In the midst of all of the “uproar” over the President’s planned speech to school kids on Tuesday, I keep thinking about what all of this says about schools, about what they are for, and about the perception that a lot of people in this country have of them.
It would seem to me that there should be no better place for my children to watch that speech (or any other, for that matter) than in a place where ideas are encouraged, where critical thinking about those ideas is a natural part of the conversation, and where appropriate response and debate can flourish. Where the adults in the room lead my kids to dig deeper, to validate facts, and consider the many levels of context in which every speech and every debate takes place. Where the discussion around it is such that it lays to rest the concern that many seem to have about this particular speech in general, that in some way the President will be able to “indoctrinate” our kids into some socialist mindset. If schools are the fully functioning learning communities that we hope they are, they should be the place where our kids learn to make sense of ideas, not to fear them. That, however, is not the message we are sending.
All of this speaks to the ever narrowing role we as a society have assigned to our schools. And that is truly something to fear. School is the place kids go to learn the stuff they need to pass all of the tests, not the place that they go to engage the diversity and complexity and beauty of the world. If we cannot offer our students wide ranging opportunities to examine the world from many sides and teach them how to do that with rigor and respect, then we subvert the very idea of school.
I keep thinking of how much could be taught in this moment: oratory, research skills, statistics (drop-out rates, etc.), history, media, analysis, debate, composition, social justice, and on and on and on.
I keep thinking of those teachers out there right now who have had a level of confidence and professionalism stripped away by school districts who have ceded to parents wishes to avoid rather than to trust them to teach.
I keep thinking about what kids are learning by the way their schools are reacting, what it says to them about what school is and its value in their lives.
I keep thinking what this says about a public school system that has “educated” the people at the front of all of the screaming and yelling.
My kids both start school on Wednesday, so our schools have avoided all of this. Still, I hope they play the president’s message, regardless of whether it’s a motivational speech to work hard and pursue a love of learning or whether it’s a paean to Stalin, and then engage my kids in conversation about its merits, its flaws and its omissions. And better yet, I hope they take a step back and look at this “controversy” in the context of media analysis, information literacy, political dialogue and debate. Talk about a teachable moment.
But without that, any way you look at it, this is not a great moment for schools.