November 13, 2020

America at it’s best

The political world today is filled with two political parties that are in a race to the bottom. There is no guiding philosophy in either party for the betterment of average American citizens. Platitudes and elitists mumblings from both the right and the left “don’t put supper on the table” as my grandfather would say. I am sickened by the lack of positive political discourse in the United States.

The right-wing media bubble is defeatist. They have taken their cue from President Trump and espouse a worldview of “American carnage”. The talking heads in the right-wing media bubble (if you take them at their word) simply believe the best days of America are behind us. They espouse a form of reality dictating that everyone should take what they can from their neighbors, communities, and society while America burns.

The left wing media bubble (although I believe they want to have the best interest of the “common man” at the forefront) are so disconnected from what actually happens in the “real” world of Americans that their ideas shouted from their pulpits are demeaning to most of us. On a good day, they are only slightly condescending, on bad days, downright hostile.

Public Education Exceptionalism

Here is what I see right now in America. Public education leaders, and other front line workers, are rising above the toxic political discourse. Front line workers in the fight against COVID represent the best of America. Health care workers, restaurant and hotel workers, first responders, and educators rise above the political noise of the left and right to represent the best of American values.

A miraculous thing is happening right now in public schools. School leaders realize that the role of their schools and the impact of their decisions reach beyond the artificial constraints of No Child Left Behind or any other education policy reform. School leaders know that the local and state health departments are so overrun with COVID issues that they are on their own when making COVID-related decisions. Making tough decisions about shutting schools, quarantining staff and students, and creating a healthy school environment are the best examples of leadership in any context.

I see school leaders every day embracing the reality of their current situation. There are two realities.

COVID-19 Reality

COVID-19 is going to get worse over the next three months. Deaths, hospitalizations, and infections are going to grow significantly in the United States. Simple mitigation techniques, like wearing a mask, have become politicized. School leaders are confronted with the fact that COVID-19 is going to get worse while navigating the world of COVID-19 deniers. As COVID-19 spreads, schools will have a hard time staying open because of the number of staff and learners that will either be ill or in some sort of isolation because they were exposed to a positive COVID-19 case.

Education Reality

School leaders know that their schools will swing back and forth between different instructional models as COVID-19 rips through their communities. We know that the best educational setting for learners is in a school, sitting with their peers and a teacher. However, face to face learning is going to be a challenge as more people are infected. This will force schools to go to a hybrid learning option or full remote learning. Deciding when to go from one instructional model or the other, while keeping the best interest of the learner at the forefront, is the top priority for school leaders right now.


Bernard Bailyn in his seminal book The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, argues that America was founded on the idea that the Constitution did not give Americans any rights. Rather, the rights enumerated are natural rights for all people. Today, public education leaders are awakening to the fact that their value in society does not have to be given to them by policy elites on either side of the political spectrum. Rather, their value, worth, and power are inherent in what they do.

School leaders are combining a growing sense of political identity that moves them beyond begging for money at budget time. School leaders are making decisions that keep their schools and their communities safe during the most challenging crisis in America in the past 50 years. School leaders are creating entirely new instructional models that have not been available to their students before. School leaders are keeping the bedrock community institution open (the schools) for their community. School leaders are not shirking their duties, they are making decisions and leading.

I am optimistic about the future of public education. I believe the best leadership in the country right now exists in our public schools. The circus that we see in Washington and our state capitals illuminates just how well our school leaders are leading their schools.

About the author 

Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.

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