The Context of Public Education

 The Context of Public Education


Public education itself has been the subject of intense debate over the last several decades, and the system has undergone profound changes. Largely to further advance our current economic system, politicians and the business sector have instituted a range of reforms in public schools that have now been written into policy. The most hotly debated reforms have centered around the use of high-stakes standardized testing to measure both student and teacher performance, a practice that research has shown has had devastating effects on teaching, learning, and school climate. Privatized forms of schooling such as charter schools and voucher plans have also been at the forefront of debates, and have drained traditional public schools of already scarce funding.

When considering any notion of school security, it is important to understand education reform and the context of everyday life in public schools today. Reforms imposed on schools over the past two decades in an effort to make them more ‘accountable’ have radically altered the shape of teaching, learning, and community experiences. Listening to professionals on-the-ground in schools, and to educational researchers, is crucial to our understanding of what different security measures might mean for our schools and our children. On this page you will hear from people in Sidney, Ohio – the school and community focused on in G is for Gun – and will explore other resources on the current state of public education.

Part I: The Voices of Sidney City Schools, Ohio

Overview Questions: What kinds of pressures are public schools and public school employees facing today? How have schools and in particular the profession of teaching, changed over the last decade or more? What effect might this have on teaching and learning? On school security?

Watch the following clips from different voices inside the Sidney schools:

CLIP 1 –Diane Vorhees, Middle School Principal

CLIP 2 – Wade New, Social Studies teacher

CLIP 3 – Mandi Croft, former English teacher, School Board member

After watching, consider the following questions:
What are some of the problems talked about here that children bring to school with them? How well equipped are schools and teachers to handle these issues? Do you think handling these kinds of issues should be the role of schools? Why or why not?

What might schools need to better be able to handle these problems?

Several teachers mention the idea of testing, and data collection. How might these practices get in the way of teaching and learning? Of safety and security?

In CLIP 3, consider the connections that Mandi Croft – a long time classroom teacher – makes between trends in education reform and what it is like to be a teacher today. How might what she is describing inform our thoughts on school security?

The following clip was edited for the film, but cut out in its final version. In addition to other voices from inside the school, this clip features Tom Bey, Director of Shelby County Jobs and Family Services:

CLIP 4 – Sidney Economy and Schools


After watching CLIP 4, consider the following questions:

The people in this clip describe social and economic changes over time in the Sidney, OH region. To what degree can you (yourself, or through family and friends) relate to what is being said here? Has it become harder for people to support their families? How much do social and economic problems come to school with children, and how equipped are schools to deal with these issues?

Now discuss what you think might be some of the sources of social and economic struggle in this country over the past several decades? What does Tom Bey, Director of Shelby County Family Services, say in the clip? What other sources of economic strain might there be?

Part II: Deeper Dive – Connecting to Studies

 After watching the media and discussing the questions in Part I, explore the following related sources and questions:

 Read the following article from The Washington Post, by Lyndsey Layton: “Is the classroom a stressful place? Thousands of teachers say yes” (May 12, 2015).

What do you see discussed in the findings of the study described in this article that connects with what the people of Sidney, OH said?

The teachers in Sidney in the clips above all make reference to the detrimental impact of standardized testing and the push for data collection. Read this article published in The Atlantic, and consider how it relates to the clips above.

Much of what the professionals in Sidney make reference to in the clips above is directly related to the larger economy, and to school funding. To explore these ideas further, look at the following source and consider the questions that follow: 

Look over the following report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities from 2016.

What are trends in school funding? What impact might this have on schools?

If schools had all the funding they needed, how might that change teaching and learning? Student well-being? Security?

To learn more about where and how money is spent in different school districts, listen to this report from NPR, and explore the interactive maps on their page.

If sufficient money isn’t being spent on public services such as education, where is it being spent? Read this brief article from The Guardian on military spending the 2018 federal budget.

Do you agree with the quote toward the end of the article: “When our nation can’t manage to turn the lights on for the people of Puerto Rico, when we can’t help those suffering from opioid addiction get treatment, and when we can’t ensure education and healthcare to all of our citizens, how is it possible we can justify spending billions more on weapons…”? Do you think the way we allocate our resources as a society is in any way connected to debates about school security, or debates about guns in public spaces? Discuss or write about the different ways these things might be connected.

Part III: Deeper Dive – Talking with Scholars

 In the clips below, consider the ideas raised by several scholars interviewed for G is for Gun:

 CLIP 6 – Bryan Warnick

Bryan Warnick, Professor of Education, argues here that there may be a connection  between modern education reform – under which schools are increasingly monitored and controlled – and the creation of a culture of violence in schools. How might an underlying culture of surveillance and control impact the way school communities feel?

 CLIP 7 – Kenneth Saltman

Kenneth Saltman, also a Professor of Education, makes a similar argument, but focuses on the control of teaching and knowledge. How might an underlying culture of surveillance and control change the nature of learning?

Related to this, consider the following article recently published by Slate about the Florida teenagers leading the NeverAgain movement, and the kind of education they’ve received:

They Were Trained for This Moment: How the student activists of Marjory-Stoneman-Douglas High demonstrate the power of a full education“, by Dahlia Lithwick (Slate, Feb. 28, 2018).

How important is exposure to a well-rounded education? What kinds of communities are providing programming and teaching that promotes critical thinking, creativity, and social activism? Why is this happening in some communities and not in others?

 CLIP 8 – Bryan Warnick

Similarly, Dr. Warnick also points out the paradox in the way teachers are being treated. On the one hand they are increasingly not trusted to control their own curricula and forms of assessment for their students, yet on the other many are suggesting that they should be responsible for life-and-death decisions. Where do you think both of these approaches are coming from, and why? What do you think teachers should be responsible for?




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