Let me jump right into this. I am a product of America’s public school system. I went to a public, state university. I worked in K-12 schools for more than 20 years and now work for the university that granted me my first degree. America’s schools worked for me, but that doesn’t mean they are great.
Similarly, I am a proud American. I grew up as a Navy brat, privileged to live all over the world as my dad served in our nation’s military. I love the 4th of July, vote during every election, wear red, white, and blue, but still believe our country has room for growth and improvement. I say this because I know that our country, just like our schools, is not simply a collection of rules, procedures, systems, or buildings. America, and the schools in this amazing country, are filled with people, and as such we are all flawed and all have room to grow. As we enter this Fall, I do not want to ever go back. I only want us to move forward.
During the current political season, we have heard the slogans and campaign tag lines encouraging us to get back to being great. We are asked to remember a time when things were better and are encouraged to embrace an opportunity to go back there, but at the chance of appearing less than patriotic, let me say emphatically that I have no desire to go back. I only want to go forward. In our country I do not want to go back to a time of slavery, gender disparity, racial division, war, violence, economic collapse, or hatred. I only want to work towards creating a future that brings people together, that rallies around peace and works towards creating opportunity for all.
Similarly, in our schools, I do not want to go back to the way things were. Schools were good for me. They worked for people like me, but I also know they did not and do not work for all. Back in 1980, America’s schools were ranked #1 on international comparative benchmarks. Today, on those same comparative measures, we are #24. We have growing achievement gaps. We have disparity between the haves and have nots. We have teachers walking aways from the profession in record numbers. We have states rushing to grant emergency certifications to individuals to fill classrooms. We have a digital divide. We have a system in which 75% of teachers are women but only 8% of superintendents are. We have a system where 72% of teachers are white, but only 51% of students are.
Forgive me for being repetitive here, but I do not want to go back. I want to move forward. We are all faced with tremendous obstacles in this moment, but from here we are also afforded tremendous opportunities. Just a few short months ago many of us began rallying around supporting the needs of our students physically via free lunch programs and emotionally through virtual counseling and social services. Many of us back in May and June marched in unity against systemic racism vowing to make changes within ourselves and our systems. Fast forward to today and many of us are stuck, waiting for others to tell us what our future holds and what the system will look like. If there is any going back, my hope is that we go back to the same dedication, commitment, and resolve we had this Spring so that we can continue to forge the future our kids need tomorrow. We cannot reach every kid until we commit to reaching each kid.
My challenge to you is to identify all of the lessons you have learned over the last six months and to then decide how you will hold onto it all. Our kids deserve more than hashtags and inspirational quotes. They deserve us, on the front lines, making the changes they desperately need. This is your year to end honor rolls, to end labels, to end, comparative statistics, to end playing gotcha. This is our chance to listen to the 55% of parents who have decided that “traditional” school is no longer for them and ask them why. This is our chance to listen to our students and support them when, how, and where they want it. This is our chance to no longer require students to demonstrate “seat time” or to require parents to come to us. This is our chance to truly meet our learners where they are.
As we move towards the future, I beg you, please don’t focus on making our schools great AGAIN. Let’s work on making our schools great PERIOD.
But these are just my thoughts. I would love to read yours.
Feel free to read more of my thoughts at https://schmittou.net