Since Teach for America has been so successful at solving the problems of education in our country, I’m proposing we take their model and apply it to other failing systems and issues at hand. If the biggest problem in education is a lack of quality teachers, and we can provide those teachers and thus solve the education crisis in just six weeks time, why not try this out in other professions?
1. Heal for America — The healthcare system in America is crumbling, and what we really need to solve it are quality doctors. Give aspiring doctors 6 weeks of training, then put them in the most overcrowded hospitals around the country. If successful, we can send them abroad!
2. Police for America — Let’s solve the problem of gun violence on our streets once and for all by getting rid of corrupt and inept police officers. We will give aspiring police officers 6 weeks of training and then put them in neighborhoods with the highest rates of violent crime.
3. Experiment for America — If we want to cure cancer, we need fresh voices in the scientific community. Obviously, the scientists who’ve been working on a cure for the past decades aren’t doing their job very well, as cancer rates are skyrocketing with no cure in sight. Aspiring chemists will get six weeks of training, and then be put in charge of experiments testing cancer-curing drugs.
4. Defend America — The war in Afghanistan has been draining resources from the American people. We need better soldiers on the ground, or this conflict will never be resolved. What we need are bright young soldiers to shake things up a little bit. We will give aspiring army officers 6 weeks of training, and then put them in charge of units in the most complex arenas of war.
I don’t think I have to point out to anyone how ridiculous these proposals sound. Would you trust a doctor with six weeks of training to operate on your child? Would you want that police officer on your block? Would you want to send those soldiers into conflict? Would you take a drug developed by that chemist?
Who do progressives blame for the crumbling healthcare system? for gun violence? for failed wars? Not the individual police, doctors, soldiers — but the people at the top with the privilege, money, and power, the systems of oppression at work in our society. We talk about holistic approaches to solving all of the policy problems we face in this country today.
Take teen pregnancy. We talk about better sex education, access to contraceptives and the morning-after pill, funding for Planned Parenthood and women’s health programs, empowering young women, and advocating for pro-choice legislation. Imagine how discredited a progressive voice would be if they suggested that unwanted pregnancies were in fact only the fault of the woman, that the best solution to this problem would be to teach women not to have sex. (That progressive would probably be easily confused as a conservative right-winger.)
And yet, most education reform policies — with wide support by organizations such as Stand for Children, Leadership for Educational Equity, the American Legislative Exchange Council, etc. — focus on teacher responsibility for student learning, only one factor, instead of looking at holistic approaches to making public education more equitable.
Are there bad teachers? Sure. Are there bad cops, doctors, soldiers, scientists? Of course. But putting all of the responsibility on individual teachers to solve the education crisis is no more ridiculous than putting all of the responsibility on individual police to solve gun violence, on soldiers to put an end to war, on scientists to freeze cancer.
Instead, let’s look at community models of education, provide wrap-around services in schools, advocate for smaller class sizes and quality professional development, give teachers more planning periods throughout the day and invest in professional learning communities, implement teacher evaluations that include more than just test scores as measures, examine unequal funding methodologies of school districts… you catch my drift.
And, as progressives, we must demand policy leaders and business-people, Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee and the Broad Foundation and Pearson, who invest so much money and energy developing accountability measures and finding more ways to attack the teaching profession, to invest in community health and job creation and libraries and environmental justice and workers’ rights and immigration reform. Only when we begin looking at education policy with the same intersectionality that we use to look at other policy issues will we truly develop a public school system that offers every child a quality education.