While observing a Political Science class whose topic this morning was the role of media in politics, I thought about the role of media in education. During the election I wrote a post about what was not talked about in the election but I did not address why issues of education were overlooked.
In light of this morning’s terrible elementary school shooting in Connecticut, I can’t help but point out how the media continually dips in and out of educational issues with no real framework for the large problems with our school system. In other words, the media’s coverage of education in this country is largely episodic instead of thematic.
The school shooting coverage is the perfect example. For the next 2 or 3 days, news stations, online papers, and radios will express their outrage that 18 children are dead because of an unhinged adult who must have had psychological issues. As intended, these stories will evoke outrage, anger, and passion among parents, teachers, and the general public. But after a week, feelings will fade and those personally unaffected by this tragedy will go on with their lives with no more thought to the grieving families and devastated community. And certainly with no thought to the larger issue of school safety.
Like most other topics popular in education discourse, the media prefers to cover isolated incidents and tout them as ‘problems’ or ‘successes’. On the success side, there has been a lot of coverage on the recent performance of the United States on an international assessment of math and science performance. Apparently, the US has improved their scores, but still lags behind many Asian countries, especially in math. While this is a small step forward, I am troubled that this mini success is masking the larger issue of what constitutes academic achievement. Test scores across the board are not very impressive given the scoring range. The international average score is 500 on a 1000 point scale. Why is 50% an acceptable average? Why are we proud that on a single test we scored a 556? What’s more, why do we need to compare ourselves to other countries (whose education systems are vastly different than ours) to assess our progress? Are we incapable of setting our own educational goals and measuring our success by internal standards? It would appear we are.
A few weeks ago, I posted about race based education goals and was surprised that so few people commented on it. Like most seemingly drastic reform efforts in education, this one was largely ignored by media outlets beyond the affected state. No one is aware that Florida and Virginia have established achievement goals based on students’ race. This awful step backwards, and our recent self-congratulatory behavior is indicative of a larger issue in education of reliance on standardized tests as a measure of student learning.
But discussing such big picture issues is unpopular because who wants to hear about our failing education system day after day? No one. And the media corporations know that. For them, news is a profit-driven industry wherein their goal is to increase viewership. You don’t do that by telling the public things they don’t want to hear.
The public chooses to ignore recurring themes of inequality and school failure because frankly, these problems seem too large to fix. The intersectional nature of educational issues points to the complexity of truly reforming education, because to do that, we’d have to reform societal values. And to reform societal values, individual people would have to evaluate and reform themselves. It is human nature to not want to view yourself negatively or to want to feel connected to saddening, angering, or frustrating events. So we divorce ourselves from the issues. And in doing so, we divorce ourselves from the consequences. Hey, no one shot up my child’s school, so I don’t have to be concerned about school safety. I don’t know how to interpret standardized test scores so their meaning is irrelevant to me. My child is doing well in school, so why should I care about the achievement gap?
Because despite what the media may suggest by their determination to ignore—or even suppress—education discourse, these issues are real. Just ask the parents of 18 dead children in Newton, Connecticut.