There’s much talk about schools in America right now as the core infrastructure that keeps that country running collapses around its working citizens. As someone who spent over a decade working in American schools, I find it hilarious to read what non-school employees think happens in the building, both when COVID isn’t an issue and now when it is the most pressing one. There are big sweeping gestures to blame teachers’ unions and the teachers themselves. Nothing about the whole conflict shows any sense of hope that when/if the society comes out of this plague, education will be improved in any manner. At best, this reveals the dirty truth: public education serves mainly as warehousing for children so wealthy people can extract their parents’ labor. In turn, the children are indoctrinated with conditioning that will make them good workers when they reach adulthood, given meaningless tasks to perform, and constantly told they must conform with what the authorities demand.
I keep hearing cries about the psychological damage done to children by subjecting them to gasp remote learning or having schools closed. This taps into a myriad of problems that go far beyond the school walls or the reach of educators. As someone who taught for half a school year virtually, I can tell you that it is only as good as the districts/systems that uphold it. My personal experience was full of red flags early on. A week into the 2020-21 school year starting, I had just received my roster of students. It was obvious that whoever was in charge of this endeavor didn’t take it seriously and therefore didn’t provide teachers with the support they needed to make it a massive success. If teachers did manage to make something good out of remote learning, it was purely because those teachers were A) skilled with technology before the pandemic and B) actually wanted to teach remotely.
The county & state I lived in were about as deep red for Trump as you could get; therefore, the talking points at the time were that it wasn’t that serious and fake news and pandemic and blah blah blah blah. The board of ed and the superintendent admitted that there was no rubric to determine when schools would close if the virus spread further than it already had. I tendered my resignation to protect my teaching license in December 2020, and almost as soon as I did, the entirety of the district had to shut down because cases were skyrocketing. They still demanded teachers come in and work in the building, despite the internet infrastructure having nowhere near the capacity to handle that many people working on Teams at once. Thankfully, I had gotten a doctor’s note that due to stress/anxiety, I should be allowed to work from home. They allowed me to, but it was clear I would be forced back come January 2021.
Education in America is a joke. After a decade-plus of screaming at us about the importance of STEM, we now have complete bipartisan science denial from our political parties. In places like where I used to live, mask-wearing is seen as something “pussies” do. It shouldn’t surprise me coming from a county where a farmer hung a Nazi flag from his barn, and multiple Biden signs were set ablaze during the 2020 election. It’s not that the Dems and Libs of my former home state are any better, just a different shade of ignorant. Diet Conservative.
There is literally no way any teacher in America could complete the tasks I saw myself and my colleagues saddled with daily. Not only do you have the core curriculum, of which you are heavily encouraged to compose yourself because it would be “lazy” to use the textbooks the state has spent millions on, so you must also provide differentiated levels of intervention for struggling students in both Reading and Math. So that the pool of struggling students wasn’t too large, they basically fudged the metrics, so you are working with the bottom 25% or so of students. That means that a big chunk of students in the middle rarely gets direct help, and you can forget about the high achievers. I would love to have provided all sorts of extension activities for them, but who has the fucking time?! So, teachers in America are constantly working to shore up the bottom, while the rest overflow and eventually become the bottom.
But then, the entire system of determining proficiency is a relic from another century. Standardized tests are done at the end of every year but don’t forget about the quarterly tests used to help us prepare for the end of the year test. We’d meet numerous times to talk about that data, and I can’t recall ever having a significant conversation about this data that led to me helping a student. Instead, you just sort of frown and hem and haw over line graphs and columns of numbers. There’s never a thought of teaching teachers how to look at this data; they just drop it in your lap and ask why X% didn’t score above a margin.
Is there a genuine desire to understand why students struggle? Hell no. To mine that vein would be discussing the truth about the rotten society America is. There’s no discussion of how a student dealing with drug-addicted parents might not really see these exams as a high priority. We never talk about how parents are worked to the bone at multiple minimum wage jobs just don’t have the time or energy to help their kids. You better not bring up how our society discourages critical thinking and empathy and that those would be a hell of a lot more valuable than someone who fills in the correct bubbles. I seldom gave out homework to my elementary students because I didn’t want to reinforce the horrible work ethics promoted by America. You complete your tasks at school/work, and after that, it’s your time to use as you want. I’m never going to saddle students with hours of work I don’t have time to review and comment on.
I saw students regularly who had pretty profound psychological needs, and the school, despite its best efforts, had neither the resources nor personnel to help them. And frankly, because it was such a deeply religious community, there wasn’t the desire to help them beyond praying for them. So when I hear people talking about the psychological harm that can come to children being kept out of school, I know they understand little about the actual problems in the country. Yes, children in need can often bond with kind, caring adults, but that is a band-aid on a bleeding artery. Cycles of poverty and abuse will not be overcome by preparing kids for tests. What children are being taught in American public schools has very little importance to the world they are in now and the future they are headed towards.
I gave my best effort to incorporate meaningful content into my teaching. If we were teaching content about the weather, I sure as hell was going to find some way to bring in climate change in a way that 3rd graders could understand. I see it as ethically irresponsible to teach children in a bubble that ignores the pressing issues of our day. This is why, as my state literally criminalizes the accurate teaching of history, I know I left at the right time. I certainly would not have done well because I would refuse to hide the truth from children. If they asked me my opinion on something, I would share it but always listen and respond with my own questions after hearing their responses.
Education in America is just working-class daycare at this point. It shouldn’t be a surprise, in a field dominated by women, of course, the United States would marginalize teachers. It’s why the anti-CRT movement has such traction; in the minds of most Americans, the teachers aren’t there to impart wisdom to your child, just pump information into their brains whether they like it or not. I could not stomach working in a school in the States ever again. If you simply look at the pig-ignorant reaction to COVID, a complete abandonment of the basic understanding of how viruses work and the embrace of blatant snake oil cures, you see how American education is an utter failure. No investment in charter (read re-branded segregation) schools and the private sector will solve this; it will simply worsen things. I do not have faith that education will ever be fixed, given the current state of America. COVID has created hundreds of thousands of orphans. Do you think this system has anything to help them? Maybe some meals, a kind word, but not the sort of help needed to make their world better permanently.
As long as the working class settles for scraps, their schools will be child warehouses. Look at what is done at the wealthy and elite schools regarding COVID or any services directed at students. It’s a far cry from your average public school. My former state, in particular, ranks near the bottom when it comes to school funding; it’s done so poorly there are attempts to sue the state into adequately funding schools. The governor, one of the dumbest human beings alive, has brought in private sector advisors who will further carve away at the crumbs schools have. I saw that the National Guard is being pulled into one Maryland county school district to serve as substitute teachers while other states are changing the requirements so you don’t even need a degree, while others are passing rules where lunch workers and bus drivers can be pulled in to cover classes. It’s all over folks, now is just the prolonged and painful death.