A local conservative pundit recently wrote an article vilifying public education and claiming that our schools are producing “progressive zombies.” I’m not interested in linking to it, but a Google search for “progressive zombies” will surely get you there. It’s quite a read. The author’s premise is that public school teachers are feeding young people a “rich diet of propaganda, so that by eighth grade they are well on their way to being good little minions of the state who believe in everything and nothing at all.” Yeah, that’s what conservatives believe is happening in our public school classrooms.
It’s complete nonsense of course, but I promise that Republican legislators read this stuff and buy into it. They are being told that America’s teachers have entered into a vast conspiracy to turn our young people into “progressive zombies.” In an era where the current Secretary of Education has never attended, been a parent in, worked in, or had any affiliation with any public schools, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.
A 2017 Education Next survey (http://educationnext.org/2017-ednext-poll-interactive/) points out that 54% of those polled believe their local public school should receive a grade of an A or a B, while those same people believe that only 23% of schools nationally should get an A or a B. There’s a disconnect in those results and I have a premise as to why. Our communities recognize that the schools in their neighborhood are doing the right work. We may believe that schools in “other places” aren’t doing well, but the schools that we have contact with are finding success with the kids in our community. The reality is that every public school faces unique challenges and every public school has unique gifts that are representative of the communities they serve. It is easy to throw stones at “those other” schools, but we should really focus our energy on making sure that every school can thrive based on their distinct needs.
So, what about the idea that America’s public school teachers are actively working to indoctrinate our young people into some sort of progressive cult? Well, I am apparently not getting invited to those meetings. I do get to visit a lot of classrooms and I’ll tell you what I see. I see students engaged in projects intended for authentic audiences. I see vigorous debates about the meaning of great literature. I see teachers adapting their teaching strategies for diverse learner needs. I see kindergartners doing incredible problem-solving projects that require them to be collaborative and think critically. I hear incredible music being made. I see students cooking, building, creating art, and being physically active. If you haven’t been in a public school in the last ten years, you need to visit one. I have the pleasure of encountering hundreds of teachers in my work and EVERY ONE of them is doing all they can to support student learning and well-being.
When someone says that our schools are indoctrinating young people with an agenda you can be sure that what they are really saying is that public schools are not promoting THEIR agenda. I’ve said this before, but if it is your belief that America’s public school teachers aren’t up to the task, bring on your army of better qualified people who will do this work while making 17% less than other college graduates (https://www.epi.org/publication/teachers-make-17-percent-less-than-similar-workers/). Assuming we can agree that we all want our public schools to be the best they can be, I can assure you that demonizing those who go into teaching isn’t the answer.
Teachers are making themselves heard across the country, not because we want to, but because we have to. Our schools have to be focused on what is good for ALL young people. Teachers have to fight to be sure that ALL students have access to a great education. Don’t be fooled into diverting limited resources to those who seek to turn a profit, put more money in the pockets of those who don’t need it, or to those who seek to pursue narrow-minded political or religious agendas. Those of us who recognize the important work that is being done in our public schools need to reclaim the narrative from those who seek to diminish what is really happening. The story of our schools needs to be told by those who are actually in the classrooms and know the truth.