The contrast between the way we approach national security and defense in the United States and the way we approach public education could not be more stark. This is not just a matter of budget allocations. It’s about the paradigm we use to evaluate the effectiveness and success of our military missions, versus the paradigm we use to evaluate the effectiveness and success of public education in this country. Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Caligari address this contrast in a must-read op-ed published in yesterday’s online edition of the New York Times:
When we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers. We don’t say, “It’s these lazy soldiers and their bloated benefits plans! That’s why we haven’t done better in Afghanistan!” No, if the results aren’t there, we blame the planners. We blame the generals, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No one contemplates blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition.
And yet in education we do just that. When we don’t like the way our students score on international standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When we don’t like the way particular schools perform, we blame the teachers and restrict their resources.
Compare this with our approach to our military: when results on the ground are not what we hoped, we think of ways to better support soldiers. We try to give them better tools, better weapons, better protection, better training. And when recruiting is down, we offer incentives.
For those who say, “How do we pay for this?” — well, how are we paying for three concurrent wars? How did we pay for the interstate highway system? Or the bailout of the savings and loans in 1989 and that of the investment banks in 2008? How did we pay for the equally ambitious project of sending Americans to the moon? We had the vision and we had the will and we found a way.
Those bracketed ellipses stand in for Eggers’ and Caligaris’ specific ideas for attracting the best teachers and taking our children’s education seriously. This is one of those pieces that cry out to be quoted in full — every line is crucial to the whole. But I will resist the desire to quote the entire piece in favor of urging readers to read the rest for themselves.