Public Education and Democracy Hot Conversation

Name the 5 most influential people in your life. How many of them were teachers?  Name the 10 most successful people in this country. How many of them were educated in the PUBLIC education system?

Thomas Jefferson placed education as the foundation of democracy. You cannot by definition have a democracy without public education. Scott and Hill (1954) wrote, “There has been a subversive attempt to discredit all democratic institutions. The primary institution of democracy is public education, education for all, not just the elite, everyone.

Education in this country has always been responsive the culture of the country and responded to the concerns of the times. During the sixties and seventies there was a government mandate to shift from academics to the emotional health and attitudes of students, to creating world citizens. Reading and writing took a backseat to values clarification, humanistic education and my personal favorite, the self esteem movement. Don’t get me wrong, on the surface each of the things had something to add, something we needed but they were really an attempt to undermine education and by definition democracy.

  Today failing schools are big business. Millions of dollars are spent on outside consultants who ride into town on their white horse to save us from ourselves and ride out with a bag of money under their arms.  Everywhere you look headlines scream the same message, Failing Schools! And who’s to blame, if you believe the mob mentality its teachers. That’s right folks, we have horns and tails.

  Is it any wonder that the after five years almost half of all new teachers leave the profession? We are hemorrhaging teachers in this country and they don’t leave because of the salary.  “Poor administrative support, lack of influence within the school system, classroom intrusion, and inadequate time are mentioned more often by teachers leaving low-income schools where working conditions are more stressful; salary is mentioned more often by teachers leaving affluent schools.”  Claudio Graziano

  Teachers have become an easy target. They are the one variable systems have control over. Systems do not have any control over parents, poverty or a culture that has declared open season on teachers.  We have a climate of fear in this country. That’s part of the problem. We have a problem of poverty in this country, working class, two parent families who live below the poverty line.

   Remember what happened with the military during Viet Nam, body counts, spitting on soldiers, all that?  That’s what education is going through now.  Public Education and all that it is needs to be supported. Stop listening to the rhetoric and start asking questions about what is really going on? You want to fix education? Fix poverty! You want to fix education? Stop paying ball players millions and teachers pittance. You want to fix education? Get involved! Or would you rather sit on the side lines and complain? 

Don’t get me wrong. I know that we have problem with education in this country but let teachers be part of the solution instead of only holding the blame. This is our profession too. This is our country and for a long time no one has listened to us. We need to restore the public trust in teachers that we used to have. The lack of trust among teachers, parents, administration and the public is killing us.

Stop complaining about education. Stop blaming the people who have the least influence in decisions the effect education, teachers, and start asking them what they think. Start celebrating teachers who make a difference in quite ways that go unnoticed.  Get involved with your community. All it takes is one person one moment to change the life of a child. All it takes is one person one moment to make a difference. Be that person. 

Posted in news, work & money.

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24 Responses

  1. Generic Image nms says

    Public education is the bedrock of our democracy. We cannot effectively educate hungry or abused children who come to school 2-3 years language delayed. We need to stop poring money into wars and bailouts and invest in Early Childhood Education and Parenting Classes.

    John Adams said:

    The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and must be willing to bear the expense of it.”

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  2. ThurmanLady ThurmanLady says

    The first thing I will say, is that I don’t blame most teachers one bit for any lack of quality in our public education.  However, I also don’t believe that more money is the answer, either.  There are some public schools that are much better at educating than others.  I’m not sure why this is, but one of the things I suspect is a lack of parental participation.

    I will also interject a quick note here that I truly don’t believe that treatment education is receiving is anywhere near the treatment the returning Vietnam vets’ received.  That was not a highlight of our country’s history!

    Here is where we may disagree.  I think that if parents cannot afford to send their child to the private school of their choice, and their child is in a school that is not doing the job, then these poorer parents should have the right to be able to send their child to another public school, which may be out of their immediate neighborhood.  This is where school vouchers should come into play.

    I have a friend who’s daughter goes to a completely different school from where she lives.  She is only allowed to get away with that because the child’s father lives in the other town.  Why should that be?  Why are we not allowed the freedom to obtain the best possible education for our child?

    And, please also keep in mind that most of our government officials, who set these rules for public education, send their own children to private schools.

    To me, that’s right up there with these same government officials not having to have “universal health care” with the rest of us, or social security, or whatever else is pushed on us that they don’t have to do themselves.


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  3. fayetteSIPP fayetteSIPP says

    I so agree with our Post ..teacher are not being valued and too many are leaving to work where they can do better , making room for those who just need a job Also the best teacher are being driven to private school and special voucher school , leaving the public school a bigger mess. Too much money paid to the superintendent and office building..parental involvement should be a must!

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  4. Generic Image 123WASH says

    Education is so important and I feel we fail in my area.  But I for one am tired of teachers constantly asking for money.  We all want more money.  ALL teachers entering into the field know what the pay scale is.  I agree that our teachers are undervalued but thats our society, unfortunately.  I had a terrible public education and I was not impressed with the public education my kids received either but adequate is what was offered.  I home schooled my kids so that they were ready for college.  I dont know what the answer is.  Wish I did. 

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    • Alicia Alicia says

      My poetry book, Sanctuary of the Soul, is dedicated to  my 3rd grade teacher, who died at age 97 last year.  She was my favorite teacher (and practically everyone else’s in town)…in the 50′s she even dared….to NOT follow the lesson plans sometime


      She was an amazing woman; divorce in the 50′s when that was rare, played piano for silent films, still in plays at age 90. She left an amazing legacy for thousands of we….who were fortunate enough to have her teach us.


      Other Influential People in my life:


      Madame Swinford:  My first love was (and iS) ballet….I took ballet from Madame; found out later she had been a prima ballerina in the great houses of Europe……….I was too poor to pay her, but when i joined the army, sent her a check;she had insisted I had great talent and that I take lessons from her….She had seen Anna Pavlova perform…..it is all in my memoir!


      Colonel Helen Hart Corthay:  I joined the army at age 18:  Another woman before her time; I met her when I was 18, and she in her 50′s….she took me under her wing…..She died at 53; i was devastated; I think I was the child she never had (she married in her 40′s and had no children)…..I found out that she had 8 medals; one for the Berlin airlift, and was studying for her Ph.D. in the 1940′s!!  I visited her grave 30 years later, and sobbed and sobbed; I guess I didn’t realize what an impact she had on me.


      My Grammy………She was love….personified

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    • watermusic watermusic says

        Oddly enough, teachers don’t leave because of the money and teachers themselves rarely complain about the pay. I don’t think more money is the issue at all. I do think money needs to be managed better and that includes doling  out millions to consultants who claim to have the answer. I don’t think the answer is all the difficult, just painful. If you want to learn you have to work. We have forgotten what that means. The self esteem movement, however well intentioned, created a belief that feeling good was more important than doing good. 




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  5. Sunblossom Sunblossom says

    I honestly can’t think of too many, from a broken home at 7, abandoned to my grandparents, sent to strict Catholic schools where nuns taught but didn’t inspire….the rest I learned from life experience and pretty much have taught myself, from parenting to crafting and everything in between…..

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    • Alicia Alicia says

      Hi, Sunblossom:  i came from a broken home at age 1; never had a father around; met him  when I was 33…..I so relate….my life experience has been one of self-teaching; reading everythig I could (we had no tv) and were very poor:  no car, refrigerator, bathroom, phone…120-year old tenement house with cockroaches and rats (who didn’t visit us often; fear of my mother, LOL)


      I taught myself how to cook (mother just opened cans; too tired to cook after working) and do everytihing else.  Hugs and love, Alicia

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      • Sunblossom Sunblossom says

        It is a wonder sometimes how we survive….I guess we can be our own role models…

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  6. azul azul says

    Hi Watermusic. My Mom was a 5th grade teacher.  Her oldest sister, who I was named after, was a social studies/history teacher for 7th, 8th and 9th grades. She taught until she retired at about the age of 60.   My oldest daughter is a 2nd grade teacher.  Mom stayed home after she married to raise 5 children.  Dad’s work hours were crazy. He was often gone for days and sometimes a couple of weeks at a time.  As a child, I had the benefit of having Mom to help teach us.  I remember phonics records that we would listen to when phonics was how you learned to read.  Education was a priority in our house.  We always watched the nightly news (national and local) and then the TV went was turned off (6:30PM). 

    I have two daughters.  My oldest, is the teacher, and my youngest is a nurse.  Both of my girls had speech and reading difficulties in their early years. I had to get over the ‘what did I do wrong’ feeling and just help them to succeed.  They had awesome teachers.  I really believe parent involvement is crucial too.  I had a good role model, my Mom:).   I really feel that if you want your children to succeed, you have to let them know that education is a priority, that you are there to help whether it is reading with them, working on math facts, spelling, etc, and that the home environment gives them the place and time to study. You have to support your childs teacher.   I have heard parents say that they aren’t going to help their children with their homework, that’s the teachers job.  Really??? Yes the teacher is the primary but if you as a parent aren’t there to help your child succeed, many of them won’t. 

     You said if you want to fix education, fix poverty. I agree.  Even though I did work when my daughters were growing up, I had decent hours and was home every night.  In some families the parents are working 2 and 3 jobs just to put food on the table and a roof over their head.  These parents aren’t home to help with school work.  IF we can break the cycle of poverty-get these kids through college, then the next generation can make enough to work only one job and be home to be with their children.   Many retirees feel that they no longer have children in school, so why should they have to pay taxes for schools?  I feel we should pay taxes for public education regardless of whether we have children currently in school or not. Other generations paid for our education.  Most of my elementary and high school education was in Catholic schools. My younger siblings spent more time in public schools.   My parents always felt that paying taxes for public education, regardless of where your children went to school or whether you have children in school, was important.   I agree.  Children are our future.  Other countries are putting education (Japan is one) at a much higher priority than we do here in the US.  We as a country will be at a huge disadvantage as a result.  Education changes lives.  People without a good education where they can get a good job are more likely to be on drugs, in prisons, homeless.  To get a decent job in today’s world for today’s children almost demands a college education.   A better educated society is a healtier society. 

    There are lots of changes I’d like to see.  Less money paid to administrators. More to teachers.  It was mentioned on this post that teachers know what the salaries are when they become teachers.  Yes they do.  But teachers work long hours.  After the students go home there are mandated meetings, lesson plans to do, homework to grade, parents to call, it goes on and on.  A teachers life is never a 9 to 5.  You mentioned that half of the new teachers leave for other professions within the first 5 years.  They do because they can make more elsewhere.  They may love teaching, but if they can’t support their families, if they aren’t getting administrative and parental support, how can they stay?  In AZ, and I assume it is the same nationwide-let me know if it is not, the tax base you are in determines what the school can afford.  I’m simplifying that but basically that is true.  If you are in a poor area, your district  probably doesn’t have the malls, the business buildings and other sources that would generate a better tax base for the schools in your area.  That means that schools in an affluent area have a broader tax base, better equipment (computers,  smart boards, even paper and pencils) for teaching and paying teacher salaries.   I would like to see the taxes for all, put in one pot and distributed evenly for all the schools on a per pupil basis. 

    My oldest daughter sent me an email telling the story of two dentists. I can’t find the email but the story basically is this: One dentist was in an affluent area.  His patients had regular checkups, had the money to get the dental care they needed.  As a result, this dentists patients had great teeth.  The other dentist worked in a poor area.  People there only saw a dentist when they were in pain.   This dentist worked as hard or harder than the dentist in the affluent area but his patients often had huge gum and teeth problems.  The powers that be looked at the two dentists and decided the dentist in the affluent area was a better dentist.  Substitute teachers for dentists and this is what we are seeing.  we need to somehow change this.  Education and future success should not be decided by the money in your school district.   Now I know some will say money shouldnt’ be the deciding factor.  Maybe not, but you need money to buy the necessary supplies, to pay our teachers good salaries, to reward teachers who excel. We do need to stop insane wars, put money back into our country, our schools, our teachers, our children in order for America to remain a competive force in this world.

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    • watermusic watermusic says

      Your dentist analogy is spot on. The problem is that it has become the norm to blame teachers for problems that they didn’t create. Teachers want a voice in what is happening to education. FTR, I think our profession is heading in the right direction. I’m seeing subtle changes.  Local tax basis determine most of the  education budget. Put it this way, the kids who need the most get the least.  Every population has advantages and disadvantages but in this time of high stakes testing there is less pressure on middle class schools where there is strong parent involvement.  Low income schools face greater problems for many reasons. Money is not always the  answer and I don’t think it’s the answer here either. A change in the public attitude about teaching would help. NCLB has been a disaster for education. I personally think that the federal government’s involvement in local education has not been to our advantage. I may be wrong and I’m happy to hear about it.

      I still maintain that the real issue is the threat to democracy and our way of life. I teach because I believe fervently in democracy and you cannot, by definition have a democratic nation without an educated populace and that means everyone gets an education. 

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    • Generic Image nms says

      BRAVA! You are SO SPOT ON, azul!

      1.) “teachers work long hours.  After the students go home there are mandated meetings, lesson plans to do, homework to grade, parents to call, it goes on and on.  A teachers life is never a 9 to 5.  You mentioned that half of the new teachers leave for other professions within the first 5 years.  They do because they can make more elsewhere.”

      2.) “Many retirees feel that they no longer have children in school, so why should they have to pay taxes for schools?  I feel we should pay taxes for public education regardless of whether we have children currently in school or not. Other generations paid for our education.

      3.) “If you are in a poor area, your district  probably doesn’t have the malls, the business buildings and other sources that would generate a better tax base for the schools in your area.  That means that schools in an affluent area have a broader tax base, better equipment (computers,  smart boards, even paper and pencils) for teaching and paying teacher salaries.”


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  7. Generic Image createaiz says

    I think our biggest problem is having Big Government involved in education.  We need to bring education back to the states & reorganize & make it more efficient.  Yes, we do need specialists, we also need to have programs for those that are slow & those that are especially bright.  In my state, our schools are so top heavy with administrators, & we see our schools doing worse & worse.  Get rid of the top weight, make schools smaller & class rooms smaller.  Give these kids the opportunity to succeed & give the teachers a chance to succeed.

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  8. Generic Image BonnieNesbitt says

    People need to look beyond the rhetoric and see what politically is going on.  Some have been trying to dismantle public education since Brown v. Board (1954) when the schools started integration.  Some have been trying to dismantle the schools because of the perceived anti-religious (secular) curriculum.  Some have been trying to dismantle (or diminish) public education because then there will be less competition for college and jobs if the schools are considered “substandard”. And finally, since a Nation At Risk, education has been our new political “communist” threat.  Since communism was failing, education became our new fear that our country was in danger of collapse. Finally, corporate America sees big, big dollars in the privatization of education.  That is why there was tons of corporate money in the “Waiting for Superman” documentary that demonized teachers, union and elevated charter schools.  (Research continues to show that only 17% of charter schools are “successful”)  

    The saddest part of all of this is that our children are being raised to believe that competition is everything.  From preK on they have to compete, for slots on sports teams, into the “best” elementary school, etc.  We’ve lost any since of community.  If you win, anything, then by definition, I have lost something.  Yes we’ve all lost.

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    • Generic Image createaiz says

      The world is full of competition & it starts from the moment you take your first breath.  You compete for your parent’s attention etc.  That’s life in a free society.  That’s how it is in the adult world & as soon as our children learn it, the better off they will be.  I don’t know about you, but I had to compete for everything in school….being chosen for teams in elementary school & trying out for teams in jr & sr high school.  Yes, I made some teams & not others, sometimes I just wasn’t good enough.  I learned to try harder or move on to something else.  I didn’t grow up to think competition was everything, but I also didn’t grow up thinking  that I was ENTITLED to everything.  I knew I had to work for what I wanted.  I knew I wasn’t the brightest, or the fastest, but I also knew my strengths & that’s where competition is helpful.  It doesn’t make sense to put an average student in a school for very bright students.  That child would be frustrated & unhappy & would probably fail to keep up.

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      • Generic Image BonnieNesbitt says

        Please read Alfie Kohn’s research.  I have two wonderful sons and they don’t have to compete for my attention – we share love among the family.  I disagree that “as soon as our children learn it, the better off they will be. .  education research says for a child to be raised with a healthy view of themselves, for every 1 criticism they need 3 praises.  As they get older, you certainly should change the paradigm, but it is really unfair to pit young children against each other.  Again, Alfie Kohn says it much better than me and he’s done the research.

        The other book to read is “The Cheating Culture.”  With our heighted view of competition, more and more believe that in order to win, they must cheat.  And, not only that, they believe that everyone else is cheating to get ahead, so they are fools if they don’t cheat.  Look around, that is the a fallout of this hyper competitiveness – I used to teach High School and my “brightest” in the Advanced Placement classes admitted to cheating more, because they “had to” in order to get everything done, to get into college with 4.0+ resumes plus community service plus sports.  Watch the documentary “A Race to Nowhere”.


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      • Generic Image createaiz says

        I have 2 granddaughters, one is 4 & the other is an infant.  While their mother is busy with one, the other is often fussing for attention, in effect, competing.  Yes, it starts that early.  I didn’t say I like it, but I see it happen all the time.  The older child is learning to be patient, & she is learning that the world does not revolve around her.  The lesson won’t be so hard for her little sister because she will live it from the beginning.  Yes, they do get plenty of one on one, & they interact very well together & as a family.  It is however a huge adjustment for the older child.  These children have not been pitted against each other, it is simply life.  Every attempt has been made & is being made to have each child feel as if they are not waiting for their time.  It isn’t looked at as competition, but that is what it is.  As far as reading & doing research, I don’t feel the need to read how to help our children & our schools become even bigger failures than they already are.  I believe children should be praised for accomplishments & for attempts, but they also need to be allowed to gently accept failures.  I also think it’s interesting to note that most children have a certain amount of natural competitiveness.  There were always groups in school that would compare grades when I was in school…it made me work harder, aim higher.  I would guess we were all better prepared to go out into the real world & compete for our place.  Of course we came from a time when schools did much better than they are doing now, our drop out rates were lower & we had a better sense of self worth because we knew we earned what we had.

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  9. Generic Image hazelr says

    You are absolutely right!

    Your response is seeking solutions and does not focus on blaming anyone in particular.

    To employ outsiders who leave with a bag of money and poor results in educating our children is an insult to

    it is easy to blame the teachers because they are the ones in the classroom trying to teach an overcrowded mixed population of students with different learning, physical abilities, cultural and emotional backgrounds.

    The inequity in students population, poverty, classroom size, lack of adequate school materials and administration support who is often is more concerned about meeting the budget than the needs od the child in the classroom.

    teachers that are trying to do the best under stressful circumstances.

    In order to save and improve the Public Schools we must listen to teachers first and then try to get  parents and guardians invloved in the process.

    I strongly believe that “It takes a village to educate a child”.

    We all have to work together on saving the Schools in America, because the price of not doing so will be much more costly at the end.

    “For every school opened a prison closes”.

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  10. Lizbet Lizbet says

    Outside the box on this one….. Home Education has been my answer.  I simply do not agree that public education is the be all that ends all.  I do not believe there is any way to “fix” it, and I do not support the foundational philosophy behind public education.  Yes, I had good teachers in public school…. They were often the only saving grace for a system that is diametrically opposed to basic freedom and liberty, a system that controls the masses and encourages a subservient mentality. But, hey, I’m a child of the 60′s & 70′s… I believe in real hope and change.

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    • ThurmanLady ThurmanLady says

      I agree with your thinking.  If I had to do it in this day and age I’d want to be able to home school.  Our schools are failing for a variety of reasons and throwing more money at it isn’t the answer. ♥

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    • mtndweller mtndweller says

      How wonderful that you are able, financially, to stay home and teach your children.  I know there are many wonderful, thoughtful parents who wish they could do the same.  It is very sad, however, to see that you “do not believe there is any way to “fix” it”.  We teachers are out there fighting the good fight while trying to give some children the only few hours of love and safety they will feel all day.  It IS worth trying to fix and CAN be done, maybe not today or even tomorrow but how can we not have hope and support for one another? 

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      • Lizbet Lizbet says

        Please do not think I am less than compassionate about the needs of children.  I do not believe that providing “love and safety” is the purpose of public education and that would beg the point of whether or not public schools are a safe and loving environment for children at all.  We need reform in society and just “fixing” a defunct system of “education” is not the answer.  (Is it obvious that I don’t adhere to the philosophy of “It takes a village…”?) When we stop thinking that funding and more funding is a healing panacea and actually work on foundational principles and focus on our real goals in education then maybe change will come… I just don’t think it is going to come in the paradigm of our present education system which actually undermines learning that leads to personal growth, financial independence and a good, healthy, loving and safe society.

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      • mtndweller mtndweller says

        Okay, it is obvious that you have not spent 38 years in a classroom full of children.  I’m not being mean but do you really think children can even begin to ‘learn’ when they are hungry and scared?  You can’t ‘pour’ education into children just by being in the same room w/them.  I guess, in a way, I actually agree with you in that funding is not the answer.  Teacher unions and overfunded administrators are definitely not the answer.  Public education needs to get out from under federal government control and back in the hands of the state and local government.  I cannot understand how public education is ‘ruled’ by people who have no clue what actually goes on in a classroom.  Teachers today are so scared of ‘test scores’ that there is no time to teach the really important things.  This is just not acceptable!

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      • Lizbet Lizbet says

        My mother was a teacher.  Many of my best friends are teachers. Also, I am definitely a product of public education.  Therefore, I do understand your position and agree with the above comments.  This is the very reason I say the present public education system cannot be “fixed”.  The whole philosophy is wrong, from the top down…. usually until it gets to the classroom, where teachers find themselves with their hands tied.  Rare is the school district that allows instructors to think and operate outside federal mandates.  Why?… follow the $$$ trail! I repeat… it is not about education… it is about control and illiterate masses are easier to control than free thinkers who actually have the skills and knowledge (REAL education) to recognize bureaucratic stupidity (bs) when it is force fed from the funding platter.

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