Are we at the end of our tether with public schooling as private schools, religious schools and school vouchers try to replace our traditional education system?

A couple of months ago, I wondered aloud about our American public education problem in a comments stream:

People used to become teachers because they were born to do it. You’d see entire families of teachers because it was in their blood.

People do have to live, though, and very few public school teachers are paid handsomely… let alone a living wage… and so those teaching now suck the idealism and altruism out of the next generation of teachers.

Who would want to be paid nothing for a thankless job — especially now when parents have 24/7 access to a teacher’s email and a reserved spot “for observation” in your classroom?

It becomes a constant harassment from which you cannot escape and if you try to discipline a child then you have the other children on you as well as the parents and so you find the easiest way is to end up doing nothing and pushing the children along from grade to grade just so you, and the public school system, can survive in a hostile and thankless world.

If we continue to underpay public school teachers while increasing their workload and teaching obligations and parents baby sitting — what hope can we hold for a mature and ripening middle class?

It is the middle class in America that prevents a shearing of interest between the upper class and the poor.  With a solid middle, democracy itself implodes as the temptations of survival rival any sense of lawfulness and disinterested investment.

Sharing our private morals creates our cultural values and our public wants — and when a wide range of people examine those tenets of a community — we begin to create context and understanding and tolerance is the result of that ongoing negotiation between conflicted belief systems.

If we narrow our educational teaching to the Madrassa, the military academy or the private prep school — are we creating a better education for our kids, or are we really making worse citizens through isolation and non-heuristic social interaction?


  1. I think I’m a little biased in this in that I see religious schools as a good thing – they give parents the option to give their children a solid education that also has them learn the fundamentals of their religious beliefs. I’d certainly want to send my children to a proper yeshiva.
    When I moved from public school to Peddie I went from classrooms of 30-40 people to classes of about 12 people and the difference was incredible. What really needs to happen is that we need to steer money away from wars upon wars and get it into educating our children.

  2. Gordon —
    So you don’t see yeshiva or madrassa educations and separating and niche-enforcing?
    If we do away with the public schools — should parents be required to pay for the private education of their children; or should education no longer be mandatory?

  3. I feel that public schools must live on. I think it should be as I was told it is in England – if you want to go to the public school, that is fine – but if you want to go to the private school, you get the money to pay for it.
    Yeshivas and Madrassas might be separating and niche enforcing but the separation (at least for Yeshivas) is what focuses the child on the religious education without it being diluted by peers that might ridicule what the child is learning. It certainly happened in my school.

  4. I meant that if a child goes to a religious school at the same time as a public school (which I did) the peers in the public school are more likely to mock the religious education and undermine it than if the child went to a religious school alone. That was pretty much my experience with it. :/

  5. I would say neither, actually – kids tend to make fun of that which is different. Look at that kid, he wears pink shoes but he is a boy, what is wrong with him? Etc.

  6. It is unfortunate, Gordon, that if you’re in any sort of minority — the risk that the majority will come and get you is very real and sometimes a bit scary.

  7. As a parent who has a child in public school, it is both appalling & sad the state that some of our schools are in. Teachers are indeed underpaid, schools understaffed, parents (some whom are relieved to drop their child off at school to let the teachers “deal with it”) & others of us, in the minority, who want to help, be involved even with our busy lives, work, etc. I would LOVE to enroll my son in either a religious or private school, but funding is tough, even tougher now in these economic times. You have single parent families who are struggling just to make ends meet. I would love to see uniforms in public schools to eliminate the possibility of kids making fun of what is different & unique. However none of that is always a reality. I think ridicule of what is different & unusual might also be a by-product of human nature? And a sad commentary on our evolution as a society when we make fun of what is different & expect teachers to raise our children. What happened to parents raising their kids & teachers being able to mentor & inspire academia?

  8. I like the idea of universal school uniforms, too. It takes a lot of the sting out of “look at me and what I have and what you do not.”
    We also need a much better system to protect all students from bullying and not fitting in and being an outcast. No child should ever be purposefully made to feel outside the majority mind — unless, of course, that is their active choice.

  9. The way I describe the problem to those unfamiliar, or long passed through, the education system, is that it is a triangle of responsibility. Teacher, parent and student each holds equal responsibility for the end result. Currently, all the pressure and focus is put on the teacher. These teachers cannot succeed until they are supported by the parents and given the tools to ensure the student is responsible for their actions.

    I worry at this purposeful whittling at our education system. Whether an educator is subpar or excellent, they still are our filter or stopgap protectors of our children.

    Do you like the fact that they are involved in teaching our children morals and ethics? Do you like the idea they teach sex ed? The reason they are teaching these things is because parents have dropped the ball. To make matters worse, children are not held accountable because of years of nibbling away at the teacher’s toolbox.

    I come from a family of educators, one of which told me that “in the old days” there we three folk at the top of the community, the police, the clergy, and teachers. Teachers are now considered nothing but babysitters who have to prove they are worthy to the very society that holds no standards of expectation for parents and students. How long would these “if your student succeeds then you succeed” standards work if we apply it to our society on a whole? Doctors? “If your patient lives/doesn’t get a cavity/gets sick then you get paid” Insurance companies? Politicians?

    At what point do we marginalize educators to a point where “we just don’t need them”? Who then teaches the children? A handy online program? The parents?

    For all of its faults, public education is one of the keys that make us who we are as a society. It is something where we say that regardless of social or economic status we value you and will give you the basic tools you need to succeed. We need to protect our schools and teachers, raise expectations for parents, and make students responsible for the part in the triangle of the process.

    Sorry for the rant… Just found out the cut the half days for parent conferences and are expected to hold them before or after school or by phone (read: even less parental expectation). This compounded with an increased class sizes, even more testing, which is over 50% of the teachers yearly evaluation (Note: how long does it take for a student to learn they can burn a teacher by purposely failing =), and a near removal of ISS (in school suspension) which leaves the teachers with…. Hmmmm… Lunch detention, which means that it is just another year in the trenches =).

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