Fit to be tied

Listen to this article

Recently I began a new job that has me working in education again, only this time it is with the private sector. Working for a private counseling center, I am the lone teacher assigned to oversee the individualized learning programs for a small group of teens suffering from anxiety, depression, substance abuse, or who have been constantly bullied.

Among the many things I have noticed is just how slow the wheel that keeps getting reinvented turns in public education. Many of our schools are a patchwork mess just trying to meet the needs of students with an endless array of issues and challenges, teachers who all too often are in over their heads and have a lack of support, and a system increasingly top heavy with administrators whose job is to run point on federally mandated programs that were bought and paid for at exorbitant prices with taxpayer money. It’s no wonder you see student burnout at the elementary level and teachers questioning why they entered the profession while unable to find a different line of work by the time reality runs them over.

Upon my arrival my new boss presented me with a Fit Bit device, something she provides to all her employees. I have never been one to embrace gadgets and have always been happy with my Iron Man wrist watch to log my running time. Still, I enjoy checking my app on my phone (set up by my wife) a few times a day to see how many steps I have logged. This morning, I came to the conclusion I must be a sleep walker because it says I logged almost half a mile between midnight and 5am.

With a small staff, my boss has time for each one of us. You never need to make an appointment to see her, she listens, she is a therapist after all, but she is also a smart business woman who has gone from a small office to an entire floor of an office building in less than 15 years growing a business based on the needs of the public. Rather than constantly looking for ways to keep her head above water and the district office off her back, she looks for ways to provide the best service possible to people in need.

Government, both the left and the right, have become far too intrusive in our lives. The feds act as if they are doing local communities a favor funding their schools, but the fact is, they aren’t. They are using local communities to implement federal ideas on not just how to teach all children with a canned approach, but often how to raise them, feed them, clothe them, and medically treat them. Public education has become a gigantic experiment and the results it is yielding are troubling.

Casimir Pulaski High School, Milwaukee, WI
(Tim Forkes)

I knew it was time to retire when I began hearing new teachers complain about taking a job where they were not told they had to make lesson plans. I guess they got use to blindly teaching what was provided for them by educational corporations profiting off the government. At the same time, I saw an increase in student frustration, the end result of teachers, counselors, and administrators trying to cram kids into a one size fits all box.

Middle Schools and highs schools are now in the business of selling students on the idea that the only path toward success in adulthood is college. They offer a variety of programs for the “college bound” student and their parents to involve themselves in because, “You want to go to college, don’t you?” Where is there room in that question for a 15 year old to answer no or that they are not sure yet? No public school should be pressuring any teen into making a lifetime decision, especially one that may leave them with a massive debt, no job guarantee, and a 30 or 40-year career to think about their stolen childhood.

The job of our government, when it comes to funding schools, is to trust local communities to create a school system that graduates young men and women who are ready to be contributing adults. For some, that path will involve college. For others, it might include joining the armed forces, going to a trade school, or entering the work force right away while they figure out what it is they are going to do with their life.

Instead, the system, as it is, is leading to a rise in more educational endeavors by outside the box thinkers like my boss who are creating ways for frustrated students and their parents to find who they really are and to reassure them there is nothing wrong with being outside the norm, especially when the norm is defined by a government.

Government can do an even better job when it steps in and provides more programs for impoverished communities where kids are at a huge disadvantage. Early preschool programs that identify kids with a learning disability are a vital function to help save someone who might otherwise slip through the cracks. Parenting classes, breakfast and lunch programs, and after school supervision are also great. However, now they have morphed into being abused or over run in communities where mom and dad are capable of meeting their kids needs, but unfortunately, they are just too busy to take the time to raise the child they brought in this world.

Our government has taken over the role of the parent and this should scare the hell out of anyone, rich or poor, black or white, young or old. They have decided what kids will learn, when it will be taught, and whether or not it is appropriate to think, say, or do and too often, the public just accepts it. Government should be there for those in need and not hijack our children under the threat of pulling their funding just because some communities need less help than others.

As a parent, would you hand over your child to a complete stranger and ask them to raise your kid? You have to be pretty desperate to do this. However, thanks to our school system today, too often parents do just that, only the stranger they hand their kids off to is our government.

Top photo: Fairview Elementary School in Milwaukee, WI — by Tim Forkes