For the teachers, public education, and the Public Good

As the public education system is roiled by a needless dispute triggered solely by the ideological missteps and callous disregard of a of a blundering and vindictive provincial government, it’s time to set a few things straight.

Firstly, I will not buy into this discourse of “efficiency” and “cost savings” and “investment” and “resiliency.” When you speak the other side’s language, you’re playing their game. On their turf. Fuck that. They don’t get to define the terms. Not that they’re doing a particularly good job of that, judging from the latest clumsy attempt at astroturfing.

Education is a Public Good. We all benefit from having an educated population that’s literate, informed, and able to think critically. Understanding complicated issues, seeing analogies, recognizing specious arguments, and not swallowing bullshit automatically are essential to informed citizenship. Let’s ask ourselves — who benefits from an ignorant, dumbed-down, easily manipulated population? Look south.

Back to the Public Good. We pursue it and devote time, energy, and resources to it because we think it’s worthwhile and will pay off over the long term. We do this because this is important to us as a society. This matters. I don’t buy into the notion that public services, goods, and institutions should be as cheap and mingy as possible. What kind of message does that send? And by extension, what kind of message are we sending when we treat teachers — the front line of the education system — with contempt and derision? Computers are useful instruments, but they can’t replace personal interaction, guidance, mentoring, and all the other ways teachers help our kids. (Disclosure: I don’t have a kid in the school system any more. She’s graduated. She also taps other public services which are also profoundly inadequate, but we’ll set that aside for now. And I don’t even want to think where she’d be if not for the dedication and commitment of her teachers all through high school.)

To hell with the language of the business school. The education system isn’t there to build brand awareness or make a profit or generate shareholder value, and anyone who thinks it is can stay the hell away from my kid and the public sphere in its entirety. These ideas have no place in discussions of education policy. Requiring public institutions to have a “business plan” in this context is an obscenity.

I wouldn’t expect a drug-dealing dropout who inherited everything to understand this, but just because someone can’t make a buck off it doesn’t mean it’s not important.

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