As if it weren’t enough to unload a huge amount of pressure on students in the form of standardized testing, new legislation one step closer to being passed in Tennessee is tying family’s welfare benefits to student performance.
The argument behind this bill is that it will incentivize parents to become more involved in their child’s education. This baffles me, and it concerns me even more that I feel compelled to write about this arguing against it, because this bill should simply not even have come into existence.
I wonder how on Earth threatening to cut welfare benefits of struggling families is in any way an incentive or expected to yield positive results. At the end of the day, cutting off benefits is a form of punishment. Incentive and punishment do not belong in the same sentence together. An incentive, by definition, is something that incites greater action or effort. While the bill is claimed to be a form of incentive, it is an incentive brought about through fear of punishment, through the fear of a 30 percent reduction in the benefits that these families are relying on.
Does this bill not perpetrate a negative cycle? And can positive results yield from negative consequences? I’d imagine that this push parents may provide to their students as a result of this legislation would also be punitive. Instead of instilling in their children a love for learning it becomes more of a tedious task rather than a journey of exploration and wonder. Parents themselves may also come to hold some form of bitterness and resentment towards education as a result.
Education is so much more than attendance rates and a student’s ability to fill in bubbles in response to questions that in no way require critical or creative thinking; it’s about fostering a love and appreciation for the world around us, and tapping into our fullest potential. Is there not a more positive way to grab parents attention, and to also empower them so that they too can become educated and sincerely appreciative of education? Children learn by example and by what they see around them. Our focus should be on empowerment rather than furthering a sense of worry and anxiety for families who are already facing times that may be very difficult for them, though they may not appear so to us.
Republican Vance Dennis said that the measure applies only to “parents who do nothing.” Who is the judge of this? Who deems whether or not a parent is “doing nothing”? I’d imagine that if a family is relying on welfare benefits to begin with, they are struggling to survive. Is this “doing nothing”? Is fighting to put food on the table “doing nothing”?
Republican Gloria Johnson also raises a valid point; what of the wealthy parents who are not present or involved in their child’s education? The bill says nothing about this. Isn’t the root of the problem that we should be addressing here, parenting and understanding our philosophy of education? Wouldn’t everyone’s time and energy be better spent on creating ways to empower parents? To educate parents? To unite families? To unite communities? Instead children are now burdened with the large responsibility of making sure their family receives benefits they may desperately count on.
This is what happens when legislation, when crucial decisions, are being made by those who are experts or well versed in areas not remotely related to what they are knowledgeable in. For instance, Rep. Dennis said he was shocked at what Rep. Johnson, stating that educators he’s talked to “believe parental involvement is one of the biggest problems in teaching and this bill is a way to encourage parental involvement.” I wonder if he at any point thought to ask people (i.e. teachers and parents themselves) who probably have the most knowledge and experience, how to answer this question.
I find myself in a situation at my own school that is a microcosm of this larger attitude we have in our society, where teachers skills are taken for granted and experts are brought in to teach them things they probably already know. There are so many experienced and wise teachers in our schools with so much to share and so much to teach us, and yet instead of seeking them out, asking them what they think, or collaborating with them, “officials” gather together in a room, officials who most likely have never stepped foot in a classroom, and come to a decision based on their limited experience. It’s as inane as putting a chef in charge of a doctor’s office or hospital.
The problem is that we place so little value on education that we think it’s okay that there are lawyers, former CEO’s, etc., etc., in positions of power making these decisions that affect our schools. Where are the teachers in that mix? We are in the classroom, living education, experiencing education, breathing education. Has anyone thought to reach out to us? We are so divided in our society, we are so boxed off. We are either White or Black or Hispanic, or Other. We are either teacher, or a lawyer, or a doctor. We are this, we are that. We forget that at the end of the day, we are all human, and we have so much to give and share. We are a part of a community that should be working together to raise our children and provide them with the tools they need to realize their potential and live fulfilling lives.
Instead, there is a movement of students opting out of tests, with children who do take them suffering from stress and anxiety. Again it hits me that we have truly begun to lose touch with humanity. Antonine de Saint-Exupery said it best:
“Humanity as a whole is richer than ever before. We enjoy unsurpassed affluence and leisure time. Yet something more basic, something undefinable is lacking. The sensation of ourselves as human beings becomes gradually more and more rare.”
It is time for us to own up to our shit. We have screwed up, and are continuing to screw up, our education system, and our children are suffering as result. Egos must put aside, people’s worth and value must be recognized, and we absolutely must unite together to work towards a better future. One in which a child looks forward to going to school, where parents are so proud of the work they have done and feel empowered and capable themselves, one in which we can truly enjoy the richness of humanity and recognize the impenetrable bonds that connect us all.
“The task of education must be fundamentally to ensure that knowledge serves to further the cause of human happiness and peace.” Daisaku Ikeda, founder of the Soka School System