These days, the term “public education” seems to mean a little bit of this and a little bit of that, as if teaching and learning are the ingredients of a secret recipe.
Education is no secret. What happens outside and inside schools, however, is multilayered systematic chaos.
So-called education is dispensed by “educators” who are not necessarily teachers. Once one of the noblest of professions, teaching has become a complex grid of red tape controlled by federal bureaucrats safely embedded in Washington; governors, mayors and county executives who tether their policies to get-out-the-vote agendas; and unionists who knew our schools were closing before we did and didn’t prepare themselves, us or students.
Yet they all pull, push, tug and demand at the same time.
As a result, when COVID-19 struck, elected officials simultaneously channeled defiant Alabama Democrats George Wallace and Bull Connor and blocked schoolhouse doors. Students’ GPAs tanked, and grades, and ceremonies traditionally held at the end of the school year were canceled. Teachers didn’t even receive their shiny, red apples. Tsk, tsk, tsk.
As we emerge from the darkness of the coronavirus, let’s look forward to the ringing of school bells in a different way.
Politicians and unions are mostly focusing on what school facilities should look like when faculty and students return, mostly proposing the same health and safety mandates that have been followed since the COVID-19 lockdown.
Fine. Let’s call it back to basics.
Just as we need to disinfect classrooms, restrooms and eating areas, we need to disinfect teaching.
Consider the academic mindset that all children must attend college. After that was embedded into the curriculum of public education, we should have asked what happens to home economics, industrial arts and physical education? Children are still taught the three Rs, but sewing was kicked to the curb. Perhaps too domesticated post-women’s movement?
Ironically, one of the first stores recently looted in D.C. was pricey Moncler, which sells kids’ winter wear costing several hundred dollars and adults several thousands. Children and adults would know how to design and sew their own, if learning were an educational priority or even an option.
Ditto the basics of industrial arts. The lack of basic, hands-on training in the industrial arts means school janitors and custodians can easily grasp the art of sweeping and mopping floors, and collecting and dumping trash. But what about welding and wood carving to build a jungle gym in the backyard?
Do teachers teach the mechanics of plumbing and pipefitting? Basic instruction on the difference between a cubic and linear foot would allow phys ed and math teachers to piggyback lesson plans.
Basic teaching piques the curiosity of children who want to move into STEM programs.
Children learn and love to get their hands dirty when they’re young, and because of COVID-19 we’re reinforcing how important the basic lesson of hand washing: Do it and do it often.
Our schools should teach and show how sometimes somebody’s got their hands dirty, and our schools can teach U.S. history along the way — the men, women and children who built America got dirty along the way, building infrastructure and tending to agriculture.
But, hey, even our Founders’ hands were soiled by ink.
• Deborah Simmons can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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