educating children and young people in the best way possible so they would become intelligent, thoughtful, responsible human beings first, and citizens of our common country second. I was blessed to have, for the vast majority, dedicated, earnestly striving, intelligent and compassionate teachers all throughout my youth, who happened to love children and young people, cared about what happened to them, and strove to give as much to them as they possibly could.
Now I have watched my own children go through other public school systems, also in three different states, with many different teachers. And I must admit, they also were blessed with the vast majority of their teachers being dedicated, intelligent, caring people who strove to give as much as they could to their students, to help them learn as much as they could, to think for themselves, to be creative and make school interesting and fun. Again, the teachers have been more concerned with developing human beings than ‘creating citizens to function in the work force.’ All the teachers with whom I had parent-teacher meetings over the years could see right through all the governmental directives and administrative admonishing that came more and more over the past decade. They weren’t interested in towing the party line, they were there to teach, and make sure the kids learned. And my kids, at least, learned a lot. Not just about language and math and science experiments, but about Life and other people and themselves. Their teachers fostered their natural creativity and curiosity, gave them a love of learning for its own sake, taught them the value of literature and art and knowing about the world. I am not exaggerating when I say that nearly all of the three girls’ teachers were intel, loving, caring and genuinely dedicated individuals who bestowed innumerable gifts upon my children and their classmates. I am utterly grateful to them all for helping my daughters to become the amazing, creative, intelligent and interesting young people who they now are.
Dear Readers, is my personal view of my and my children’s teachers really so unusual? I cannot imagine that mine is such a unique perspective on public school teachers, either thirty plus years ago or now. So why is it that public school teachers have gotten such short shrift in these past years? Why are so many taking early retirement and quitting to find jobs in other fields? What has fundamentally shifted people’s opinions away from their former respect of their children’s teachers? Why do Americans no longer respect the profession of teaching as a whole?
These questions are both disturbing and telling. Public education has been a cornerstone of every democracy known to humanity. If it is crumbling, this is a telling sign that the very foundations of what people used to think was a basic right in the United States, is no longer solid. We see the evidence of this crumbling everywhere we look. When people no longer regard schools and teachers as important and noble endeavors, then we have to ask, Why? What replaces education and teachers as fundamental and important? I-phones and X boxes, Youtube videos and Facebook pages, computer classes without human beings, or the thousands of variations of mindless entertainment which the entertainment industry feeds us in an endless stream without pause?
So I have to ask all of you, if teachers and schools are no longer seen as relevent and important in our society, what is relevant? Is developing one’s humanity a good idea in the year 2012? Or is it better to simply give in to robotics, artificial intelligence, and soullessness as our new world order? Is that really the way you all want the world to be, what you would like for your children, grandchildren, great-great grandchildren? It is very obvious that we are in the middle of vast shifts in the way our world functions, how people interact with each other, what we spend our time doing. It is becoming less and less a matter of free will and free choice, however. The more we as individuals give away our power of thought, the less human we become. Throw away the teachers, and what will be left will be a world without humanity, human values, human compassion.
Teach your children well. Their parents hell did slowly go by. And feed them on your dreams. The ones they picked, the one you’re known by. Teach your parents well, their children’s hell will slowly go by. And feed them on your dreams, the one they picked, the one you’re known by. – Graham Nash