Education Opinion

The Real Education Nation

By Nancy Flanagan — July 03, 2011 4 min read
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I must study politicks and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematicks and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematicks and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

John Adams

Happy Independence Day, fellow ed-travelers!

Are you wondering what John Adams might have had to say about ceramics and cheerleading? About what matters most, as we roll over into Year Two Hundred Thirty-Five in the Land of the Free? Me. too. Have

we achieved Adams’ mature educational peak yet, where all our students can learn for learning’s sake, and live the enlightened life? Are we Education Nation?

Over at Teachers’ Letters to Obama, we’ve been kicking around the question of whether lousy movies (like Bad Teacher) and cheesy TV shows influence public opinion. Commenter Greta notes that she’s never been in a gang and doesn’t know any gang members, so what she thinks about gangs might be influenced by what she sees in movies and TV. That’s the way it works.

I’ve never worked in an emergency room, either--do I think Nurse Jackie’s workplace resembles reality? Maybe. I can tell you with certainty that music teachers--at least those with a union contract--get more due process than poor Will Shuester, who seems to lose his job at least four times a season for no good reason (speaking of cheerleading). But that’s because I’m a music teacher. I have a first-hand knowledge base. I don’t need a TV show to enlighten me.

Greta also notes that she’s smart enough to filter this “information” through a healthy skepticism of the media, both fiction and serious news reporting, but her observation begs the question: Where we do get our collective impressions about public schools in America? Not only what schools are like now--but what they could and should be, and how to make them better?

Last fall, NBC set out to tell us all we needed to know about public education in America with the brilliantly titled Education Nation. They collected media and entrepreneurial “experts,” set up tents in Rockefeller Plaza and planned a whole week of soft-core news programming and panel discussions.

But something went wrong for the network: reality intervened. Teachers, parents and school leaders started wondering out loud just whose point of view (and what other high-profile media projects) NBC was promoting.

NBC hastily set up a one-hour prequel “just for teachers,” the MSM equivalent of giving educators donuts and coffee plus a nice mug before sending them back to the classroom to work miracles, while the real leaders made decisions. NBC stacked the audience deck, shuffled articulate teachers with market-driven mouthpieces and overlooked key issues on what’s gone wrong in the real Education Nation. Low point: Brian Williams gratuitously suggesting that teachers were avoiding the “elephant in the room"--Waiting for Superman--when that elephant was never more than a gauzy figment of some hedge fund manager’s imagination.

NBC had little clue what effective public schools looked like--or their potential, given an updated mission, parent participation, real leadership and equitable funding. They had little incentive to flesh that vision out. Nor did they spend time looking at first-rate public schools as a exciting models.

Instead, NBC decided they were Education Nation, unions were Education Ossification and veteran teachers were Miseducation Causation. It was, as they say in show business, a resonant story arc.

Similar to the resonant story arc the British promoted, 235 years ago: We’re the ones who bought and paid for this country--ragtag “revolutionaries” should just shut up and pay taxes. Independent governance? Ha! You people couldn’t run a failing blacksmith shop! Show me the data that says you should be trusted to run your own nation!

Maybe the Brits should have listened to the wisdom of citizens who’d been living in the American backwoods for a century and a half. Perhaps NBC should have listened to those closest to the classroom--teachers, parents, students and real school leaders--instead of corporate funders hoping to profit off the undeveloped wilderness of the education marketplace.

The Save Our Schools Movement and its guiding principles represent the real Education Nation--a loosely organized grassroots coalition, fighting for control over what we care about most: our very real children and their prospects for living a good life in America. We are heartily sick of pre-packaged Education Disinformation, and willing to take some real risks and speak up.

When I read John Adams’ words, the first thought that came to mind was: This is the real shared sacrifice-- investing now for payoff to future generations.

Ten generations after John Adams, it’s still about politics and war.

Wishing you a splendid Fourth. Think about joining us in the real Education Nation.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.