Savage on Education, the Romantic Versus the Paradigmatist
East Providence Representative John Savage (R-East Providence) describes a philosophy of public education that is fundamentally self-contradictory. On one hand, there was the system back in the day — which cultivated those Americans who reached for the moon, invented the computer-driven society, and built history’s most dynamic economy:
WHEN I BEGAN teaching in the late ’60s, we had pens, pencils, crayons and rulers to give to the children. The school would supply the paper for their assignments. Our textbooks would be reasonably current, and some might even be new. Maps and globes would be in our classrooms for referencing.
Sitting at their desks would be some 30 to 35 sixth-grade students, three or four of whom spoke no English. I, unfortunately, spoke no Portuguese. I did take a six-week course to learn some basic phrases (now forgotten), but to communicate with these children was very difficult. There would also always be a student or two in the class who had a severe learning disability. Together in that classroom for six, seven or eight lessons a day, the 36 of us would all work very hard.
My salary was a modest one (all my friends who graduated with me from college were earning more, and they didn’t even have to return to college for night courses). My benefits were good. At times I did consider changing careers, but I loved what I did so I stayed. I knew I would always be lower-middle-class, and that was okay.
On the other hand, there is the current system — in which specialized services for individual students, smaller class sizes, and an emphasis on “attracting and retaining talented, motivated, and highly skilled professionals” are crowding out other expenses. Savage suggests that it is “the educational process itself” that is “driving up the cost of education,” but that skirts the value judgment between the before and the after. Would Savage characterize his early years in the field as an era of endemic failure? I suspect not. Somewhere, he leaves off the lessons of his technicolor past for the demands of a digital present.
I’d propose that the current system of generating and remunerating teachers is nowhere near adequate for ensuring talent, motivation, and skill. Indeed, unionization is crushing those spirits from the profession. Talent is hardly a consideration against seniority. A one-size-fits-all career path is clearly stultifying of motivation.
Savage ends with the despairing question of whether we can afford the “free public education [that] is necessary for the maintenance of a functioning democracy.” In a full and honest review of his experience as a teacher, perhaps he’d be able to identify the assumptions that make the answer “no” and the opportunities that would make it “yes.” Not a lot of folks in the business can resist the natural inclination to turn away from the conclusions toward which that project would lead.