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Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Compulsory Education?

Happy Thursday!

I was talking to a teacher friend the other day, and she remarked that she feels like her head is spinning with how quickly her world has changed in the last several months. She said that not only have COVID-inspired regulations affected every aspect of her career, but she’s seeing her fellow teachers act in a way that has left her confused and questioning her association with them. She also noted that she’s feeling a shift in the way parents, and the general public, see teachers.

She said she once felt like she belonged to a group that was generally favored in communities across the country—people loved teachers! But in the last few months she’s seen an uptick in social media posting—even by friends and family—about how entitled and awful teachers are. “Parents seem to be turning against teachers en masse,” she said, and although she felt sad about it, she said she could kind of understand where they were coming from.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation a lot the last few days, and I have to say that I agree with what she observed. I’m not a teacher, but I have done a lot of work with teachers, and in schools, promoting our Tuttle Twins books, so I have built some pretty good relationships with teachers over the years. I have always had a generally positive opinion of teachers—even if I’ve been critical of government education as a whole—but I’m definitely seeing some things that have me pretty concerned.

Last month, I read a bunch about the demands of the L.A. Teachers Union politicizing of their “back to school” demands. They didn’t even try to hide their agenda—speaking loud and proud about the things they wanted in return for agreeing to do their jobs:

The Los Angeles Teachers Union is one of the largest in the state, and the “United Teachers Los Angeles” say public schools should not reopen unless their demands are met.

Their demands include implementing a moratorium on private schools, defunding the police, increasing taxes on the wealthy, implementing Medicare for all, and passing the HEROES Act, which allocated an additional $116 billion in federal education funding to the states.

The union’s demands also took aim at charter schools.
The United Teachers Los Angeles union says these policies must be implemented on both the state and national level before reopening schools.

Oh, no big deal. They just want billions of dollars, a defunding of the police, Medicare for all, and an essential government ban on their competition in the form of public and charter schools on a national level before they’ll go back to work. Sounds totally reasonable.

And all of this in response to a virus? I don’t get it. It’s like no one is even a little bit ashamed to basically say, “Hey, we are just using the chaos and fear of a virus that is freaking everyone out to hold your kids hostage until we get what we want.” And people are actually engaging with them and lending some type of validity to the whole thing.
Insanity.

So we have the crazy teachers who are using this national crisis as a way to bring their special interests into the spotlight, but we’ve also got teachers openly lamenting the fact that their special interests and agendas are going to be getting too much light.

In a series of tweets, one educator laid out his concerns for fellow teachers who will be teaching virtually this year. He has since locked his profile—I guess he really didn’t like the attention these tweets brought—but check out what he said:

So this fall, virtual class discussions will have many potential spectators—parents, siblings, etc.—in the same room. We’ll never be quite sure who is overhearing our discourse. What does this do for our equity/inclusion work?

How much have students depended on the (somewhat) secure barriers of our physical classrooms to encourage vulnerability? How many of us have installed some version of, “What happens here stays here,” to help this?

While conversations about race are in my wheelhouse, and remain a concern in this no-walls environment—I am most intrigued by the damage that “helicopter/snowplow” parents can do in honest conversations about gender/sexuality.

And while “conservative” parents are my chief concern—I know that the damage can come from the left too. If we are engaged in the messy work of destabilizing a kid’s racism or homophobia or transphobia—how much do we want their classmates’ parents piling on?

I don’t know about you, but I was unaware that teachers had crafted a “what happens here stays here” culture in their classrooms. I certainly can’t see anything virtuous in a teacher purposely creating an environment where the parent is the “enemy” and what happens in class is somehow a secret amongst teacher and classmates. That sounds like a recipe for disaster (and abuse) if I ever heard one.

Couple these two examples with districts all over the country adopting crazy COVID “precautions” and rules, and it really starts to feel like those managing the government education of America’s children have actually lost their minds.

This article is one of dozens that I’ve read that lays out the rules that schools are making for students—even (especially?) students who will be learning virtually. It forbids students from wearing pajamas during virtual learning, and gives a whole bunch of other rules that students (parents) have to follow during online class time.

It’s pretty mind-blowing to me that schools feel emboldened enough to tell a parent what their child can or can’t wear in their own home.

I even heard that some schools are requiring that virtual classroom participants must wear a mask during instruction times. What?!

I remember back in May when I wrote an article titled, Maybe it’s Time to Make Some Hard Choices About Education. It was just a couple of days after the CDC released their “guidelines” for reopening schools in the fall. I said,

The CDC is essentially recommending that schools do away with every single thing that could have been considered a somewhat positive aspect of public education—and replace them with isolation, fear, and a conditioning to accept total authoritarian control of absolutely every aspect of life.

No more playgrounds.

No more field trips.

No more sitting at the lunch table with friends trading snacks.

No more hugs. No more touch.

Just sitting in isolation, totally void of human contact, being made to fear germs and the touch of others, for several hours a day. Scratch what I said before—this is worse than prison,

A lot of people emailed me and were like, “Connor, you’re being too reactionary here. These are just recommendations. No school would actually implement these guidelines.”

I hate to say “I told you so,” (seriously, I would have much rather been wrong on this one) but… Yeah. They totally did do it—they implemented pretty much all of the guidelines, no matter how crazy.

Sometimes I still have to pinch myself.

How is this real life?!

So back to my conversation with my teacher friend. I think she’s right. I think a lot of us hoped that teachers would be the last line of defense between insane school boards and unions and the families of the students they love. A lot of us know and love our kids’ teachers, and I think there’s a lot of disappointment that teachers, as a whole, seem to be behaving kind of terribly right now.

This isn’t to say that a lot of teachers aren’t just as appalled as my friend, and the rest of us. But there’s truth to my friend’s observation that parents are turning away from the education system, and the teachers they once trusted. It’s like in a lot of places, a light got turned on and parents are getting a view into classroom culture for the first time… and they are really not liking what they are seeing.

Of course I don’t think all is lost. I know that the good teachers who don’t see their role as being some type of behind-the-backs-of-parents indoctrinator of social activism are going to continue to do right by their students. I also know that a lot of good teachers are leaving public education and exploring all of the alternative education options available to both teachers and students. Every day I read about new micro-schools, or “pods,” or even teachers just totally privatizing and taking students into their own homes. (That’s so awesome!)

I think that parents are turning away from government education—a lot of them have simply seen too much into the nature of the beast that is “public” schooling, and they feel that they have no choice but to withdraw their participation in what they see as a corrupt institution that doesn’t respect their roles as parents, or support the beliefs of their families. I wrote about this in my book, Passion-driven Education.

And it’s actually kind of encouraging.

Sometimes, things have to fall apart in order for better things to take their place, and I don’t feel like I’m being naive or overly-optimistic when I say that we may be witnessing the start of the falling apart of compulsory education as we know it.

I don’t know about you, but I plan to be at the forefront in deciding what takes its place. We’ve got work to do in order to build a better world for our children.

— Connor

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