Kmart has a new “not back to school” ad. It’s the usual ad stuff coupled with an explanation to kids that, “this is not a back to school commercial.”
Instead it’s “vacation” commercial for parents to help them with “…relaxation and freedom from entertaining their children…”
That’s right. School is the place where parents send their kids when they need a “vacation.” It’s the same as going out to dinner when Mom and Dad don’t want to cook…or calling the babysitter when parents want a night out. The underlying concept here is that schools and teachers are a babysitting service…and what’s even better, public schools, unlike charter, private and parochial schools, must take your kids because it’s the law.
I get it…it’s not really Kmart’s fault. Even teachers joke about how summertime is the time when parents really learn to appreciate teachers. And, it’s true. Kids are a lot of work…and sometimes two or three kids at home all day can be just as hard as a class of 25. Keeping kids entertained without resorting to Disney marathons or hours on the computer/phone/tablet, isn’t easy. I’m sure that some parents will be relieved that their local public school will supply interesting content for their child…presented by a real, live, caring, person – aka the teacher(s).
But think about it for a moment…school is more than just a vacation for parents, right? The nation’s collective attitude about the role of schools and teachers needs an adjustment. Would we be able to counteract America’s tradition of anti-intellectualism with an acknowledgment that teachers are more than just babysitters? Would Americans begin to see teachers as well-educated professionals instead of part-time test-jockeys if we changed our attitude about school a bit?
Instead of a place to send our kids for a ten-month parent vacation, perhaps we ought to adopt the attitude of higher achieving countries. Pasi Sahlberg says this about the purpose of schools in Finland…
In Finland we think that children need to have a safe and balanced learning environment that is equally guided by academic and non-academic curricula, team learning and individual work, and formal and informal learning. We also believe that it is very important to learn about the world and its different languages and cultures from very early on. That’s why we give foreign language learning and international education high priorities. There is a Finnish saying: “Real winners don’t compete”. We believe that what children learn to do together today, they can do alone tomorrow.
Teachers already know they are much more than babysitters and school is much more than test scores. The vast majority of parents know this too, even if they do (half) joke, “I can’t wait till school starts so you’ll have something to do and get out of my hair!” Most parents understand and respect their kids’ teachers. Polls show that parents of students in school…those people closest to the schools and best able to see what’s actually happening in America’s public schools…trust their kids’ teachers and their kids’ public schools.
With a change in national attitude maybe we could wash away some of that “traditional American anti-intellectualism.” A strong social investment in improving the understanding of the purpose of school, along with fully funding our public schools, would do more to improve student achievement than “test-and-punish” policies and diverting money from public schools to private corporations and religious groups.
We ought to support, not trivialize, America’s public schools.
Kmart ad for a parent vacation.
The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.