Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Value of Education

Today's topic: the big mistake we're making in not valuing public education.

Look, I know the economy's bad. I have friends who are looking for work. I have friends who are already preparing to look for work because they might be laid off soon. I'm afraid of losing my job because the economy is so bad and the unemployment rate is so high.

But... we can't be short-sighted and undercut public education. Wasn't it some of that short-sightedness that got us in this economic mess that we're in? I think it was. We like the quick fix here in America. We want it easy and we don't want to work that hard to get it.

Well, that doesn't work, does it? We can't all win the lottery. Most of us have to work for what we have. And that's a good thing to teach our children as well. But who's going to teach the children?

Teachers are getting laid off all over the place. I know it's happening in the district I'm working in. It's going to happen to at least one person I know, and, very likely, far more than one. It's going to happen in the district I live in. I know, because I talked to my son's teacher.

But these are the people who are actually teaching our children. We can't lay them off. They have to keep working. Everyone knows they already aren't being paid what they're worth, and now we're going to take their jobs away from them.

They're going to suffer; they're now unemployed. The teachers still employed are going to suffer, because their class sizes are likely to go up. (We won't even mention the morale of the teachers who will miss their laid off colleagues and friends. Oops. I did mention it.) Which means the children are going to suffer. They're not going to get a good education.

And, ultimately, we're all going to suffer. Who's going to hire these poorly educated people, when they finally finish high school? The business people who don't want to pay any taxes to support public education will be amongst the first to complain about the failures of the public educational system that they helped hamstring.

We are shooting ourselves in the foot. We are making bad decisions that will come back and bite us in the butt. We're thinking short-term. And we can't think short-term about young people and their educations. We always have to think long-term, about where they are now and where they'll be a year from now, and five years from now, and so on.

We can't make this up in the future. The opportunity will be lost. And if we can make some sort of patch, it will cost us more. There's going to be a lot of remediation, and it's going to be expensive.

And when, in the future, people complain to me about the sorry state of public education in this country, I'm going to remind them that they are the public, and if there's a problem with public education, it's their problem too, and they should have spoken up sooner, done something when it mattered, instead of looking out only for themselves, so that they can quarterback from their sofa. Because you know they will. The economy will get better, and teachers will get hired again, and class sizes will go back down, but the damage will be done. And the teachers will get the blame, but we're all to blame.

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