The Honor of Teaching, and Responsibility of Citizenship

Colin Powell Academy in Detroit, Michigan, one of the many schools abandoned since 2009. Teachers at the remaining schools are complaining about deteriorating conditions © Joshua Lott

Quote of the Week:  In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing civilization along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honor and the highest responsibility anyone could have. –Lee Iacocca

The one-time chairman of GM (and president of Ford before that) would certainly be appalled to discover the condition of the Detroit Public Schools today, the very opposite of the high pedestal upon which he preferred education to be hoisted.  With teacher “sick-outs,” and protests against Governor Snyder’s emergency management controls over DPS, and with schools closed and budgets out of money, the conservative approach toward privatizing and profiteering our education system (and a financial “bottom-line” focus rather than a student-centered approach) has wrecked our communities, and the prospects of our next generation.  Instead of being able to compete globally with children educated for the 21st century, Detroit school-children under the Republicans’ oversight are almost entirely doomed to lives of dependence, poverty, and crime.

When Republicans claim to represent “family values,” they are hard pressed to explain how policies which damn entire families to perpetual poverty and servitude support modern American families.  “Family values” should focus on the long-term sustainability of the family as a unit, including most importantly the economic prospects of the children.  Republicans merely use the term “family values,” however, to promote the interests of those at the top (and, of course, the racial composition of the elite) against potential competitors from the middle and bottom.  Therefore, in the Republican view, teachers should not get the best pay and our schools should not be revered as temples of learning.  Instead, teachers are “eating off the public dole.” Schools are merely used as areas to test a new permissiveness in gun rights, and as opportunities for the corporations supporting Republican candidates to run for-profit, low-achieving charter schools.

There is a simple solution to this problem; but that solution has been available and avoided for years, especially in the state of Michigan.  It can be done, but it is difficult; and our citizens have long avoided implementing it.  That solution is a return to the City on a Hill, the building of a community of care and welfare, based on the financial strength of our wealthy (and a tax basis determined to use that wealth for the public good, as argued by John Winthrop in his sermon on the nature of a Christian nation in the 1630s).  That solution must be implemented either by the Democrats or by more progressive parties, as the Republicans are increasingly hostile to the formation of Winthrop’s vision of a Christian nation, of a City on a Hill, and of a community working together.  That solution requires liberals and progressives to vote, often and always; and to participate in the political process constantly (through letter/email writing, calls to officials, and self-education on issues and candidates).  That solution requires work, and an admission of individual responsibility for our community (something more than a “hobby,” more than an “interest in politics,” but an obligation of citizenship in a democratic society).  We can build Iacocca’s pedestal for education; but only if we choose to work for it.

Headline image: “Colin Powell Academy in Detroit, Michigan, one of the many schools abandoned since 2009.” Caption from; photo © Joshua Lott / Reuters.


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