By Craig J. Cantoni
June 14, 2006
Location: An exercise room in a hotel in Tyler, Texas.
Actors: A retired public school teacher and me.
Scene: After the actors exchange pleasantries, the retired teacher begins lamenting about how teaching had changed for the worse over her 30-year career. She goes on to say that the top problems facing public schools today are irresponsible parents, single-parent families, undisciplined kids, red tape, layers of bureaucracy, and money wasted on grandiose facilities.
It’s a scene that has been repeated at least 50 times over the last 10 years, for that’s at least how many teachers have told me in person or via email the same thing that the teacher in the exercise room told me. Yet teacher unions, school boards, school administrators, education professors, textbook publishers, politicians, the media, soccer moms, and education contractors and suppliers say that the top problems in public education are a lack of money, large classes, and out-of-date facilities and technology.
It gets even more curious. Although teachers have almost total job security, they always preface their comments with the caveat that they are speaking in confidence and don’t want to be quoted.
What’s going on? Could it be that teachers who go public with the truth are sent to a reeducation camp in the Alaskan wilderness, where they are forced to listen to speeches on education 24 hours a day by Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush?
Or is the explanation that by circumstance or temperament, teachers like to rock the boat even less than other professionals in other large organizations?
A third explanation is more likely and more alarming.
The third explanation is that the United States is a declining civilization in which boorish behavior, moral turpitude and lax standards have been tolerated for so long that teachers know that the truth will not change anything. They know from firsthand experience that the education system and society at large are being held hostage by a large minority of imbeciles, and that teachers or other authority figures risk being labeled as judgmental, racist or mean-spirited if they correctly identify imbecilic behavior as imbecilic.
A case in point: Scores of teachers, including the teacher in the exercise room, have given me anecdotes about what happens when a kid misbehaves or dresses inappropriately. When the parent shows up for a parent-teacher conference, the “adult” invariably behaves and dresses like the child. For example, if the child comes to school with her cleavage, navel and underwear showing, the mother comes to the conference with her cleavage, navel and underwear showing — plus a large tattoo on the ankle, shoulder or back. Or if the child comes to school with a “whatever” attitude, the mother comes to the conference with a “whatever” attitude.
A declining civilization would explain why the media, politicians, school administrators and businesses are silent about the real problems with American education and afraid to take on the imbeciles. They realize that the truth would disenfranchise large numbers of customers and voters.
Because many of their readers are mothers with their navels showing, newspapers publish articles about education funding instead of about mothers who dress and act like children. Because many of their customers are fathers who behave like musk-crazed buck deer looking for a good time with a doe in heat, businesses say that schools are under-funded instead of saying that students need fathers who behave like mature men. And because the votes of nincompoops count as much as the votes of responsible citizens, school boards and politicians say that schools need more money instead of saying that they need fewer nincompoops who model the wrong behavior to their offspring.
It’s not so much a conspiracy of silence as it is an acceptance of the status quo. Of course, if a civilization is declining, the status quo is a form of suicide.
Whatever the reason for the silence, the next time a teacher speaks off the record, I’m going to respond, “Shame on you for not having the courage to go public with the truth.”
An author and columnist, Mr. Cantoni can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.