Cheers! And Goodbye.
I’ve poured myself a glass of wine to both celebrate and mourn this, my 551st and final column.
As you know, the Bay Area News Group will soon consolidate most of its newspapers; and, since my column has appeared in but two them, it was a foregone conclusion that I as well as other columnists/journalists would be let go.
Fortunately, I’ve matured a bit since I first started writing this column in 1991. I’ve learned that, while it’s important to grieve, it’s crucial as well to accept stoically how all things must pass, and to be grateful for what has been. (The older I get, the more Buddhist I become.)
I am very grateful for this column. It’s been cathartic for me (and Lord knows, I can get very emotional about Education), a tremendous challenge (one I never imagined I could meet), a source of pride (sometimes inordinately so, I suppose), and, above all, a chance to tell the vital story of kids, teachers and schools--one laden with mirth and pathos, grace and rage, triumph and tragedy.
So, I hope the Muses--or, perhaps, this glass of wine--will grant me some special inspiration tonight.
I cannot ride off into the sunset without one last temper tantrum about school reforms.
They won’t work.
Why? Because they’ve been designed by ignorant politicians and market-based ideologues who, in their hubris, have misdiagnosed what ails public schools.
The problem, reformers claim, is a lack of accountability and competition. So, they’d use standardized testing to root out the worst teachers, and force the others to finally do their jobs. (They’d destroy their unions along way, even though the states with the highest test scores in the nation are also the ones with the strongest unions.)
Such testing has only exacerbated an already dire situation. Educators teach to the test, narrow the curriculum, abandon the kids at the bottom and, when that doesn’t work, cheat. The best of them often just quit.
What are the real problems besetting public schools?
The education profession usually attracts only the bottom percentiles of college graduates. (Now that we’ve so scapegoated public educators, we can expect even that shameful statistic to worsen.) We send the least-qualified of them to teach in dilapidated inner-city schools where we’ve imprisoned our poor, predominately minority kids. (Our schools are now more segregated by race and especially by class than ever before in our nation’s history.) Meanwhile, schools cling to a century-old, assembly-line, age-based model of education which serves no one. And too many parents have abdicated their responsibilities, allowing a sick, TV/PS4/wii/smartphone culture to raise their kids.
Worst of all, one out of every five children in our country lives in poverty; which, besides being unconscionable, is the single most powerful impediment to them succeeding in schools.
Will testing, accountability, or competition ameliorate any of the above?
The truth is, this country has embraced testing because it hasn’t the courage nor the will to acknowledge, much less address the real issues in education or this country. As long as we squander our grandchildren’s wealth on killing (and thus creating more) terrorists, as long as corporate CEOs send jobs oversees, foreclose on families, manipulate the government, destroy the middle class, silence the press (columnists like me)--and pay themselves obscene bonuses for doing so--there really is no hope for public education in this country. (Or, perhaps, for this country.)
The real school reformers are occupying Wall Street today, their voices crying in the wilderness that has become America. With my newfound free time, I hope to join them in Oakland or San Francisco soon.
Well, I’m glad I’ve gotten that tirade off my chest one last time!
I can’t end, though, without also expressing again how much I still love my job. It is such a privilege and pleasure to spend my days with children. I attempt to inspire them. They, without even trying, frustrate me, surprise me, and never fail to make me laugh. They are oh so beautiful gifts.
So, with my final words, I raise my glass of wine to them, to the Bay Area News Group editors who have given me this column for so many years, and to you who have read it.
Cheers! And goodbye.
Published October 24, 2011, in The Argus and The Daily Review (Bay Area News Group)
Posted by DAVE ELLISON