The Chicago teachers’ strike has been resolved to the relief of many. The teachers are happy to be back at work and parents are relieved that their kids are back in school. Sounds euphoric. But a couple of comments by parents in a recent story about the return strike me as most interesting. Consider:
“I am elated. I couldn’t be happier,” said Erica Weiss, who had to leave work in the middle of the day to pick up her 6-year-old daughter. “I have no one else to watch her. … I can’t even imagine the people who could have possibly even lost their jobs over having to stay home with their kids because they have no alternate care. It just put everyone in a pickle.”
Wilonda Cannon, a single mother raising her four children in North Lawndale, a West Side neighborhood beset by gang shootings and poverty, said she was relieved that her two youngest kids would be returning to class after spending the last seven school days with their grandfather.
Now I’m not completely out of touch with reality, philosopher though I am, but this strikes me as worthy of comment. These parents are relieved that their kids are back in school because it makes their lives easier. I know, I know. It’s not just about that. But it does seem that for these people, like so many others, school is just a way to keep the kids busy while the parents are off at work, doing what really matters. I hate to say this, but it sounds like teachers are being relegated to the roles of baby-sitters. No?
Clearly, this is part of the relief the parents feel — and rightly so. It is a confusing mess to try to figure out what to do with the kids when there is no school and parents have to work each day. But what about the real meaning of an end to the teachers’ strike? What about the fact that the kids are returning to school to improve their minds, to get an education?
I realize that in Chicago this argument may be a hard one to make. The teachers make salaries well above the national average while it appears their students aren’t doing very well. This would seem to be the case if we look at the usual signs: drop-outs, which are high; graduation rates, which are low; SAT scores, which are below national averages; number of students attending college, which are also below the national average. But then the challenges the teachers have in crowded schools in a city like Chicago must boggle the mind. It’s a wonder they get anything done — and there are success stories that stand out above the dark numbers that scare critics.
In fact, it is a wonder that teachers in America’s schools get anything done across the board: they are underpaid — for the most part — and subject to constant scrutiny and criticism by people who want tangible results and are unable to grasp what education is really all about. And beyond that they are asked to raise the kids because their parents are otherwise preoccupied.
And that is my point. The comments by the parents quoted above, while understandable under the circumstances, reveal a lack of awareness of what education is really all about that is shared by the vast majority of people in this country. Education is not about keeping kids off the streets, though it does do that; it is not about helping the kids get jobs later on, though it does that (given the restraints of the economy); nor is it about making sure they get into good colleges, though that is a plus; and it is certainly not about raising the kids the parents have too often ignored. Education is about putting young people into possession of their own minds, making sure today’s kids are tomorrow’s thinkers and leaders – at the very least astute enough to detect the smarmy politician posing as one of society’s great benefactors! Let’s not lose sight of what is important in the tizzy of seeing the teachers off the picket lines and back behind their desks — and the kids once again somewhere else being taken care of while Mom and Dad go to work. What’s important are the minds of today’s kids which seem to be a low priority with most of us.