I must have heard this comment a thousand times: “Why can’t they give the kids a decent education? After all, it’s not rocket science.”
I don’t know what the rocket scientists think of this, not having spoken to them on the matter, but I’ve heard lawyers, electricians, cab drivers, and the members of practically every other profession say it, usually with an exasperated shrug of the shoulders: “It ain’t rocket science.”
And I say: Right, it ain’t. Now consider the following:
Take a child; nurture his or her mind for some thirteen or eighteen years; teach the child not only to read, write, and add numbers, but to want to learn, to be curious about life and all that it contains and to face it with courage, to empathize with others, to imagine a better tomorrow, to be creative, to express thoughts freely and intelligently. Never mind rocket science: we’re raising human beings.
We share this enormous responsibility with parents, and I dare you to say to any parent that parenting “isn’t rocket science.” Careful, you may wind up on the moon.
It riles me that somehow, this extraordinary and complex premise that is education has become easy in the minds of so many—and this at a time when the dismal state of education in the U.S. has become almost daily fodder for the media. We hear about low graduation rates, low attendance rates, low comprehension, low critical thinking capacities, low self-esteem and low knowledge acquisition. We read about the high degree of teacher burn-out, low job satisfaction rate, high attrition rates, low degree of content knowledge, not to mention the wide range of abuses and misuses of authority taken by teachers throughout the land. These are the facts. Yet, in spite of the evidence, there is a feeling that education should be a simple task. “Do it the old way,” they say, “the time tested way. Keep it local, make it federal. It will work!” The conversation has the quality of listening to someone recite their favorite food recipe, most often one handed down through the generations.
But, of course, it’s only frustration talking. No one really wants us to take education to what it was a hundred years ago, because the world isn’t going backward, it’s going forward, and our children must be prepared for it. Rocket science has replaced the steam locomotive, and it befalls the teacher to produce a rocket scientist. I think the logic of this sequence of events is obvious: modern education is difficult and it is costly, but it is also immeasurably valuable to society. It is the most complicated, most important, most central aspect of our everyday world, more so than all the more glamorous professions.
In your hearts, you who mutter that it ought to be easy, know it cannot be. Because very few of us have been a part of a rocket launch to Pluto, but almost all of us have at one time or another, in some fashion, been a part of a child’s life. Not only parents, but uncles and aunts, and friends of the family. All our contacts with children become a part of their development, every kind word or a laugh boosts their growth and every phrase out of turn or a violent gesture impedes it. This is the reality every teacher lives with and is held responsible for every day. The number of hours spent educating and raising a human being is much greater than the number of hours spent on any scientific project. How, then, could such an effort be easy?
No, it isn’t rocket science. It’s much harder.#
Scott Noppe-Brandon is the Executive Director of the Lincoln Center Institute in NYC and a regular contributor to Education Update.