Republicans talk a lot—and the Obama Administration too—about the need to incentivize better teaching and sometimes to privatize education. We don't just need to pour more money into public schools, they insist, but we must critically investigate teachers, take over schools, and bring down the hammer. But the problem behind poor performance isn’t just mediocre teachers, who under-perform because there’s no accountability. It’s that this country doesn’t give a crap about teachers. The United States doesn’t value a student who learns. We don’t value a community’s assistance.
It’s too Socialist, I suppose.
We value success, sure. But we value self-made success, pull-yourself-up-from-the-bootstraps success without your parents or a teacher or gubmint. When I tell people I dropped out of high school and never got a GED (and now write in a newspaper filled with sex ads and expletives!!), they’re enthused and intrigued and impressed. My path is so… American. My work is so public. But nobody bats a damn eye if you graduate college or even get a masters degree. Nobody cares if you toil silently to improve the world behind the scenes. You have to get a doctorate before people care, and even then, you’re elitist scum to most Americans. The public-university professors and teachers who got you there? They’re just blood-sucking bureaucratic layabouts with gold-plated benefits.
The real problem is that America isn't socialist enough.
Our idols don’t lead or show gratitude. Our idols rise from the ghetto, replete with indifference; they're trainwrecks on reality TV; they collapse in disgraced addiction in order to be resurrected valiantly on the cover of People magazine. They have no one to thank but themselves.
We need more heroes who dot their “i”s and cross their “t”s. We need more heroes who teach people how to spell correctly and use commas. And to get there, we need to stop scapegoating public teachers for costing too much when the problem, the real problem, is that we don't buck up to pay them enough. And partisans on both sides need to stop pretending we can streamline the nation's strongest asset—ingenuity, teachers, and schools—into efficiencies like they're chain stores.
More money for teachers and schools is a big part of the solution—a huge part of it. A bigger part of it than testing or selling our schools to private companies, as Initiative 1240 tries to do this fall with charter schools. If we want education to succeed, we need to better embrace communal success as an American value. Instead, our approach is like western medicine: We only come together only in crisis (after mass murders) and almost never to plot our long-term health, safety, or intelligence.
We need a president who doesn’t just talk about education but talks about the most badass teacher in rural Mississippi. We need the president to visit his or her home. We need Seattle’s teacher of the month, a person selected to go on the radio with the mayor and lead the Torchlight Parade. We need the governor to do more than glad-hand at schools during election cycles—we need the governor to take a teacher around on her jet for a week and blog the whole thing. We need to make being a good teacher the coolest achievement possible. Make it a noble job and not a thankless sacrifice. We should be publishing student essays in the paper and have assemblies to celebrate them with half the gusto of the football team.
Shit, in that America, I might have even stayed in school.