1. Archive

Don't blame public education for society's ills

America's public school system has become a lightning rod for frustrated and unhappy citizens. While educators do have serious problems to deal with, there are many other troublesome social conditions that are being projected upon them undeservedly.

Public education is best defined as one of many social systems that citizens create to accomplish together what none can do alone. Money and credit, traffic and highway order, insurance, and mass communications are others that depend entirely on the behavior of individuals. It is the way that people live constructively together that makes a social system work. Somehow each and every citizen must come to understand that he benefits from his support of America's systems, or his whole way of life is threatened.

Since Colonial days, the dedication of professional educators has been pointed toward teaching all youth how to behave constructively together, regardless of differences among them, real or artificial. Private educators, home or institutional, have emphasized, divisively, "We are righteous" and "We should not be expected to support others." (No need to identify here all the devices used to emphasize apartness.) Support of "'togetherness" would have prevented unrest in Bosnia, the war in Vietnam, the strife in Ireland, and untold bloodshed through the ages!

Further, if public education were the only social system threatened by a growing population of destructive "deadbeats," the problem of public criticism would still be serious. As it is, there is a major proportion of citizens who do little, but demand much, from a world they fail to support. An amoral capitalist "profit" concept of getting all you can while giving as little as you can is a part of the problem. A larger aspect is the unhappy condition where citizens have come to feel alienated and isolated from major social systems. Failure to vote is glaring evidence of this.

Public education is dedicated to teaching all youth, disparate and mixed in cultural background, that supportive togetherness is the American way. Parochialism (not necessarily religious) promotes separatism and divisiveness where a special system is to be charged with management of society. The mass of voices in the media condemning the former, but pleading for the latter, is neo-subversive insofar as democracy can be maintained. It is time to face those who attack and condemn the public educational social system while expecting to enjoy freedoms that are possible only with the togetherness it promotes.

Cultural crisis is comparable to bankruptcy. If enough non-participating deadbeats defeat sanitation by strewing garbage, by cheating insurance systems, by ignoring traffic controls, by shoplifting and cheating creditors, etc., the American way of life will be bankrupt. There is no way the public schools can be blamed justifiably by those who have created a "dirty-bird" society for themselves. Neither is there any hope for improvement if misguided and ignorant voices in the media continue to attack educators. Only fools fail to distinguish friends from foes; qualified teachers have answers for alienated youth, for ignorant misguided zealots, and for failed stewardship of society. Humane considerations outweigh forced prayers and alienation.

It is utterly stupid for legislators and others to hold up courses and grade-point averages as the objective of public education. Florida leads in sending "boys out to do men's work" where youthful needs and professional competence are weighed together. The mass of hostile, socially alienated and academically rejected youth find little to cherish in stuff that ignorant laymen want to impose upon them.

If there are those who honestly believe American public school educators should be blamed for crime and criminals, let them spend time in classrooms. If there are those determined to tear apart America's public schools, let them prove that their divisive, "we are superior" views are constructive approaches to social systems.

Finally, for all who deliberately strive to create a "crisis of confidence" in educators, let them admit openly their subversive efforts to break down the church-and-state wall, and to put religious zealots in charge of the U.S. government. (The army of journalists recruited to these efforts is much too obvious to be ignored.) Look also to the Republican leadership in the Florida Legislature.

As a final word in this plea for social responsibility, there is desperate need to examine all social systems and the behaviors that either support or destroy them. There is no citizen in the United States who can escape examination of his role in maintaining the American way of life. This is particularly true where public education is facing a cultural crisis not of its own making.

John A. Buelke is a longtime teacher and education administrator, and the author of "Scholars, Students and Fools." He lives in Citrus Springs. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.