Surface Education

There is something pervasive about the surface conversations in education and more generally in our politics. They are easy to have quickly. They allow us to quickly confirm that we are part of a larger conversation and they feel good right away. Some quick examples are equal funding, immigration and the supreme court ruling on abortion clinics in Texas. It is easy to agree with equal funding, agree that immigration policy is affecting our schools, and agree that today the Supreme Court has ruled against a three year old law in Texas that puts abortion clinics at risk.

But underneath these surface conversations are the ideas, upon which the decisions of what to do rest, and upon which the evidence of those decisions is more complicated. When I hear them, I am reminded to dig deeper in order to learn more. For example, equal funding is now being used by Chris Christie to actually reduce funding for urban districts, increase funding for wealthy districts and cut funding for special education populations in the state of NJ. Another example is immigration, where schools experience disruption from current immigration policies that can actually split up families, returning parents to their country of origin and leaving their children parentless in their schools. And abortion clinics are at risk because their services and their access to hospitals have been cut back and this has lead to closures. Half of the approximately 41 abortion clinics have already closed due to the republican-dominated state legislature law enacted in 2103.

Britain’s “Brexit” from the EU was not even expected in surface conversations. And my point is that digging deeper is the point of an educated mind. Surface talk and surface eduction is the process of being a mile wide and inch deep. Britain’s exit is fear-based and immigration policy-blind. They were lured into leaving the EU by the far right’s fear-mongering that this would solve all of their immigration problems! Surface conversation indeed. We need to educate, to draw out of our students, the ability to dig deeper while holding the confusion at bay, tolerating ambiguity and resolving conversations with more of a wait and see rather than one is right and one is wrong.

Surface education is only the start to a better conversation. Equal funding was actually proposed in order to “level” the playing field between rich and poor, immigration policies were intended to protect us and not to tear families who were already here apart, and only conservative republicans agree with closing abortion clinics while moderate republicans, independents and moderate/liberal democrats—on average says a new PEW FOUNDATION survey—disagree with closing abortion clinics. Britain is already experiencing a 50% increase in students leaving to be educated somewhere else. I am always heartened by the students who present these deeper ideas because someone has helped them think more thoughtfully—a thoughtful teacher. And the teachers who helped them think this way are an essential part of our country’s educational process—and success—as a more thoughtful country.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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