Washington Irving’s iconic schoolmaster, Ichabod Crane, is more than a cleverly conceived character created for comic consumption. As depicted in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Ichabod personifies, albeit in an ironically ignoble fashion, reverence afforded the two most highly respected individuals in 18th century communities, i.e., preachers and teachers.
From the time we were mere colonies until the greatest generation celebrated the end of World War II, American public education has been, at its core, a political phenomenon. Local control of children’s schooling often consisted of a handful of farm families or urban immigrants fashioning a small space to create an environment in which children of various ages and abilities gathered to learn reading, writing and arithmetic. Hollywood’s version of this has been immortalized by Miss Beadle’s one-room schoolhouse in “Little House on the Prairie.”
These “good ole days” have now been replaced with beautiful buildings and 21st century virtual learning tools, but the politics remain the same.
Elected officials, whether they be school boards, legislators or U.S. presidents, make political decisions that impact schooling throughout America. The Council of Chief State School Officers – comprising state superintendents of schools, commissioners or directors either appointed by governors, elected by popular vote or hired by state boards – manage and lead initiatives to support education in their respective states. All struggle to mediate issues associated with localized, grass roots perspectives on schooling versus state mandates or “rules.”
Federal laws address issues deemed to be associated with basic human rights, such as compulsory attendance, special needs and access. Regarding the latter, political grappling over vouchers and private systems of education continue to divide our country.
Parents’ rights to determine what they believe is best for their children seem to be pitted against the general good. For example, will tax breaks, vouchers and/or incentives to support parental choice inadvertently be detrimental to the growing number of families living in poverty who cannot take advantage of these opportunities? Put another way, will decisions based on political ideology create a division that benefits some school children and harms others?
Preparing the education workforce also is political. College and university teaching prep programs are required to ensure graduates meet state requirements and pass a licensure exam to become certified to practice. While this has been in place for over 100 years, higher education “report cards” documenting inputs and outcomes are now required and made public. The grade for each of these programs is intended to compel them to improve, provide future educators information they can use to make choices and assist employers with hiring decisions. The politics behind this approach is based on the notion that lesser programs will improve and the best programs will grow, thereby producing more highly competent educators.
Some school board elections are still decided by single-digit margins. Some leadership positions hang in the balance of vendetta. Curriculums are all too often determined by personal opinion. Local control is pitted against state requirements that must follow federal mandates. Some 250 years after colonists in New England used “old deluder Satan” to scare learning into children, we are still struggling to figure out what is best for children and who is in the best position to lead and manage the system.
Because the politics of control all too often result in split decisions, the status quo tends to become the tie breaker in terms of outcomes. At present, there is no true choice for all Americans – only for some.
The rub is in figuring out how to help disadvantaged children and families. How can the system provide equal access and equal opportunity for all?
How might our nation’s public schools be attached to public colleges and universities to create a unified system of equal education for all?
If the current systems were not governed by political entities, a stroke of the pen could make this happen.
Sound simple? Then, try to get two state boards – one governing public schools and one governing higher education – to join forces and work as one unified board.
David Hough is the dean of the College of Education at Missouri State University. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Drive-thru coffee shop Bigfoot Coffee Co. LLC opened; a pair of Springfield attorneys launched medical marijuana certification clinic The Med Card Co. LLC; and husband-and-wife owners Ryan and Lesley Day debuted their first business venture with the opening of The Farmhouse on Boone Cafe LLC.
Andrea Petersberg, owner of the Local Bevy, says the appeal of a local store holds a lot of value for people in and outside of Springfield. Petersburg says being a supporting part of the local connection for artists is important for her.
Randy Bacon, professional photographer and humanitarian, shares his story on how he left his job in the corporate world to pursue his dream. Now 60 years old and with signature character to his photography and business, he says he still is a 15-year-old boy with a camera.
Becky Thomas, co-owner of Third Street Sportswear, gives her advice for maintaining good relationships with clients. Drawing on her experience working with customers coast to coast, Thomas says equity and fairness are some of the best ways to build trust and respect.
Don Helms, co-owner of Munchie Moe’s, says it's important to know your business and to think ahead of your supply chain. Helms says COVID-19 has changed the way he has experienced business operation. He says foresight is key.
Janet Susdorf, business consultant and founder of Brain Power for Hire, LLC, discusses the importance of adapting and learning from failure. Drawing from the struggles she has faced in her own life as a sixtime cancer survivor, Susdorf talks about when to fight and when to accept change.
Jennifer Charleston, a 20-year veteran of the Springfield Police Department and the only female lieutenant in the department, talks with SBJ’s Christine Temple about her career in law enforcement and her new position in the department as a liaison to the LGBTQ+ community.
Moving from physical meetings to digital meetings can feel like a barrier, but Mackenzie Scherer, an independent technology business consultant, says it can be an opportunity. Scherer says that with good moderation, a digital meeting experience can make people feel more included in the discussion.
Abby Glenn, development director for Habitat for Humanity, says corporate partners are a huge asset to the work they do. Corporate donation matching programs help individual donors feel they are contributing more and help Habitat for Humanity cover the large costs of their projects.
Alex Neville-Verdugo, museum director at the Discovery Center in Springfield, describes the opportunities the Discovery Center has through partnerships with other educational organizations. Neville-Verdugo says the Discovery Center’s virtual learning program reaches across multiple countries, with traffic mostly coming from the U.S. and Canada.
Elizabeth Hurst, business development manager at HR Advantage, says we do see fewer women in the workforce today than before the pandemic. Hurst says many women want more flexible work environments and that is one way employers can capture the female labor force.