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Front Page » May 13, 2003 » Opinion » Somethings wrong with education
Published 4,180 days ago

Somethings wrong with education


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By DENECE JOHNSON
Guest columnist

There is something terribly wrong with public education in Utah. If you don't believe the legislature, the business coalitions, the angry parents, or the taxpayers' associations, maybe you will believe me. I am a school teacher. I work in this faulty system, and lately I have been asking myself why I bother.

Every February, teachers and schools are demonized on the editorial pages and on Capitol Hill. We are portrayed as greedy whiners who just need to be held more accountable Angry homeowners blame us for their outrageous property taxes.

Yes, there is definitely something wrong, and if we (as a state) do not correct it soon, the system of public education is going to implode. The problem, however, has nothing to do with omnibus reform bills, clueless legislators, or teachers' unions. Those are just symptoms of the real problem. The truth is that when it comes to educating our children, Utah is a land of irresponsible hypocrites. Our irresponsibility and hypocrisy will bring public education to ruin. We are all to blame.

Utah is a famously (notoriously?) child-friendly place. Our predominant culture encourages large families, and children are acknowledged as our most valuable resource, yet Utah spends significantly less money per child on education than any other state in the nation. Utahns should be ashamed of this statistic, but we have been able to escape the blame. Utah has always been able to balance this discrepancy on the backs of teachers who work for the love of the kids, not for the paycheck. We fool ourselves into believing that everything is okay because students' test scores are above average, Involved parents and school volunteers pick up the slack left by overcrowded classrooms and inadequate supply budgets, and the rest of us go on feeling okay about the education our children are getting. But that is all going to end soon.

Our child population is forever going up, but the amount of money available for education is forever dwindling. It doesn't take a million-dollar study (although plenty have been done) to indicate that you can't cram an infinite number of children into a school of finite size. You have to spend more money on schools and teachers. That's all there is to it. If you won't do that, the system will fall apart. If we are truly so child-friendly, we should be paying for our kids' education with dollars, not lip service.

Many of us, particularly in the field of education, tend to blame the legislature, that all-powerful collection of rich men making all the rules and doling out all the money. While it is true that the legislature usually has final say in how much schools will be underfunded each year, I don't blame them for the crisis in public education. The fact is that they are elected officials. Again it is the general public that gives them the power to waste time and taxpayer money debating whether or not students should have to recite the Pledge of Allegiance (something that every public school I have ever been in does anyway) when the real problem is that Johnny can't read or add. If people are truly dissatisfied with public education then we ought to elect new legislators with creative ideas who will advocate for students in a real way (with dollars) rather than by simply paying lip service to "our most precious resource" while continually removing more funding, allowing class size to grow, and requiring still more inane testing to take away teaching and learning time each year. We need new legislators who actually care about our children, so why don't we elect some? As are many Utahns, I am a lifelong, staunch Republican, but I think it is time to consider voting for legislators based on their positions and ideas rather than on the political party to which they belong. We claim to want the best for our children, but we continue to elect legislators that hate teachers and schools. If that's not hypocritical, nothing is.

The final hypocritical segment of the general public most responsible for the crisis in education are the uninvolved parents. Parenting is a matter of responsibility, but it seems that some Utahns are more concerned with having children than with taking care of them. The schools can only do so much. They cannot meet every need, despite the number of yearly mandates the legislature hands down. A school is responsible to provide a safe atmosphere that is conducive to learning and then to provide the opportunity for students to learn. Teachers are regularly criticized for not doing enough, but no school or teacher, no matter how great can force a child to learn. The child must come to the task willingly, and fewer students than ever are doing that. Why? It's not a lack of fancy preschool programs. It's a lack of parenting. It is work to be a responsible parent that raises responsible children, and some people in this state aren't up to the task. They believe that for eight hours a day a school that serves a thousand students can and should meet every need of every one of them.

Sadly, these irresponsible parents are often the people complaining the loudest about all the ways that schools fail, despite the fact that they seldom go in one. The reason Johnny can't read is not because the schools failed him; it's because Johnny's parents failed him, Look at all the students every year who excel. Are they just products of a good school? They are products of families that encourage learning, support the efforts of teachers, and set positive examples. They are not Johnny's parents, who spend all their time bad-mouthing the schools and teachers that they never bother to communicate with because they are too busy playing Nintendo and watching late-night TV in their book-free households. Blaming a teacher or a school for a child's failure is like blaming a doctor or hospital for the inevitable death of a terminally ill patient. Schools can only work with what parents send them. So while there may well be a need for more accountability in education, it isn't the students, the teachers, or the schools that need more testing. Parents need to be held accountable too. It is the responsibility of parents to send children to school ready to learn.

Utah is an irresponsible hypocrisy when it comes to public education. We claim that children are our greatest resource, but year after year we refuse to put our money where our collective mouth is. We continue to vote for legislators that never go near a classroom, yet who make all the rules and decides where the money should be spent, and we do this at the expense of the children we claim to love so much.

Finally, we aren't involved enough in our children's education. We expect schools to do it all, but we don't want to give them the necessary resources or take the time to prepare our students to succeed in school. And from here in my classroom, it looks like it is going to get a lot worse before it gets any better.

Utahns should own up to our responsibility to our children and then do something about it.


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May 13, 2003
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