The next generation

Last weekend, I went to a board retreat for our kids school where I sit on the board.  We do this yearly, roughly at the same time, in the city on a Saturday morning from 830-230.  The topics change annually but are chosen with the thought that the board will think bigger about the institution.

This year, Joel Westheimer, came in to speak to us about Educating the "Good" Citizen:  The Politics of Teaching Democracy.  Joel is an incredible speaker.  Articulate, knowledgeable and passionate about this topic.  He is a professor at the University of Ottawa and research Chair of Democracy in Education. He grew up in New York and taught at NYU for many years.  Joel has written a variety of books but the one that we were really discussing was his latest, Pledging Allegiance, the Politics of Democracy in America's Schools.

I have been thinking about the conversations we had all week.  Watching the markets crash this past week made me think even more about our discussions. 

Basically, we are at odds in education.  In the last 7 years, through the policies of the Bush administration such as No Child Left Behind, many states have passed laws that have stopped promoting critical thinking, conversation and discussion.  Teachers have been suspended when kids in their classroom were asked to give an analysis and opinion about the war in Iraq, kids have been suspended for being anti-war.  A political discourse has run into the education system.  That is the public education system.  There is a believe that our public school teachers should be teaching math, English and only one perspective of history that is based on fact, science is still being debated in regards to evolution.  In essence, no multiple perspectives which give no foundation for critical thinking.  Pushing our children not to learn, think or question but just take in what is predetermined by the educators or the politicians. 

It was many hours of conversation which is difficult to compress into a paragraph but in essence I believe that this sort of direction is bad for our country on so many levels.  How does this type of education ( that would be without the arts, music and little phys ed) create the next Jasper Johns, the next Einstein, the next Jesse Owens, the next Martin Luther King.  Have we been so blinded that we have allowed this administration to create a Totalitarian Government? 

What we are creating is a bigger divide between the rich and the not rich.  Children in private schools, such as ours, which is a very progressive independent thinking school that embraces critical thinking, embraces kids that question authority ( in a respectful manner ).  That type of critical thinking allows for teachable moments. 

The lack of controls and accountability the Bush administration has given to the Banks and Insurance companies is the polar opposite of schools.  Heads of the supposed blue chip institutions of our country have gone bankrupt.  The leaders of these companies have taken huge salaries regardless of the poor decisions they have made.  Bad investments, poor decisions and a serious lack of leadership has gone on.  Corporate America at its worst. 

Let's fast forward 20 years from now.  Who will be running these companies?  If our public education system is creating laws so that teachers are not allowed to teach social justice, create room for encouraging creative discussions, not allowing for multiple perspectives of thought, not embracing dialogues for any subject and essentially creating a structural impediment what will America's future look like? 

Are we creating a country of people on cruise control?  Look at what has happened over the past week.  Why on earth would our Government want to control what is being taught in the class with the lesson it is my way or the highway type of learning.  This sort of teaching doesn't necessarily happen in private schools because they are not publicly funded and don't have to follow the formats that have been handed to them to make sure they get money. 

I just don't get the Bush administration.  Let the companies run free, spend all our money abroad not at home, structure our education system to the point where there is no room for multiple perspectives.  This Totalitarian way of thinking in a democracy creates havoc in the long run because people in the US can only stay in power for 8 years.  Although certainly the Supreme Court judges can be long lasting but educating our children is eternal.  What these laws are doing is creating an even broader separation between the wealthy and not wealthy, public and the private.

This whole week has shown us yet again how much of our financial industry relies on people feeling secure.  The heads of corporate America have raped the American public.  There is no confidence.  Separating our country from the haves and have-nots in education will make America weaker not stronger.  

Education is the key to life.  Education which embraces free thinkers is even more important.  Without that, who will be our leaders of tomorrow?  Will America just become a place where the leaders only end up being kids who grew up in the private school system?  Is that the type of America we want our kids to have?  It isn't the type of America I want to live in.  I want to live in a place where we can agree to disagree at at least have the wherewithal to debate through critical thinking.