McSchools? The King of Schools? KIPP Schools? Arizona’s BASIS schools in every state? What will be the household names of schools in the future?
The image above illustrates all of the states that I have had the privilege of visiting in my lifetime. I love traveling — the more states that I see the more of America I love. My biggest impression from my travels, however, is not of our differences but in our staggering sameness propagated by the security of fast food chain restaurants dotting every few miles along most highways.
Recently, I took a southern tour of the United States. I traveled along Route 17 near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, I-95 from Savannah, Georgia, and route 4 to Orlando, Florida. I was driving in my rental car from Orlando to Myrtle Beach, a trip that according to Google Maps takes seven and one-half hours, but somehow took me nine. We had eaten our way through a week at Disney World and my family wanted a “nice salad.” About five hours into the trip, I saw a billboard for Panera and became excited. Why? Because I knew Panera. I knew the menu. I knew it could be a quicker stop than a sit-down restaurant. It felt like a safe bet on foreign roads. That feeling had me observing all of the food possibilities along our route: McDonald’s, Burger King, Arby’s, Applebees, Sonic, Subway, etc. These chain restaurants peppered the landscape. These franchises are familiar, successful, standardized and most importantly, profitable.
Maybe I was in the car too long, but as I drove, searching for the elusive Panera, I began substituting each chain restaurant for a chain school. What if corporate America privatized all of the schools and we chose them for our children like we do fast food establishments? Instead of community school names based on towns or famous people, we would send our kids to a company school, with a company mission.
This dystopian imagery generated many questions during my long drive. How might parents and students be valued and treated under this model? Would the customer always be right? How would teachers be chosen? How might schools be accredited? Which students would schools accept or kick out? Would some of us choose a Panera over a McDonalds, because of the illusion of a “healthier/better” choice?
I also began to contemplate the costs and benefits of our fast food nation. What has this culture of quick, familiar food given America? Convenience, yes. Cheap food, yes. Have the benefits outweighed the costs? Has America grown healthy off these benefits? What is the average wage of a fast food worker? Can a worker survive on those wages? We all know the answers to these queries. Fast food has made us lazy, fat consumers who rely on convenience and economics to continue the cycle of materialism and waste. I say us because I just spent a week in Disney World — the epitome of materialism and waste — and I loved it.
Schools, however, are not vacation destinations. Schools are not businesses, nor should they be. They were never meant to be profitable or flashy. Education is not meant to be consumed like french fries. School choice will only lead us into the hands of the powerful, the greedy. Community schools, however, with local control, taxpayer input, and hometown connections are what keep the big box stores away from the main street mom and pop establishments.
Schools are not profit generators — they are made up of diverse people with diverse needs. That diversity is a strength, even though some might be afraid of foreign roads or different cultures.
I never did find the Panera, but my salad at the local diner outside of Jacksonville was superb.
Join me! The March for Public Education on July 22, 2017 is critical. Please consider following the March For Education Blog Publication, following on Twitter, liking the page on Facebook, participating in the march, and donating to the march. Here is a list of marches throughout the country: https://medium.com/march-for-public-education/where-are-advocates-for-public-education-marching-on-july-22-2017-7f07f13b1815. Click here for the The March For Public Education Website.