An [Educational] Christmas Carol
In 1843, Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, a story as real and relevant now as was when it was written. “This heartwarming story of repentance, redemption, and the transformative power of love and charity is especially poignant during the season of goodwill to all (Hudson Valley).”
I have always loved this particular story in large part because of the trifecta mentioned above -- repentance, redemption, and transformative power of love and charity. Taking a close look at Ebenezer Scrooge (whose very name today still seethes with malevolence), one finds very little redeemable in this main character. His avarice, disdain, and contempt make him a very unsavory character; however, his life goes through a series of transformations as he encounters the ghosts of Marley, Christmas Past, Present, and Future. Although I in no way compare or propose Public Education to Ebenezer Scrooge, the similarity of experiences can show the continuing quest of self-discovery, reflection, and, ultimately, hope and optimism for second chances.
In many respects I see the same power of repentance, redemption, and the transformative power of love and charity displayed in public education. Focusing on the transformational power of Public Education Past, Present and Future, countless and nameless students experience the benefits, opportunities, and expanded career choices at the hands of loving, competent, and compassionate educators. There is no doubt in the transformational power of education.
Education is a process far more than an event. Seeing education as a whole and not as a sequence of disparate parts, a true “Past, Present, and Future,” showcases the importance of early childhood, elementary, middle, high, and postsecondary teachers and experiences.
What positively or negatively impacts early childhood education eventually impacts elementary and so on. No single part of the whole is more valuable, more essential, or more necessary than any other. Scrooge’s journey to redemption required a serious assessment of missed opportunities, misplaced choices, and a reevaluation of teachable moments at distinct junctures in his life. The Ghost of Education Past provides us lessons in failed policies, like segregation, and the proliferation of the “assessment of the month” club.
The Ghost of Education Present presents a portent of apprehension in public education with looming teacher shortages, the mechanical, now maniacal march of EVEN MORE standardized assessments, and the seriously deficient state funding mechanism.
The Ghost of Education Future looms large in public education. Scrooge noted when dealing with this apparition, “Ghost of the Future, I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?”
Efforts to reduce unnecessary assessments and to expand criteria by which schools can be evaluated beyond the “tag” of only a test score are likely a good first step at repentance. Focusing on strategies to elevate education as a preferred career choice and realizing educators are not superhuman and cannot correct every malady in society are good steps toward redemption of a career now avoided by many capable, though disinterested college students.
Scrooge proudly proclaims after his harrowing night, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.’’
So it is my hope as well that we will honor Education and try to keep it all the year.
(Dr. David O’Shields is District 56 Superintendent.)