“I think about the kids. I think we need to stay focused on what’s right for the kids. And I hope that adults would keep adult disagreements and disputes in a separate place, and serve the students that are there to be served.” This was Betsy Devos last Thursday (April 5) according to the Dallas News. The quote was in response to a question about the Oklahoma teachers who are in their second week of marching for better funding for their system. Devos, who has been out of touch with teachers and their concerns before, is missing the point of the marching itself, instead taking the typical Republican stance that has become the norm in America when it comes to education: education is not a priority any more.
In 2016, our President convinced a disgruntled rural populace that America had fallen too far behind in the world, and he alone could make America great once more (I refuse to use his slogan. I just can’t…). But the one thing, the one missing ingredient, that made us so great in the past was education. The fact that we as a culture have allowed the Republican elite from the Neo-cons to the Tea Party slowly destroy public education, and somehow convince the public that the failure of the system stems from the teachers who fight the daily war on incompetence and ignorance, is mind boggling and disheartening.
We love to point out how we were the ones who landed on the moon (which is constantly under scrutiny by right wing fringe conspiracy groups – go figure), won World War II almost singlehandedly, invented the Nuclear bomb (and in turn nuclear energy), was the country that gave the world the microchip and the iPhone, and so many more amazing accomplishments that have driven the world for over a century. And we yearn to return to those glory days of American abundance and technological and cultural dominance in the world. However, we refuse to recognize that it was through our education programs, public elementary, secondary, and private universities, that we were able to achieve such dominance. We will never return to the large stature of world leaders in innovation if we do not recognize the proven fact that a well-rounded liberal education is fundamental to cultural growth.
The term “liberal education” itself has been politicized so much that we forget what it exactly encompasses in its entirety. The term “Liberal” when associated with education does not mean left leaning political ideals in the class room. It means open dialogues, understanding what all sides understand, and how we interact with those sides. How science and math apply to real world issues and actions, how we interact with each individual we come in contact with, and how we operate as a culture.
But it has been politicized by those on the far right that see liberal education as nothing more than programming liberal ideas, an anti-God establishment bent on creating drones of immoral compasses that will lead our culture to Babylon and destruction. Meanwhile, they stand by and allow our society to decay into ruin through the advancement of a single ideology that damns any other way of processing the world as inherently evil and un-American. An ideology that proclaims itself as the only true ideology while condemning all others as holding no value. An ideology that questions anything that does not produce solid results, tangible findings that lead to profits.
We laugh at the humanities because they study the soft, the abstract, the things we cannot touch or define through any of our senses. In reality, it is the humanities that give us pleasure, hope, and faith; all abstract entities that we all covet and desire – something you will not hear a FoxNews pundit admit.
We overlook the Social Sciences as we just don’t understand why we need them. We are told to suck it up, but rarely are we given instruction on exactly what we are sucking up, and never are we given the possible consequences of sucking this unknown thing up. The Social Sciences give us both, and give us ways that others have dealt with that magical thing that lays out there in the either waiting to be sucked in any direction. Again, FoxNews would have you simply believe that we are all weak and vulnerable if we dig into the abstract nature of feelings and how we deal with the world around us. They refuse to celebrate failure, to celebrate the fact that strength and experience comes from, at first, a weakness.
Don’t think I’m just trying to pick on FoxNews, but to be fair, they loudly tout these stances, these archaic ideals that died when Kennedy was shot. The push back by the right on common sense is nothing more than an attempt to institute an ideology that has no productive future. Actions and ideas that appear to be nothing more than the obvious way to deal with issues are questioned, ridiculed, deemed as a way to destroy the family or society, and dismissed. For example: gay marriage. In what way does gay marriage hurt our culture as a whole? When people who sexually associate themselves with others of the same sex, do they not still spend money? Do they not still pay taxes? Do they not still work to earn money and contribute to the culture? If they do all of these things, and they do so with the same faith and confidence in the system as anyone else, why exactly is it evil to allow them to enjoy the fruits of what they work toward? Is it really because of some archaic rule that has been misinterpreted for 2000 years? Or is it really about fear – fear of change, fear of losing influence, fear of losing something that you never really had in the first place?
Education has been placed in the same box of fear. As time has progressed since we first constructed the current education model, we have seen our culture move from an industrial revolution to urbanization to modernization to the atomic age and finally through a digital age, but education has remained relatively the same. There has been little growth and innovation in education while the world around it changed dramatically, and the only explanation for it is fear. Fear of change and new ideas. Fear of what education will produce. Fear of a rationally thinking, critically engaged mind that asks questions about established pillars in our culture which leads to a larger fear of losing influence over large swaths of people.
Education is paramount to a great culture. Education gives us not only the Maths and Sciences that engineer the great achievements of cultures, it gives us the arts and social sciences that help us engage with our culture and represent our culture through basic human desires.
The strikes we have seen in Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia, and soon Arizona are reactions to the larger problem of leaving education to its own peril. It is a way of thinking that has been dominant for more than 20 years. The voices are growing louder, however, and voices like Mrs. Devos will continue to lose influence.
If you want teachers to care for their students and their well being, Mrs. Devos, then your criticism should be directed toward your own political party who has, in the case of Oklahoma and so many other states in our great nation, gutted education to a point where it is not feasible to establish the future of our culture. A culture, by the way, that gave you the smart phone you carry, the fashion you style in your clothes, and the freedom to voice your opinion, even if it is ill informed and demeaning.