A 71 year old teacher trips over a pre-K special needs child and is arrested; a university professor emerges from the “n” word debate, and the greed of a for-profit college leads to its demise. What could these three incidents tell us about the climate around educational expectations today?
There is scarcely any mother or adult who has not been trying to walk somewhere who has not felt a small child in front of them. In fact, the common phrase “children under our feet” refers to this. 71-year-old Amelia Stripling in Tifton, Georgia’s Pre-K Center resigned after bumping into a small child in front of her as she was trying to go through a door to leave the building. She probably hoped that the powers that be would be appeased. Not so. She was arrested after the mother alleged she pushed her knee in the child’s back, even though the child was not hurt. A sane approach would realize that the mother herself might have had the same experience, but the witch-hunt mindset seized this moment as another excuse to browbeat a teacher who already regretted her misstep and who in no way intended any harm to the child. A simple mistake by a tired teacher was blown up out of proportion and with no empathy for any human mistakes.
A University of Kansas professor, Andrea Quenette, had been on paid leave since November 12th for using the “n” word in a class discussion focusing on helping undergraduates talk about sensitive racial issues. One might say that she was not doing a very good job if this sparked a backlash. However she would not be the first white educator who has been forbidden to use the word in an instructional setting and as part of an effort to encourage tolerance and commitment to create shared understanding. It is the old idea that one’s family can insult each other but don’t let anyone outside do it. It is the same reasoning behind other positions that are allowing only one party a voice at the table. Only blacks should adopt black children; only Latinos should teach Latinos; only Asians should…. Shared cultural backgrounds are very important in communication and education, but we also have to make room for allowing members from other cultures to learn, especially those who value multicultural relationships. Any other position is a one-way street and not communication for mutual understanding.
More damaging than these individual cases, though, is the lack of education that consumer students have when making institutional choices. For-profit colleges like Corinthian, only one of many, operated on a treadmill of financial aid, churning students like fodder to keep the till full. The slick advertising can appeal to busy adults looking for a quick degree and a promotion. But that is the wrong message: the commodification of education. Education is not a product; it is a process, a lifelong process. Some students have gotten so misinformed or misled as to believe that they are actually paying for the piece of paper called a diploma. There have been news reports of individuals selling GED diplomas up to college ones. It began with buying term papers and turned into diploma mills. Colleges like Corinthian are not much above this mentality. An entitlement attitude is now expressed even to college professors as “I am paying your salary; now given me my grade.” And it better be a good one.
How we view the teacher reflects how we view education as a whole. How we view education as a whole, is how we will survive, thrive, or die as a nation.