Our priorities for public education have shifted—away from academic learning and toward therapy and custody. The latter objectives were always present, but today’s movement away from “solid” subjects is a big change. In the late nineteenth century, Americans invested in K–12 education for everyone and made attendance compulsory because of the need for a literate, numerate, and informed workforce and electorate. It’s fair to ask whether public education is really about those things any more.
In previous crises, educators didn’t set aside traditional academic instruction. After the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans, when kids returned to school after a year or more of trauma, school leaders thought they needed good teaching above all else, both to preserve their futures and help them regain a sense of purpose.
Adult issues (fear of noncompliance with federal regulations, reluctance to impose scheduling and effort requirements on teachers, union opposition to school reopening even when local infection rates were low) came to the fore after schools shut down in March 2020. Now schools are reopening but teachers in some places are being told that nobody will fuss about how much kids learn this year.
Many parents seem okay with this, settling for schools that keep kids unpressured and content. Other families, not buying this, have shifted to private schools where academic goals are still clear, or are directing their own kids’ schooling. But a lot of parents, educators, and ordinary citizens seem to be going along.
Additional notes and Commentary.
2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results
My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results
Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.