My Valentine to Teachers
“Shall we play a game?” is a gateway question to many learning opportunities, not just a great line from a movie.
My dad’s cousin Anne was an elementary school teacher when I was growing up. She had many subjects to teach to her students, but her lesson on what it means to live in a democracy sticks with me to this day. Anne had a three-day unit that she presented to elementary school students. Each day the class would have a baseball game run in a style of government.
Day One was a Monarchy. One student was chosen King or Queen, and the rest of the class had to do everything they said. The game had to be played as the King or Queen demanded. Only one person was able to do what they wanted, and everyone else was mad at them.
Day Two was a Anarchy. There were no rules, any student could run the bases anytime they wished, and throw balls at anyone or anything. Everyone could do whatever they wanted, no home-runs were made, and everyone was mad at each other.
Day Three was a Democracy. The class voted on who was captain, and how they would organize teams and set up a game. Everyone had a chance to make a contribution, and figure out if baseball was even for them. Voting on rules to organize a game allowed for supporting your team specifically and the game for everyone. Not everyone won the game, but each student felt part of the group.
The origin of our public schools is in filling the needs of our households and societies as they progressed through history. In colonial North America, the common man or woman needed to know how to do a job, but not how to read; the merchant needed to know arithmetic and how to bargain between manufacturers and customers; landowners needed to know how to manage resources, and the ruling class had to know how to manage people. Keeping knowledge segmented meant leadership kept control. Over time, public education changed that imbalance of access to knowledge.
Schooling was once done on a very small local scale — a few years of schooling for kids of farm families, until they were old enough to work, one room school houses led by teachers who traveled to anywhere they were needed, wealthy households having tutors and select private schools. Parents have always been aware of schools’ impact on family life and culture. The people in government and business have always been aware of the impact of education on social organization and production.
Enter the teachers, the members of our society who lead us from curiosity to solution, despair to action.
In the mid nineteenth century as the Industrial Age of manufacturing was making fortunes for a small group of American businessmen, influential people, such as the educational reformer Horace Mann, were looking to other countries’ education methods for examples of how to set up a national school system for the USA. The model he liked best was in Prussia. It was meant to instruct children in necessary skills — reading, writing, and arithmetic — and in how to follow directions, emphasis on follow. The Prussian schools taught children how to become model citizens. The daily routine of school prepared children to both be ready, as adults, for the routine of daily work, and to satisfy the country’s cultural norms.
Our modern schools teach topics and skills that benefit both society and individuals. The universal subjects, math, English, et al., are the starting point for us all. Parents and students have the ability to customize some of the details of other courses through the public school years, but the objective is a population that can work together. As parents and adult members of a whole society it is our responsibility to back up our children’s education, and to back up their teachers.
Right now, in 2022, the entire world is working through the challenges of surviving a pandemic. We have many professionals who are working the shifting front lines that a viral pandemic creates as it morphs and changes. We have nurses, doctors, first responders who work for our safety, and a public workforce that keeps our businesses open so our economy is supported.
Our teachers are a front-line force in our society every day of their career. Not the dangerous situations that call on first responders, but the daily stream of development for up to 60 or more individual personalities, the effects of home life on a child — good and bad, traumas, troubled marriages of parents.
Requirements of Education Departments, from county to federal government, must be implemented by our public school teachers, every day, for every student.
Teaching to think and problem solve is where our teachers shine, and seeing understanding develop in their students is the reason for choosing that career. All the while teachers are doing their real job, they must also produce paperwork to back it up, and receive any and all criticism and direction from administrators, parents, politicians.
Every day, teachers everywhere are in a job they do because they love to see young people learning — to learn how to think, not what to think. The purpose of schools is teaching children what society needs them to know. This includes acceptance and understanding — how the Golden Rule is a tangible part of life. Teachers also bring children art, literature and written history. Teachers of course vary considerably, but they work to give students the tools for personal understanding of the world we all live in. We can honor them by recognizing history repeating itself, and finding new solutions to conflict rather than reasons for confrontation.
If you find a typo in this essay, thank a teacher. If you can’t, thank my editor. And then thank his teachers.
If you are still reading, and care about any of these things, thank your teachers again.
Happy Valentine’s Day to teachers everywhere.