Thomas Paine once said, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” We live in a crazy world where what is right is now declared wrong, where good men and women are vilified by our government, where instant gratification and selfishness are guiding principles.
I’ve said, for years, that restoring American exceptionalism will require a lot of hard work by dedicated patriots who are willing to withstand the onslaught of ridicule to educate those who have fallen asleep on our watch. Our government and our culture are slipping into an appalling state of lethargy and insolence. Those who are in leadership are not held to account while those who insist that we must respect our Constitution and founding principles are blamed for the failures of others who have taken this country down a dark path.
I have worked in education all my life. It hasn’t been an easy profession for me, but a long hard battle to change a system that is designed to reward those who submit to the status quo while simultaneously thwarting the efforts of those who believe that exceptionalism in education (as in any other endeavor) is the only real and lasting success.
I have worked in good school districts and bad ones, but, without exception, the school districts that were willing to look at the hard facts and tackle their problems head-on were the only ones who made a real difference in improving education for the students and changing the culture of their schools and communities for the better.
I liken the situation we see in America now to that of a faltering school district. Today many school district officials put out glowing reports of success to the public while students sit in classrooms devoid of engagement and true learning. Test scores are manipulated, data is parsed to put a positive spin on what might otherwise be seen as failure in our students. The school officials work day and night to get around accountability measures while wallowing in mediocrity and insisting that the status quo is wholly acceptable. Instead of taking poor results as a warning signal or a call for change, they ignore the results and look for a quick-fix or simply misrepresent what those negative results really mean to a naive community.
To change a culture of a school district is very difficult. I have been very fortunate to work in school districts alongside some great teachers and administrators.. who believed, like me, that failure is simply not acceptable. That bad data is simply that, and any spin to make it look better than it is … isn’t serving any good purpose. Years of hard work paid off as we worked together to instill an attitude of exceptionalism first within our students, then their parents, then within the school leadership teams. The culture began to slowly change from ‘what is the minimum we can do to get by?‘ to one of ‘We will not settle for less than exceptional‘. To see those attitudes change has been the most rewarding part of my career.
Now we need to do the same in this culture. There is no quick-fix for a culture that has drifted so far from the ideals of exceptionalism that once guided us. We can’t expect that our leaders will report data honestly or begin working to restore what has been lost until we stop rewarding those who lie and stop crucifying those who are honest. We need to face the hard realities and begin the hard work of restoration. Educating a culture that is not only clueless but also uninterested in the affairs in our government is going to take a monumental effort, but the most glorious victories are in those battles which everyone said could not be won.
I will not settle for anything less than exceptional. Who will join me in the fight?