August 24, 2023

Forgive me for editorializing a little bit. I recently listened to a podcast from a "conservative" commentator. Overall, she was well-balanced and made some good points about the world we live in and life in general. 

Then she talked about public education. Now, I am not one of those people that looks uncritically at public education. I think there are things we (as public educators) have done not so well in the past, and continue to do not so well in the present.

All public institutions deserve to be viewed with a critical eye every now and then.

What disappointed me in the interview was the commentator's assumptions about the people that work within public education. She was discussing how the pandemic response by school officials reflected their lack of concern for children. Her theory was that all of us knew that COVID was not as dangerous as it seemed, and we (as public educators) wanted to keep schools closed so we could work from home. 


This leads me to something that I think about a lot. When I hear things like this, I ask myself one question.

"What do you have to believe, to believe what you believe?"

In this instance, what does the commentator have to believe about the people working in public education to come to her conclusions about public education's response to COVID?

It seems that she believes those of us engaged in public education are self-serving sheeple that don't care for kids. By believing that, she can now believe that those of us making decisions about COVID made the wrong decision every time. After all, we are self-serving sheeple only looking out for ourselves.

I am going to challenge you to look at a different situation with the same question in mind.

I have friends and colleagues who work for cyber-charter schools. They are professional educators trying to do what is best for kids. During the past week, I heard two people refer to those who make the decision to go to work for cyber-charter schools as "going to the dark side."

Dark side? What is that?

"What do you have to believe to believe what you believe?"

If you think cyber-charters are "the dark side," then you believe that no student can benefit from an education in that setting. Furthermore, you have to believe that the people that work for cyber-charter schools are there to make the most money possible and don't really care about the education of kids. 

So, in both of these scenarios, it seems to me people are making an error in reasoning. In the former, the commentator believes that ALL public educators are sheeple looking out for their own self-interest (or why else would you believe that schools stayed closed during COVID based on individual decisions of educators?)

In the latter, because there are legitimate problems with how cyber-charters are funded, the entire system, and the people that work in them, are on the dark side.

Once we have demonized the other side, it is very difficult to have a rational conversation about coming together to do what is best for learners.

If I had a magic wand, I would find the most partisan person for each side of the cyber charter debate and ask them to come to a discussion with a list of 10 things that need to be fixed about their side of the argument. Once we start a discussion by looking critically at what your own side does, then it is easier to have productive conversations about how we can work together to solve legitimate problems.

The open question is this: do we have the will, maturity, and the time to do it?

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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