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Do We Want to be a First or Third World Nation?

August 16, 2012


I am a teacher. Exactly what and whom I teach has varied somewhat in the past six years. Yesterday was our official report date. Students have their first day of class Monday. With all that is on the minds of myself and my colleagues at this time of year, I thought I would share this essay I wrote back in early December. Public education is America is in crisis. In my opinion, we will have no chance for our nation to lead the world again unless we radically change our attitude and priorities.

(The essay that follows was originally published December 3, 2011 here):

One of my colleagues asked me this yesterday after we had attended an after-school meeting in which we debriefed on the first breakdown of suggestions for the upcoming year’s budget cuts. My employer, Colorado’s largest school district, had to cut $40 million from the current year’s budget, and will have to cut even more for next year. Because of building-level staffing reductions I was bounced from one school to another one this year and I’m afraid it could happen again.

Times are bad, and are going to get worse before they get better. A young woman who regularly substitutes in our department used to be a full-time teacher there, but was only on a temporary contract and subsequently lost the position. The other day she announced that she “is giving up on her dream” and moving on to a different career. In the current economic climate, at least in this area, there’s virtually no hope of finding teaching jobs. As individual buildings are forced to reduce staff, those displaced, if they are “tenured,” have to go elsewhere, as happened to me– it’s called “involuntary transfer.” If there’s not an opening available, said displaced teacher will then displace another teacher with less seniority at a different school. It’s a vicious domino effect that forces one to be concerned about one’s own welfare to the point that it negatively impacts solidarity among teachers at a time we need it most.

I know that the situation isn’t bad across the nation, but the fact is we do have a systemic crisis. Our public education system is broken… but most taxpayers aren’t willing to pay to fix it. As revenue diminishes, district budgets are slashed more and more. If we already have a problem with providing American children with a quality education to prepare them to compete in a globalized workforce– how are we going to improve with fewer resources, especially human resources?

Furthermore, she (my aforementioned colleague) pointed this out– teachers who reach the point of being driven out of the profession altogether– not from lack of desire but lack of opportunity– well, they have to find work somewhere. So, you have an influx of college-educated workers moving from the public to the private sector. Those college graduates then take jobs that had belonged to workers who were “only” high school graduates… and then, where do they go to work?

This is indeed a slippery slope. It sounds severe, but I think she has a point. At some point soon we are going to have to decide: do we want the United States of America to remain a First World country or shall we allow it to degrade to a Third World one? If you look at the ascending nations of the world (think China and India, perhaps South Korea), one important thing they have in common is this: they have made a significant and continuously-growing investment in educating their citizens. Meanwhile, in America we are beginning to see the evidence of a de-valuing of education as we witness candidates for the highest political offices show their blithe ignorance of essential knowledge– not only being unable to identify foreign nations, but lacking any concept of history either. I teach U.S. Government— an 9th-grade class– and I’m betting some of them couldn’t pass the final exam.

We are a fragmented society, left and right, Anglo and minority, rich elite and 99%, but do we have no more collective national pride to prevent this slow slide to global irrelevance? How do we get Americans to care enough about our schools again?

[Note: I no longer teach Government nor on the high school level. This year I will be teaching 7th grade English language arts. But the opinions expressed herein apply regardless of my particular position].


2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 16, 2012 11:00 am

    Great post, Jason. I love the new look too!



  1. Teachers: agents of change for nature | THE GOOD WORD: NEW MILFORD, CT

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