How Public Schools Can Fix All of Society’s Problems

Of course, public schools can’t fix all of society’s problems – alone.

Adults are sometimes a big reason why they don’t. We, intentionally or not, make the schools’ work nearly impossible.

Public schools are expected to take in every child and produce a young person ready to contribute constructively in society and fulfill his or her beautiful potential.

We know the challenges that poverty and emotional and physical challenges can cause, but we need to think hard about what fear and hate can do, too.

This political season is particularly ugly.  But, what next? Are we doomed to behavior most of us have been taught to resist? The only way to do that is to act the way we expect our kids to act.

Children are to learn to work together and respect one another in school. School districts have recognized this for a long time. They purchase curricula to teach compassion, character development and the like. It’s big business. But, is implementing a program going to wipe out what kids hear and see outside of school?

Kids learn 24/7, and most of that time is spent at home, on line or with others who may or may not be good influences.

Hate and fear are taught by osmosis mostly, and it’s easy to absorb and hard to fend off.  Kids are quick to emulate attitudes exhibited by those they look up to or those they admire.

What types of attitudes are the children around you seeing? Your words matter.  But it goes deeper; the attitudes behind words, too.

I don’t have to write much about the tenor of this election season. Seems like this particular one has opened more doors to brazen displays of the worst fears we can harbor, and the farther it goes, the wider our divisions become and the faster fears become hate.

I read a story that offers some hope that people are understanding that just because we can send messages around the world in an instant, it doesn’t mean we have to feed that when it can hurt. The Walt Disney Co. decided it is not going to purchase Twitter because of the people who use that platform for bullying. It just said no.

Disney doesn’t want to be defined by feeding a negative worldwide discourse. Do you?

Hate spewed from one side causes reactions from the other, which dismisses those fears as stupid, causing resentment everywhere.  And so it goes. No one is winning when attitudes get entrenched.

Our hope is in these kids. Can they work together? Will they make decisions about our communities and nation that create a positive and prosperous society?

To do that, they have to see good reasons to. They need to learn discernment — the ability to use their brains and knowledge to work things out. They have to have the confidence to get out of their comfort zones. Even fear can offer comfort, unfortunately.

Educators’ jobs get bigger all the time, whether it’s dealing with serious discipline issues, addressing mental health needs, clothing and feeding kids on top of teaching them to read and do math. We need to reduce the baggage kids bring through the school doors — the baggage of who we don’t like, whether it’s a person or a whole group of people.

Laws have been passed to ensure children get an equal education no matter who they are or where they live; defined not by their differences, but their equality in dignity and worth.  Diversity is a value in our education system, uniquely embraced here in Jefferson County where we showcase learning and living together. The definition of diversity has moved from just race, to include socio-economic status, individuals with disabilities and those from other nations. We need to keep promoting the beauty in that, along with the value of respecting others’ opinions.

So, how can schools solve society’s problems? It takes all of us. Whether you are a person on a public stage or mostly in private groups, think about your words; adjust your attitude.

You are part of the American public education system.

About Debbie Wesslund

I served on the Jefferson County Board of Education, Louisville, KY, from 2007-2014 and continue to be an advocate for public schools. There’s a high-level dialogue about public education that swings from positive to negative, with many who seek the spotlight voicing an inaccurate picture of our public schools. Words matter. They get lodged in our public perceptions, creating a narrative that doesn’t reflect the real story. There’s so much more to public education, and much worth applauding in Kentucky and across the country. The stakes are high: public education is the most serious public business we are about as a community, a state and a nation. We must continually renew our resolve to support public education. There’s always more promise in building something up, than in tearing it down.
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