I have complained before about the media's coverage of public schools, and there is one thing for sure--it ain't just Fox News. This week CNN is running a feature called "Broken Schools." Man, am I tired of this garbage!
I've watched two of the segments, so far. The first one I saw was about "Dropout High" in Los Angeles, a school with a 58 percent dropout rate. It was pretty clear in that one that the school was in a neighborhood that was an absolute mess, and the school was stuck with dealing with its problems. The second one was about paying students for their performance in school and paying parents for getting involved. Neither of the two reports I saw really blasted public schools themselves, but I've got to wonder what they've got is store for the rest of the series. Let's face it, the title of the series says it all; it isn't exactly something that would inspire confidence in American education.
It is clear that bad news sells, and that is why the networks do what they can to dig up any dirt they can find on anyone or anything in the public eye. A few weeks ago, bloggers like KDerosa were gloating about a study saying that the public thinks more highly of the post office than public schools. Why am I not surprised? I mean, how many times do you see featured series on news networks titled, "The Broken Post Office."
Considering the bashing that we consistently take from the national media, it should surprise no one that there is a lack of public confidence in public schools in general. Yet, as Michael Mazenko pointed out in his article "The Mis-education of Sean Hannity," "Gallup polls show seventy-five percent of Americans are 'satisfied' or 'very satisfied' with their children's school. An even greater percentage of Americans (85%) are satisfied with their own education." One has to wonder how much higher than 75 and 85percent those numbers would be if people weren't constantly being told by the media that public schools are lousy.
The blasting public education is taking is nothing new. Much of my next couple of paragraphs is a repeat of a post that I did a couple of years ago, but I think it bares repeating. Two years ago, CBS had a story titled All Children Left Behind in which the featured another "blue ribbon" report saying that American education was falling hopelessly behind other countries. I remember reading Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun in the early 1990s. When the book came out, the U.S. was mired in a recession and Japan’s economy was rolling along. They seemed to be able to do no wrong. Rising Sun led the reader to believe that Japan was on the verge of taking over the United States economically, and of course, one of the main culprits was our education system.
Perhaps the most famous lambasting of American public education came in 1983 when the National Commission on Excellence in Education published Nation at Risk. We were told that "if an unfriendly foreign power had imposed our schools upon us we would have regarded it as an act of war." Many people remember that, but if you think that was the beginning of reports decrying the horrible state of American education, you’d be wrong. Before that, a Life Magazine cover that breathlessly announced a series of articles on the crisis in American education. The date on that magazine: March 24, 1958.
So for at least the last fifty years we have been hearing pronouncements that our education system—especially public education—has been doing a horrible job, and these pronouncements have inevitably been accompanied by doom and gloom prophecies about what this would mean for our nation’s future. If we were to take seriously what the media has been telling us about the American education system for the last fifty years, we should have been shocked when America landed the first man on the moon, then shocked again when it became clear that we had won the Cold War. Then we should have been absolutely flabbergasted when our economy recovered and became the envy of the world for the last two-thirds of the 90s, while Japan’s went into the tank. My question is this: If our public education system has been so terrible—or failing, as so many like to say—how in the world has our nation continued to do so well?
Let me make one thing clear. I know there are problems in public education. There is no question about that. There are problems in my own school. I don't think we're as good a school as we were five years ago. Yet, there is no doubt in my mind that any student who comes to our school and wants to get a good education can get one. Our big problem is that not enough want badly enough to do that.
As I began typing this, Fox News was running a story defending John McCain's statement that despite the financial crisis our nation is experiencing, our economy is fundamentally sound. The major point of the story was that the main fundamental in our economy is the people who make up our workforce, and our workforce is the most productive in the world. By workforce, I assume they didn't just mean factory workers, but also managers, computer programmers, engineers, researchers, etc. Gee, I wonder where most of those people went to school?