Our Own Worst Enemies

Imagine Apple CEO Tim Cook taking the stage at a major tech conference and delivering the following:

Here at Apple, our engineers and designers are overworked and underpaid. They are stressed out nearly to the point of being unable to do their jobs. The very best ones are leaving the company and going elsewhere – either to other tech companies or abandoning the field altogether. The company is bloated, top down, and management is a mess – it is clear we don’t care about our employees or their futures. We also don’t really have the right up-front funding to deliver a quality product or properly support our workforce. And our design and production facilities are crumbling, unsafe, and uninspiring. We are subjected to rules and regulations imposed upon us that make real innovation and improvement nearly impossible. People considering working here should look elsewhere … or consider an entirely different career.

But, we really need you to buy our products and help us out. Would you like to pre-order a new iPhone?

Of course, Tim Cook never said anything like this. And he wouldn’t – because doing so would severely and (possibly) irrevocably damage his company’s brand and public reputation.

This is not to say that a gigantic and complex company like Apple doesn’t have plenty of problems to manage and areas where they can get better. Of course they do. But you certainly aren’t likely to see a public airing of these.

Contrast this to public education. Well-intended advocates, what some might even call champions of public education, run down and trash our brand and reputation on a regular basis in an effort to create political pressure for more funding, changes in legislation, or any number of other issues.

The strategy is simple – create a narrative of crisis in an effort to get something done to address the problem(s).

While this crisis-narrative strategy can sometimes be effective, it can also have a corrosive effect on public confidence and perceptions around public education and teachers.

Plenty of politically-motivated public education detractors and critics take regular shots at our public schools and the people working in them. But the messages which convey that “our schools are broken” become even more destructive when teachers, administrators, parents, and public education advocates use them – regardless of their positive intent.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that we should ignore or whitewash our challenges and problems when it comes to public education. Concerns and problems should be brought forward and change effected. Intractable problems such as adequate and equitable funding, building a quality teaching workforce, and preparing our students for an increasingly complex and interconnected world are real and we need honest conversations and meaningful action on them. Public education should be in a constant state of reform and improvement. We are morally compelled to confront these issues (and others) – and to get better.

Every day in public schools across our nation there are incredible success stories, remarkable victories, and life-changing breakthroughs. What are you doing about those?

What messages are you sending? And are those messages building the brand of public education … or burning it down?

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