Classroom Technology Opinion

Ignore Insults and Falsehoods About Public Education? Or Push Back?

By Nancy Flanagan — March 23, 2016 3 min read
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It was a stupid tweet.

And stupid tweets are beyond legion, not worth the bandwidth or pixels or human attention required to acknowledge them. Even when a potential Leader of the Free World sends them out.

But this tweet made me physically cringe, sitting there all bright and cheery on St. Patrick’s Day:

So many things wrong here, beginning with the idea that it’s somehow valid to blame public schools for every single thing that makes Americans--excuse me, Muricans--ill-informed.

(Presumably) unintentional irony: The known facts of St. Patrick’s life and historical arguments over his actual influence on Ireland and Christianity fall squarely under “religious training.” Now--I’m in agreement that you can’t teach history while ignoring religion, no matter how hard you try, but it seems more than a stretch to blame teachers for not teaching American kids the truth (or someone’s interpretation of the truth) about St. Patrick in their World History class. It’s an even bigger stretch to expect adults to remember these factoids as they’re donning their green shirts or heading out for the pub crawl.

Perhaps PastryPlate hasn’t heard that rich, issues-based social studies curricula have pretty much gone out the window, in many public schools, in favor of a stripped-down, testable-item focus on math and reading? Because schools (and teachers) live and die based on test results these days. St. Patty’s not on any test, no matter how interested kids might be in understanding how a long-dead figure is still celebrated today.

Or maybe the simple truth is that it was just an opportunity to take another cheap, unsubstantiated shot at public schools. Who does that? And believes they’re justified in doing so?

The rest of the story: I responded to the tweet, labeling it a cheap shot. PastryPlate promised to send me a “mini-rant” (on what, s/he didn’t say). I sent him/her a link to the excellent Zinn Education Project materials on the Irish immigration story that several of my friends use, as evidence of what kids ought to be learning about Irish history, and its connection to the U.S. And that was it.

Who is PastryPlate? Who knows. Why am I following him or her? (I’m guessing him.) Because PastryPlate tracks and often comments on Chris Hayes’ work on MSNBC--the name comes from the plate of goodies featured on Hayes’ original Sunday morning show (which I regularly watched). Many of his/her tweets are amusing, in a progressive sort of way. Or were.

Why am I still fuming over this tweet?

Because blaming public education for things over which it has zero control is now thoroughly woven into the national discourse on a myriad of issues. Stupid voters? Blame the schools. Lazy workers and economic downslope? Public education’s fault. Anti-intellectualism? They must have learned it at school.

This is, of course, nothing new. We have been blaming public education for societal failures for a century or more--ever since most Americans were enrolled in community schools for significant chunks of their childhood and youth.

There is a deep and abiding (again, unsubstantiated) belief that all public education is inferior to privately funded and managed alternatives. What’s different now is that there are policies in place to chip away at public education--to shift resources, to take control over educators’ professional work, to cheap out on educating the least powerful members of society. And every time someone takes a potshot at public education, they reinforce the myth that public schools have failed.

I worked for two years as a Teacher in Residence for an education nonprofit. Our communications director always told us that a non-response to a falsehood lets that misconception stand.

So I’m doing my part. PastryPlate is wrong. Public schools are not "****-poor.” They are, instead, America’s best idea. Sláinte Mhaith!

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.