One of my favorite classic sci-fi novels is HG Wells’s First Men in the Moon. Written in 1900 and published as a novel in 1901, it tells the story of a businessman and a scientist who take a trip to the moon, thanks to the invention of a new substance that acts as an anti-gravity shield. Not only do I find the premise of an anti-gravity shield delightful, the reactions of the two characters, stereotyped although they may be, rings true, especially now as we see the pandemic play out. The pair encounters a new civilization on the moon and while the scientist promotes cautious study, the businessman can think of nothing but exploitation. As I contemplate coerced returning to work, as a teacher, even though scientists warn against it, I am struck by the lack of moral leadership in education these days. The reason for this is simple: schools are expected to be run as businesses. And some of that push, from the outgoing secretary of education, who never went to a public school in her life, is that they must remain open, pandemic be damned.
The trouble with education as a business is that education is not a business. It’s meant to be a form of philanthropy for the good of society. As we move away from that ideal, into perversions such as public-private partnerships, we burden our education system with private agendas. Some of these agendas are simple things such as workforce development and career academies teaching things like welding, culinary arts, and nursing assistant skills. My college even got a grant for some of this, called Talent Pipeline, meant to aid coronavirus relief. Ironically, you can click the link and see our “only business matters” governor smiling at young people. There is nothing wrong with any of the aforementioned careers. The problem comes when college and universities are hamstrung by them to the point where they cannot afford to provide any moral leadership. The money could have been used to improve ventilation in classrooms or help those with no access to the technology needed for remote learning. Instead, we teach welding because local companies want welders. Your tax dollars will do this for them.
Currently, doctors and hospitals have seen a surge in cases and have urged people to shelter this holiday season. We know that young people (not little kids) are spreading the virus. They are the main spreaders. Many people now filling the hospitals have been traced to young people congregating. Some colleges are doing the right thing. Extreme testing has kept rates nar 0.1 % at some colleges. Yet many secondary schools and colleges, especially in the grain belt, have not taken steps to do anything because they are run like businesses and abdicate their moral responsibility to be leaders. Even worse, many religious organizations have also abdicated this responsibility. Instead of modeling selflessness, selfishness abounds. Scientists have had to take on the role of telling people what they should do morally to protect other people. Not schools, not churches–scientists. Guess what–that very scenario played out in First Men in The Moon. And, not to spoil it for you, but the businessman learns nothing from it. Nothing.