by JC Bowman – Professional Educators of Tennessee
My late father-in-law Dr. Robert O’Bannon, a noted college professor, coined a phrase he called “academic schizophrenia.” Schizophrenia, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a serious mental disorder where people abnormally interpret reality. Their thinking and behavior impair daily functioning. Symptoms can vary in type and severity over time.
Dr. O’Bannon theorized that some of the policies and education fads we had adopted were no longer based on reality and could eventually hurt the education of students and drive committed educators from teaching. That is a simple explanation for his deeper understanding of the issue. Eventually, education ceases to function as intended and no longer functions as expected. He outlined causes and solutions.
Former Wilson County Superintendent, Dr. Donna Wright, shared similar concerns with Nashville’s WKRN Channel 2, about the crisis in public education about the need for a major overhaul in education. “We’ve got federal mandates. We’ve got state requirements. We’ve got local initiatives, too. So, roll all that into pieces, and what’s happened out there, we’ve taken the joy out of teaching,” Dr. Wright said.
Dr. Wright also believes a “lack of desire to teach, and an exodus of exhausted educators put the system so many children depend on in a precarious situation.” She has identified the problem: too much overlapping government regulation and government mandates that are often contradictory. If it keeps going, it is unsustainable
Government, at every level — federal, state, and local — is, with increasing regularity, creating unintended consequences on public education. This makes our schools and districts incapable of changing to meet student or societal needs. It also expands the scope and purpose in which schools were originally established. No wonder parents and educators are frustrated. We see the inevitability of conflict daily in schools, on our news, and social media.
Dickson County High School principal Joey Holley offered some profound thoughts on modern teaching. Holley said: “Kids with complex living arrangements, uninvolved guardians, societal expectations, and pressures of social media. Like a pressure cooker, they eventually steam out of control.” From parents to students, Holley said it goes back to support at home. “Sometimes we have it. Most of the time we don’t.”
Why have schools become the de facto means to address our social problems? And are our schools the appropriate structure needed? Eric Stinton, a writer/teacher in Hawaii asks, “If we want schools to do all of the things — teach academics; teach social, emotional and decision-making skills; reduce poverty and increase parental involvement; change stigmas about counseling, nonviolent conflict resolution, and self-care; reconcile racial and cultural tensions in society; teach kids how to conduct themselves online and enforce penalties when they don’t – then we’re going to have to make some substantial changes to what schools are and how they operate.” Stinton challenges us to address the social problems that affect schools, instead of seeing them simply as another problem with schools.
We must take the burden off our educators to solve all of society’s litany of problems. Until we address that issue, along with lack of respect, educator workload, and student discipline issues, we can expect teacher turnover and retention issues to worsen.
Kelly Treleaven raises a key question: “What about the glaring problem that K-12 education in America relies on the unpaid labor, kindness, and guilt teachers have to do what’s best for kids?” Then she brings up “quiet quitting” where teachers take care of themselves, re-prioritize their values, and delay self-burnout. Treleaven then asks: “What will happen if teachers (rightfully) scale back their work, but the powers that created and perpetuated this system are never made to reckon with their problematic arrangement.”
We are heading for a shift in public education. Like it or not, our current model must be better understood, and our purpose clearly defined. As we look at changes, the question in public education is, “Who blinks first?” Politicians, parents, or educators? Then we will face the next challenge, “Who will remain?”
We are resilient people, who are stronger together when we place people above politics. Education must be forward-thinking. “If there was ever a time to redefine what we want in our schools, now is the time” according to Doug Bergman from Udacity. However, we should also look backward— at our traditions and customs and be reminded of why public education exists in the first place. The Tennessee General Assembly should focus on what we, as a state, even want from public education.
JC Bowman is the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee