devaluing education leads to valueless politics

PUBLIC EDUCATION: As a former school teacher (I worked in exceptional education for almost 20 years), I pay more than average attention to the chatter around public education.

I enjoyed my classroom experience immensely, learned at least as much as I taught, and was challenged in ways I could never have imagined had I not had the experience. I know I’ve never worked harder than I did as a teacher, and I’ve never been stretched intellectually to the extent that engaging the complex smorgasbord of excitable humanity known as a classroom taxed my capacity.

Yet, far too many supposedly intelligent people in this country fail to grasp either the complexity or the art of meaningful classroom leadership, dismissively consigning gifted educators to throw-away status with scarcely a second thought.

I remember running into a former college friend who was ten years into a lucrative law practice. “Why would you waste your time as a teacher?” he queried, his face a mixture of incredulity and derision; “I thought you were one of the more intelligent students?”

Don’t misunderstand the point of this post. I’m not advocating carte-blanch higher teacher salaries so much as I’m interested in raising public awareness of what is at stake if we continue to devalue public education as a profession, as a fundamental building block of our future, and as the most important priority of state and local government.

800px-James_Abram_Garfield,_photo_portrait_seated
James Garfield – Library of Congress

JAMES GARFIELD: James Garfield – who served a short term as president (1881) before being shot by a assassin and then slowly killed by an incompetent medical team – is someone our politicians could learn a great deal from today.

Garfield said this about public education (which he saw more as the teaching of values, of problem-solving, and of how to think clearly rather than the rote stuffing of brains in order to pass test after test after test after test): “Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.” 

Garfield – who attended his party’s 1880 convention as campaign manager for candidate John Sherman – was offered the nomination after a protracted deadlock between the leading contenders. He won the Presidency after a low-key “front porch” campaign, and entered the White House having avoided the soul-destroying path of self-promotion, narcissism, and political demagoguery.

I publicly admit to praying that some kind of time-warp will cover both major party conventions this year, and a public-spirited Garfield 2.0 will emerge to offer respite from the sad degeneration of 21st Century politics to its current high-cost, low-value expression.

LEARNING: The more I think about it, the more I believe there is a strong relationship between the value we place on public education and the value we get from public officials.

So I’ll let James Garfield have the last word. It’s a good one.

“Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.” – James Garfield

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