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The Educational Smackdown
Written by Dr. Tom Deighan, LPS Superintendent
Tuesday, June 19, 2018

I doubt very many people scratch their heads nowadays trying to determine if professional wrestling is real, but when I was a kid, we hotly debated the issue.  Looking back, it’s hard to imagine, because even as children, we knew a piledriver would snap our necks.  Honestly, we just needed heroes and villains in our lives.  And no other industry thrives on the marketing of heroes and villains more than professional wrestling . . . except maybe the national politics of education.

In fact, it appears that national educational politics follows the professional wrestling playbook so much that they are only missing the colorful outfits. Everything else is in place: complicit referees, rabid audiences, and high drama.  Both systems rely on the hero-villain myth, but neither system seems to acknowledge that such archetypes also require victims.  Without identifiable victims, professional wrestling is simply entertainment.  Educational politics, however, is high stakes.  Everyone claims the kids are the victims, but the real question is, who benefits? 

Almost universally, students are the victims in national educational politics, but they rarely benefit from national experiments on schools.  Just consider how many political endeavors have been For the Kids, justifying everything from legalized marijuana to gambling and from lower taxes to higher taxes.  Both sides of the political aisle champion poor, underserved kids, but kids are often little more than just convenient emotional fodder.  The heroes and villains change place, depending on the issue, but students rarely benefit from the spectacle.  Welcome to the educational smackdown!

National Democrats fight for more money for ineffective programs, and National Republicans fight to subsidize private schools without any accountability for the public funds.  Nevertheless, both parties equally suffocate schools with unproven regulations and cookie-cutter solutions that change as often as the graduating class.  Advocates for smaller government want bigger class sizes schools – for other people’s kids.  And advocates for bigger government want more untested programs – for other people’s kids. 

All of this makes for great theater, but we are about as close to healthy educational discourse as professional wrestling is to becoming an Olympic sport.  Education is a state issue and a local issue, but national educational politics is theater.  They prance around in their cool outfits and trade fake blows for the amusement of their party base.  They only focus on your local schools when they wish to see a smackdown.  Unfortunately, national party lines simply do not work in anyone’s local schoolhouse because education is a state and local issue.  So, how do we cut through the theatrics to determine what matters?

Simply ask yourself one question: how closely connected are the talking heads to your local school?  The closer the participants, the more credible their words, actions, and outcomes.  Too far away from the schoolhouse, and you might as well grab some popcorn.  Parents, kids, and the local community know best if their local schools are working.  They can better help those schools improve.  National social engineers (from both sides) will never help schools improve because schools are local issues.  And neither political party can claim a monopoly on any educational issue, because education is just as important to Republicans as it is to Democrats.  Liberals to conservatives.  Religious and non-religious.  Rich and poor.  No one has all the right or wrong answers.

Honestly, I should not have associated professional wrestlers with national politicians experimenting with your local schoolhouse.  Professional wrestling may be fake, but it’s terribly dangerous and requires amazing talent. The performers only endanger themselves, but anyone usurping state or local school control for political points endangers students, parents, and communities.  Our kids do not need heroes or villains in their education; they only need parents, caring communities, and skilled educators.  And they need adults who recognize a smackdown when they see it.