My feeds have been inundated with post after post dealing with teacher burnout, teacher shortages, government attacks on teachers and public schools. In response to one video, a friend of mine commented:
This is going to be a crazy summer and fall. I wonder if we are witnessing the end of public education.
Teaching was always a high attrition profession but given the stress teachers have been under since the pandemic started it's no surprise that teachers who can are leaving in droves. As much as society says that teachers are essential, the fact is that society never puts its money where its mouth is. Teachers have been underpaid, under resourced, and overworked for decades.
The pandemic just brought this out and accelerated it.
At the same time, young people are realizing that teaching is becoming less and less viable as a profession. Schools of education face declining enrollment. It doesn't help that schools of education by and large have poor reputations with the public and state requirements for teaching force those interested to jump through far too many hoops and the hoops won't help them if the candidate decides teaching isn't for them.
The fact is that teaching and public school teaching in particular has been under attack for decades and we might be rapidly approaching a tipping point.
This means that if you haven't, it's time to pick a side. Are you for public education and if so, what are you doing about it?
The right has been attacking public schools for as long as I can remember. Voucher bills, supporting charters that are terrific ways of skimming money from public schools while avoiding accountability and most currently legislation to control schools in ways that, quite frankly are so vile I won't dive into specifics here.
The left isn't much better. We had Arne Duncan claiming that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing for New Orleans schools since it allowed for privatization. Rahm Emanuel has also been no friend to public education. In NY we had twelve years of Bloomberg who ran as a republican but aligns with democrats destroying neighborhood schools and pushing private charters and we also most recently had Andrew Cuomo who is also no friend to public schools.
I usually post about CS Education so why am I writing about this?
Because far too often the CS Community is just happy to be in the game and ignores the collateral damage to public education.
I wrote a little about this back in 2017 when Code.org decided to partner with the College board (link). Why was a CS Ed organiztion essentially pushing a new, additional, and worthless standardized exams on to eighth graders. Now, I'm sure that the people at Code.org don't agree with me that the College Board has too much power and is harmful and this helped them get in the room but I disagree.
Another great example is when code.org, districts, curriculum providers and everyone else who's rolling out short form PD claiming that "they've trained teachers to teach CS" and that those teachers are ready to go. I'd like to believe all of this is well meaning and I do believe most of it is but it does real damage to the profession.
We also see this when we see best practices preached from elite private institutions. Practices that would never work under urban public school challenges but that then is what the public school teacher is held up to.
We also see this when we work for said institutions or companies who pay lip service to public education by throwing out some crumbs. Prior to my pushing things at Google NY, urban public schools weren't on their map. They talked the diversity game but didn't walk the walk. They're doing better now but still have so far to go and to be honest, as an institution I don't think there' doing better. Rather, they just have some individuals in places where they can do some good and they're doing it. What happens when they leave?
If you work at one of these big companies or at an "elite" institution education are you just collecting your check to maintain the status quo or are you working to make things better in public education - particularly for the most vulnerable and most undeserved?
If you are working at said company and are trying to do good, is it enough?
No it's not and I know that might make some people uncomfortable.
If you're working at random big company or "elite" school and run a program to provide an opportunity for a handful of "those" kids. No, it's not enough. My friend Leigh Ann Delyser talks about Systemic Change. If we just work around the edges, just run our little programs, in the long run, how much are we changing. If we're not working to change the systems we're just going to remain on the treadmill.
One of my jobs at Hunter was to create an honors CS program. One of the things I insisted on was that I have a chance to move the opportunities I created to the greater Hunter population. If I was only affecting my 30 - 60 kids a year nothing was really changing and when I leave Hunter it would probably be all gone. That's not meaningful change. On the other hand, if I can create something that stick and positively affects all Hunter CS students, then we've moved the needle even if only by a bit,
I for one left Wall Street over thirty years ago because I found the work unfulfilling and didn't believe in the ethics of the system. I just tried teaching on a lark and it stuck. I went into public education because I believe in it and its importance and I remain in public ed to this day. I don't know if I've succeeded in any systemic change but I think that I've at least been a part of it in my small corner of the world.
As many of you know, I'll talk shop with anyone but I also draw a line. I'll talk but I'm not going to work to help you if I think you're doing harm. I've talked, for instance with people from the Success Academy charter schools but I'd never work with them, at least not unless they seriously changed their practices and made amends for past damage. To quote Carl Fox from Wall Street: "I don't go to bed with no whore, and I don't wake up with no whore. That's how I live with myself. What about you?"
I titled this post "Which side are you on?" That's from the song by Florence Reece about the Harlan County War during the labor movement. Just like then, it's time to pick sides now. Do you believe in public education and do you think it's important and what are you going to do about it?
Below is a cover of the song by the Weavers.
I'll leave you with one last story. One of my personal heroes, Pete Seeger was a member of the Weavers. Pete left the group in 1958. The rest of the group had decided to do a cigarette ad, something that Pete disagreed with. He apparently was concerned with both selling out and the health issues. He left the group although he did fulfill all outstanding contractual commitments. He relayed the story during an interview. It went something like: the band said they wanted to do this cigarett ad. I objected. They said we needed the money. I said "we don't need it that much."
Something to think about.