Opening Schools Devalues Education

My school board is, at this moment, debating the reopening of my district’s public schools.

I used to think our concern for having quality schools had something to do with education. I had no idea that our schools are actually the daycare system of our nation, that we are the drivers of parents’ ability to work and thus of huge chunk of the economy. I do realize that for many, many thousands of children who have bad home situations, school is a safe haven. But school isn’t truly a safe haven if it isn’t healthy to go there. And the issue of children in crisis is never brought up first. The economy is.

We also hear grave concerns about “learning loss.” I’ll address that issue in a later post. But here’s the thing. We don’t really value learning. We value the economy. We have made school all about College and Careers, but it’s really just Careers and Income, because everyone knows the only purpose for going to college is to have a career that earns more money. (My wife and I attended the same college. She once had a college student from our alma mater observing her classroom ask about her college education: “Did you get your money’s worth?”)

It all goes back to money. Follow the money. The culture of practicality and pragmatism has made schools into fuel stations for the economy. We have commoditized knowledge – turned education into a product. Buy this product, and you will get more money. Knowledge is good for earning money. It is not good for anything else. In fact, other uses of learning might just be dangerous, messy, and inconvenient.

This pandemic has, I would hope, shown us that learning and knowledge have uses other than economic. They have life and death importance.

If we valued education, and the various subjects we have arbitrarily divided it up into, we would pay attention to the people educated in those subjects.

We would listen to scientists, those people specially educated to “do” science – including the science of pandemics. We would listen to historians, those people who know about the lessons we could glean from the last pandemic in the early 20th century. We would listen to mathematicians whose models predicted what would happen with Covid-19 back in early weeks of this calendar year. We would examine the sources of information we are receiving and weigh very carefully creditable sources and sources that lack credibility. We would listen to all those learned people, and more, in part so that the people educated to be healers – our doctors and nurses – would not have to be overwhelmed and dying themselves in overcrowded ICU’s.

But we have not listened to the educated. Why are we so eager to get school back in session, to educate our children, if we ignore the educated in a time of crisis?

Apparently we have kids in school for two purposes: so their parents can work to keep the economy going, and so the children themselves can grow up to be human capital to keep the economy humming along. If the knowledge, wisdom, and expertise our students gain through being educated gets in they way of that economy, then it is no longer useful, even if it could save lives.

We would listen to the educated if we valued education. We would listen to the educated if we valued human life.

I begin to wonder if we do.