The Avocado Jungle this week is asking the question, “Can education solve all the world’s problems?” I’m not a fan of absolutes, but I think this is as close to an absolute as you can find. If I may posit an answer: Education is part of the solution to nearly every problem the world faces. I blogged on this last summer in a entry aptly titled, “Education Is The Answer.” (I am one creative dude.)
I think most teachers believe this, too. (That education is the answer, not that I’m creative.) I’ll be asking a few teachers that very question this week. As for me, I do know from my own teaching experiences that the field of education is likely populated with a higher percentage of impassioned dream-followers than almost any other. I don’t think it could be any other way. These days one can make a comfortable living, at best, as a teacher. Teachers earn an average of $50,000/year. Beginning teachers make $24,000 to $40,000 — the poverty line for a family of four is about $22,000. Yet teaching is a highly cognitive career. It is said that a teacher makes thousands of decisions each day. Planning and proactiveness are key to success, as evidenced by studies like this one. “Burnout” is a ubiquitous term in the profession, and it has a strong emotional component as shown by studies like this. What other careers combine mediocre pay, high cognitive demands, and so much emotional stress that a quarter of all beginning teachers leave within four years? (By the way, that tidbit and many others are crammed into this article by Martin Haberman, where you can read that half of beginning urban teachers quit within five years; forty percent of teachers in Great Britain visited a doctor with stress related problems in 1999; and way back in 1933 high an incredible eleven percent of American teachers said they had suffered a nervous breakdown.)
My point in saying all this is that teachers are ready and willing and always have been. They are, on the whole, ready to raise the level of knowledge and rational thought that the next generation of workers and leaders is capable of. And they can do it with relatively little more than what they’ve already got. And it must be done, because our world is changing faster and faster all the time and we must be sure our kids grow up knowing how to cope with it, face it each day, contribute to it meaningfully, and get something meaningful out of it.
This little blog entry might have you believe that I think all education emanates from schools. I know better. I know there are lots of other forces at work, like generational education (“It takes a village…”), coaching and mentorship (like we see in inner city programs like “A Better L.A.“), and public awareness campaigns (such as the ones that taught us the importance of seat belts and the dangers of drunk driving and cigarettes). I’ll try to address those, too. But as someone with the sort of passion for teaching that once drove me to try my hand in front of a class of rambunctious high schoolers, I thought I’d start with what I know.