Original image via The Free Thought Project
Oh, how I hate the word “Sheeple”
I admit, I’m guilty of sharing the odd meme here and there. It can be hard to resist a vivid image and a caption that speaks to that part of you that cares deeply about whatever it’s trying to promote. But lately, I’ve been trying to ignore them, because as much as I might agree with the sentiment, it’s hard to condense most social and political issues down to a line or two of text. In the past, we’ve called that propaganda, and even at its most earnest, it’s less informative and more blind promotion.
This one has been making the rounds for a good couple of years, and it tends to get on my nerves more than most. A few well-meaning friends have shared it, and I know they’re good people who try to stay informed. But every time I see it, it feels more like a jab at public school teachers than a criticism of the education system in general.
There are definitely issues with the school system. This is true in pretty much every country; I’ve even known Finns who complained about schools, and Finland is supposedly the Holy Grail of education right now. Running schools is complicated and tends to cost a lot of money, and costs seem to be rising. Several governments have a bad habit of leaving people in charge of education departments that have little to no experience with public schools. Betsy DeVos in the US is an obvious example, but she’s not alone; several governments tend to put managers or career politicians in charge of schools instead of teachers or experts in education policy. As a result, we get systems that are strongly focused on learning outcomes with little or no understanding of how those outcomes happen. Strong test scores can be an indicator that something’s working, but there are so many factors that come into play that poor test scores aren’t always an indicator that something isn’t.
Anyway, I admit I’m not an expert here, and I can’t tell you exactly how to fix things from the policy end. However, I do have the pleasure of knowing many public school teachers from all over the world, and I’d be hard-pressed to name a more passionate bunch of people. These teachers are not interested in turning your kids into “homogenous drones” that can’t “think for themselves.” Their entire lives are dedicated to helping your kids become the best they can be, using whatever resources they have on hand (which in some cases, can be very little). They want to see kids grow up to be strong, passionate adults who are engaged in society, not mindlessly working for it. And they fight harder than anyone I know to help make schools a place where that can happen.
Instead of sharing memes, why not get involved in a more concrete way? That’s pretty much true of any political or social issue, but schools are a great place to start, because they are often so firmly rooted in the community. If you have the financial resources, consider donating cash to a school program or to the PAC/PTA/Whatever you call your parent-teacher organization in your country. If you have the time, volunteer it to a school program, or spend some time teaching your kids beyond the standard school curriculum. If you have neither of these things but still have the ability to post a meme or comment on it, I urge you to spend those few minutes writing to your ministry of education or local school board instead.
Public schools benefit strongly from solidarity. Even though having more kids in the system technically requires more resources, having more families in the system that are deeply engaged with education benefits everyone. The money you might spend on private school tuition can be well spent on public school programs, as can the time that you’d spend homeschooling your children. Children from more privileged backgrounds can thrive just as well in a public school if their parents care about their well-being, and having all of those resources directed to stronger schools helps kids from less privileged backgrounds thrive.
So if you care, don’t share. Get out there!