We are back-to-school now…way before time in my opinion. As a child, I never returned to school until after Labor Day. I think it should still be that way today allowing kids to be kids while the days are hot, and the woods and playgrounds and yards and streets of fun are alive from morning to night.
But recent criticisms and challenges facing teachers today have me flummoxed, to say the least. Teachers, of all professional people, realize that education is as honest a profession as medicine or sociology, or psychology, and like these professions, they change according to new discoveries in learning, new experiments, and research of what might work for kids stuck in the challenged-learning zones like attention deficit disorder, dyslexia, hyperactivity, and so much more. And yet many political leaders refuse to see the specialty of the teaching profession. One Ohio legislator never stepped foot in a classroom as she was home-schooled through elementary and high school and had never gone to college, but she gives the impression that she knows better than teachers and she sits on Ohio House’s Primary and Secondary Education Committee.
A recent article in The New Yorker reported that in 2010, Education Week ranked Ohio as fifth best in the nation! In 2021, U.S News and World Report ranked it 31st. And a new statistic just out has reported that the number of teachers quitting their jobs across the nation this year is a whopping 280,000, the most in history. In this investigative report, Jane Meyer writes that the new wave of conservative state legislatures nationally has moved in to control education through far-right tactics that have no bearing whatsoever on scientific theories and methods our teachers learn in their training. I am beginning to believe the United States may be trending toward the kind of authoritarianism in education that other countries are experimenting with. Consider the following from an article in The New York Times recently:
“Starting in the first grade, students across Russia will soon sit through weekly classes featuring war movies and virtual tours through Crimea. They will be given a steady dose of lectures on topics like the “geopolitical situation” and “traditional values.” In addition to a regular flag raising ceremony, they will be introduced to lessons in Russia’s ‘rebirth’ under Vladimir Putin.” All Russian children will be required to join a youth movement…presided over by the president himself.” But the most telling and fear-laden quote is from a Kremlin bureaucrat, Sergei Novikov as he addressed thousands of Russian teachers: “We need to know how to infect them (children) with our ideology.” I leave it to you to notice the connections between this evil effort and our own incipient efforts to control the teaching of our children. “Infect them?” Or teach them?
If we revert to the acceptance of authoritarianism to govern our schools, democracy will be on a slide to devastation. Let’s look at the scene with Jesus and the children as told in Mark 10:13-16 and see the clues that Jesus shows us why it is wrong to ignore children or try to corrupt their innate goodness for our own gain of power. The disciples want to ‘shoo’ the children away from him. He’s tired and they are in charge. After all, what can he tell children? This can be a waste of time. So they go into action: “Go away. Find your mamas. Jesus is too busy!” But children—like the other marginalized people he loves–stay close to Jesus who then blesses them and offers a stern warning to the disciples: “Let the children come to me…it is just such as these that the kingdom belongs. Whoever does not accept the reign of God, like a little child, shall not take part in it.”
Wow! That means you: disciples who are so vain and proud of being Jesus’s followers that you shame and despise followers of other faiths. And you, potentates and people of power who use children to indoctrinate for your own security. And yes, you whose self-centeredness clouds what should be humility so you can be noticed as leaders who think you know more than the teacher who trained so long to teach and who cares more for the child than you care for recognition and power. You can be elected to office; the children cannot. Whose story is truer?
Sorry, I got carried away. But teacher and children are dying too often at the hand of murderers whose gun rights are not checked. And teachers are targets for the handling of other issues for which they have been trained to handle. Yes, parents have rights in the education of their children but along with those rights comes the requirement to find out why something is done or taught to their children. Obviously, Jesus wanted to get that across to his own disciples. He is saying, it is not what you want me to teach and how to teach it—it is what I want to teach now, on this hillside, in the euphoria of these little ones chatting and smiling and laughing as they gather around me. One offers a flower, another a hug, another jumps on my lap, all asking questions about what I do and where I live and why do I help others. The children instinctively know what he wants to teach them, and they hunger for it. Why don’t we?
This week, please encourage the teachers you know. They are full-hearted and excited to welcome their students into their classrooms. Send them a note. If your parish has a school, send the principal or a teacher a note and wish them a beautiful year and the ability to stay with the effort and rise above politics challenging them.
To all my readers and Anonymous Angels, if you can help a teacher or your parish school in anyway, please do so. And your prayers are always needed and welcomed.
God bless you at this time of new endeavors for our children.