A group of us were recently told that there is nothing quite so unappealing to young adults as a bunch of discouraged-looking old people. To which I replied in sotto voce, “There is nothing quite so discouraging as a group of young adults dependent on how we look to them.” Still, I get the point. Many of us wear our discouragement quite visibly. We don’t get what we want, and it shows.
For example, I know I probably look weird when I vote. I dislike voter ID laws and, while I comply with them so that I can vote, what I feel like doing is joining a bunch of pals and burning IDs in a 50 gallon drum in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol.
I love teaching at the University. I have worked there most of my life since I have been 18 or 19, starting with washing dishes and preparing Sloppy Joes and now as academic staff. Still, I am pretty sure that many days I walk through the halls looking like crap when I think about the Koch-supported, ALEC-developed proposals to have guns on campus. The completely dopey decisions that are made to strip our state of one of its most precious assets, the University of Wisconsin system, is discouraging in ways I can barely describe.
The same sorts of issues irk me about Wisconsin’s public elementary and secondary schools. I recall a graduate course in education at UWM in which a nasty little professor went on ad nauseam about Tyack’s One Best System, a widely-read book in the mid-1970’s, a book often cited in the take-down of public education. Howard Fuller and Annette Polly Williams were big fans of the take down, though Williams later regretted her role, likely recognizing that she was duped by profiteers who pretended they actually cared about children and teens.
In the past few years I have visited several Milwaukee Public Schools like Milwaukee School of Languages, Rufus King High School, South Division High School, and Milwaukee Tech. I found them to be amazing places to learn and grow and develop. There were gifted and dedicated teachers in each of them. Young people were figuring out how to be in the world, how to get on with life, and how to contribute while learning. There were also problems in each school, some serious, but they were truly outweighed by the dedication of so many people.
It is discouraging to see them so maligned by forces fueled by greed.
Many have pointed to Donald Trump’s campaign as a sign of how civility has become a thing of the past. But, in my opinion, the behavior of members of Congress are only different by degree. Even local elections, like the elections for County Supervisor or County Sheriff, have been marred by the behaviors of both incumbents.
I would like a break from these antics and degradation of civil society and communities where support for public education is viewed as support for the future of our democracy, not as a profit center. Maybe then I would look less discouraged, though I doubt it. Somehow, the absence of crap is not the same thing as getting what I want, although some days, it seems close enough to feel like scoring a point.