Today I woke up to discover that Betsy DeVos has been confirmed as the new Secretary of Education, that the Senate had been split 50–50 and that Mike Pence had been called in to break the tie. Not gonna lie, Internet: it made getting out of bed a little bit harder.
I am the product of a public-school system that had to fight tooth and nail for every penny of funding it could possibly get. And, while I didn’t agree with all the ways they spent (or didn’t) those pennies, I still got a solid education. I didn’t recognize it while I was learning it — teen angst and my allergy to authority got in the way of that — but I am thankful for it all the time now.
That school is still barely surviving. Even after consolidating the schools and turning the now Junior/Senior high school into a charter school to open the door for more funding, it still struggles.
In larger/more densely populated areas this might be sad but would still be mostly manageable. In the remote area where I grew up? It would mean losing the only school in that part of the county. The nearest school within the school system is almost forty miles away. Even if the school was adopted by the one of the other neighboring school systems, the nearest school would still be around thirty miles out.
What are the solutions here?
Bussing? In a county that is already so strapped for cash that they’re shutting down the library system? Where do they come up with the funds?
Home schooling? How do parents work and stay home to teach their kids (not to mention that not all parents are meant to be teachers)?
Do the families pack up and move to the nearest town with a school? Where do they get the money for that? What about their jobs? Would they commute back and forth?
Privatization (the DeVos Way)? Where do the families get the money to cover the cost of tuition?
It’s easy to get philosophical about the role of school in a child’s education. It’s easy to argue over which subjects should or shouldn’t be taught and what kind of educational approach to those subjects a teacher should take. It’s easy to get mad about “teaching to the test” and common core and whether the school year needs to be longer or shorter. These are all important discussions that need to be had and that we should have over and over again as our culture shifts and changes.
But if there isn’t a school to argue over? What happens then? How do we make sure this upcoming generation learns the skills necessary to get by — especially when we’re not totally sure which skills are going to be needed the most? How do kids learn the subjects in which their parents are not already well versed?
Yes, there will be those driven kids who take their educations into their own hands and will learn and grow despite all of this work being put into keeping them dumb and complacent. What about the rest?
One of the most important things we learn in school is how to learn on purpose. Schools force us to explore subjects we might not have ever encountered on our own. Schools teach us that knowledge is a good thing. Schools make us try. Schools make us learn despite all our insistence that “I will never use this.”
And I say that as someone who once shouted “Holy shit, I just used algebra in real life!” in the middle of a grocery store. As an adult.
Every day this administration gives us new problems that deserve our panic-stricken attention. Keeping up is hard and facing all of these new crises every day is exhausting. But if it weren’t for school? I wouldn’t know how to make heads or tails of any of them. I wouldn’t know how to objectively evaluate them or put them into context. I probably wouldn’t know that they were problems at all.
It’s almost as if that has been this administration’s goal all along.