Rachel Durston: I have a lot to say about education, but I think I will try to just limit it to one topic. I know that it is true that a poor carpenter always blames his tools, but I believe it is also true that a great carpenter, when doing some of the most important work, deserves the best tools that money can buy. I suppose that my “critique on the education system” is that the system does not cater to individuals. There is not a lot of room for those students who come to school already carrying a heavy load so that they can still feel safe and learn. In a lot of cases, there is physically not enough room or able bodies to handle the number of students. Or there are not enough counselors (1 to 600 children at my school; but they thought her load was too light so she is also the testing coordinator year-round) to help those students who need it.

If the school system was treated the way some other governmental organizations were (the military, perhaps), I think we wouldn’t be sitting around asking each other what we were doing wrong. In the military, the issue never seems to be, “Oh, jeez, we don’t have enough soldiers for this mission to Afghanistan. Too bad. Maybe we could hold a bakesale and recruit parent volunteers!” Clearly, the military has its own issues, but they seem to revolve around the fact that some people think there are too many of them in an area. The day when a protester comes to a picket line holding a sign that says, “Too many teachers! Stop educating our children!” because it has just gotten “out of hand,” is the day when there will be no commentaries to write. I suppose one might say that for certain organizations, it is imperative that they have the necessary funds because of their importance. Well, I think that raising the next generation of the people that will be running the country is pretty damn important. Now, I’m not saying that money will fix everything. Of course not. We’ve seen money thrown at things irresponsibly and cause just as much harm as good. I’m saying that the CEOs of successful companies stand for “nothing but the best,” and we need to be taking the same self-important attitude with our education system. The issue of money should not even come up. I wish that right now I could be writing about the subtle differences between differentiating instruction based on natural ability and learning style, but unfortunately, the fact that we are not treated like some of the most important institutions in the country is what is getting in our way.

The issue is not just the money. The issue is the fact that we, as a country, think we can skimp on one of the most important institutions in the union. Teachers and students should not have to sit in a mold-filled trailer, coughing and sneezing with half the class sweating while the half closer to the window unit is shivering. They should not have to perch on broken pieces of plastic meant for primary age kids while eating lunch. They should not have to eat salty and fried chips covered in fake cheese masquerading as a healthy lunch. Teachers should not have to cut out and peel the cardboard off of the back of the Boxtops for Education symbols so that they don’t lose money on the postage when they are sending the label in for a ten cent rebate. Where are the great leaders and organizations of our country that are supposed to know how to budget and work efficiently so that teachers are not worried about whether or not the textbooks will get in before the unit is over or if the copier will work for the photo-copying of the one 6-year-old textbook they feel lucky enough to have? Where is the seamless craftsmanship and people that work behind the scenes so that teachers are worried about the things they were trained to worry about: their students.

The best and the brightest should be in teaching. And they should be paid top dollar. It is some of the most important work in the world and we don’t want to just rely on the do-gooders who are willing to bust their butts for a salary that they must spend a portion of on posters, markers, papers, prizes, manipulatives and other classroom supplies. Our school counselor once told us to, “Get militant!” about our students. They deserve better than this and if those in power could realize what a disservice we are doing to our own future, we might have a fighting chance to make some real change.