Finding a “cure” in the public school House!
I am a big fan of the recently-ended TV series House. With a masterful touch, actor Hugh Laurie played the brilliant, irascible, arrogant, prank-playing doctor who is known for sweeping in at the last minute with his diagnostic team to save a dying patient with a miracle cure to a complex condition. There is one thing for certain though ― the last thing you wanted to be on that show was the patient.
Why? Because it usually meant that at some point during your 60-minute hospital stay you had to convincingly and realistically pass prodigious quantities of blood through various orifices of your body. Hundreds of emerging young actors can now proudly add to their professional resumes “expert at hemorrhagic vomiting.”
The mystery ailment often was so arcane, elusive, or disguised that they had to treat symptoms without directly attacking the cause. Patients went through every type of test or procedure imaginable; sometimes with life threatening consequences. More than once ― after infusing an exotic pharmaceutical cocktail, conducting intricate open heart/brain surgery, or inducing a claustrophobic incident in the CT scanner ― the medical team found they had misdiagnosed the problem and had to bring out the paddles to revive the patient. Treating a moving target of symptoms had led them down a series of recurring blind alleys. It was a guessing game and the clock was ticking as the patient’s life hung in the balance. They threw solutions at problems hoping one would stick and voila a patient would be cured for another week.
The scripts from House transport readily to the modern era of school reform in the Public School House. Our patient (the public schools) shows dramatic and alarming signs of illness. Our financial temperature has dropped sharply, we’re amputating appendages to save essential core services, and using a plethora of triage techniques to keep public education from flat lining. The prognosis is dire and the condition is deteriorating rapidly. Is there a doctor in the house?
The harsh critics in our House say it’s too late; we’re riding a dead horse on life support. Privateers, born-again educationists, voucheristas, home schoolers, charter advocates, and politicians have started making our funeral arrangements while educational theorists, academics, think tanks, sage retired superintendents, private industry turn-around specialists, and canned reform-in-a-box software/ hardware/ human-ware marketers have gone Code Red in treating our symptoms.
These Public School EMTs (education management theorists) use tell-tale signs like dropout rates, Achievement Gaps, multilingualism, no common core, not enough electives, outdated teaching styles, lack of parental engagement in the learning process, too much or not enough technology, and a litany of other problems to pitch their solution for creating and maintaining a 21st Century learning environment for a demanding and complex student population. They diagnose a symptom with an absolute conviction that by treating it we can create overall health in the patient.
These reforms may work for a while. Personally, I think we can’t really produce a healthy, life sustaining public education system unless we cure the real cause for our malaise . . . Malnutrition. Each year Americans seem more willing to spend money on Starbuck’s than schoolhouses. The percent of personal income devoted to education has steadily decreased each year over the past few decades. As a society we’re starving our students to death. In some societies that would be considered child abuse. On a national scale it’s educational genocide.
In California, we have been systematically de-funding public education by billions of dollars. I’m all for ending obesity and maintaining a reasonably healthy diet, but in this case we’re forcing our schools into anorexia. California is trying to run 2013 schools with 2000 income levels. If the lifespan of a PreK-12 student is only 14 years, in effect, we have abandoned an entire generation on operating table. Schools can now only offer life support and keep the little patients as comfortable as possible.
Watch any TV ad for new miracle drugs designed to cure a host of Baby Boomer maladies and they all end the same way: a thirty second speed-talked disclaimer that warns if you take this drug it might cure the one symptom you have, but could cause dangerous side-effects (anything from fainting, convulsions and dry mouth to four-hour erections, heart attacks and strokes). Maybe we need to mandate that we cannot impose an educational reform or funding bill on our public schools without a similar disclaimer about their unintended consequences, dangers from overdose, and adverse side effects. On the label of the regulatory prescription bottle we should also caution that resisting tax increases for education can become an addiction that is hard shake.
As communicators we need to be truth tellers. Today, the Health of Public Education sucks. We need people to see that there will be deep and fatal consequences if we keep treating symptoms instead of getting to the root cause that will cure this patient. We have to stop expecting miracle cures and start investing our resources in systemic educational wellness. It will take a long-term commitment and a lot of patience if our patient is going to pull through. But time is of the essence or the patient may die. We need a Dr. House and his team in the Public School House STAT to accurately diagnose our condition and prescribed a cure that doesn’t kill us!
© Copyright 2012 by Thomas K. DeLapp, Communication Resources for Schools