School politics and reform has always been a vocation of sorts for me. My first child had special needs when she was young so I learned a great deal early on about the magic that can happen in a class room. In one of my daughter’s first immersion classes, Mark, a graduate student in education was a master teacher. Under his tutelage, you almost couldn’t tell the children with the severe disabilities apart from the typical children. Looking through the one way glass, all you could see was kids playing and learning. After he left for a fellowship and another less skilled teacher took his place, the magic was gone. Looking through the glass, all you could see was the chaos of disability rubbing up against each other.
For the last twenty years I have measured and been motivated by finding and cultivating this kind of magical education. Sydney Harris said: “The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” You can spot the classrooms with magic a mile away because there is something captivating about the synergy and inquiry between teachers and students engaged with open minds. Even amongst unruly adolescents, there is little that compares to witnessing the light of understanding begin in the eyes of the learner and spread to an expression of confidence.
Amidst a great deal of political rhetoric about the importance of fixing our schools and the rehashing of the failures of No Child Left Behind, thousands of school districts across the country are facing the worst budget crises in history. Our local district is trying to cut close to a third of their budget, which no matter how it is done, is a travesty for children and speaks volumes to our teachers about what we value and don’t.
Truly when public schools are bankrupt and recent elections are interpreted as a signal to stop government spending on the society at large, we are agreeing to a world that does not do justice to its future. This generation of children should not be the collateral damage for the unbridled greed that has driven our economy to ruins or the unending wars that consume the majority of our resources.
A positive future lies in the hands of all of our children and the education that we invest in them. The cost-cutting measures that deny children access to the attention and time they need and deserve to become a better version of us is the least we can do. There is no greater wealth that a society cultivates than the genius and potential of its youth…. They are the only tomorrow we have to bet on.
If it is true as G.K. Chesterton wrote: “Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.” I wonder what the next generation would say about our soul.