“One of the characteristics of democratic times is that all men have a taste for easy successes and immediate pleasures … men do not want to think beyond tomorrow.” (De Tocqueville, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France, Born:1805; Died-1859)
With the mid-terms just around the corner, pollsters and prognosticators are busy trying to figure out the American heart. One of those pollsters, Reuters, conducted a political poll to quantify what most concerned Americans. It was carried out on August 17, 2022. Can you guess what was found to be the most pressing issue in America? Yup, money. Economics to be exact. Concern about such things as education, the very issue that will lead the next generation and our nation into tomorrow, drew 3%, right next to equality, terrorism, war, and morality.
The educational system is flailing in this nation even as our future economy depends on its success. Yet education's accomplishments and student learning levels here in the U.S. don't make the ratings list alongside the world's other thirty, 1st-world nations. We barely make it on the list with the one hundred, 2nd-world nations. It's not that the economy isn't important, but we live in an age of unparalleled economic prosperity. That's why economists and political experts call this a time of voter self-interest; we rate our own personal comfort 10:1 over education, equality or even war, and 3:1 over crime. Oh, what didn't make the list of concerns? Poverty.
This is exactly what Tocqueville said in our opening quote. Later he was to write, "The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money.” Hmmm. I'll ignore the obvious and move on. Education. 3%. How does that work itself out in the day-to-day of life? I pulled the following list from the Adopt A Classroom website:
2022 State of Teaching Statistics
How teaching has changed during the 2021-2022 school year:
81% – The overall workload has increased.
80% – Spending more time addressing students’ mental health.
71% – Spending more of their own money on classroom materials.
69% – Getting students back on track from learning loss.
58% – Increase in classroom interruptions during instruction.
55% – Less planning time due to staff shortages and other factors.
45% – Had to change their curriculum.
35% – Received a smaller budget for school supplies.
30% – School or districts’ priorities changed.
25% – Changes to assignments or their classroom.
18% – Had less access to instructional tools and materials.
3%? It seems to work out about that way in life. If you were running for public office, what would be your focal point: education that will pay dividends in the next 10, 30 or 50 years? or promising your constituents our wallets will will be a little fatter if we vote for them?
I remember a story in the Bible about a guy named Abraham. He planted a Tamarisk tree. Big deal, right? Well, it is very cool, actually. A Tamarisk tree is a slow growing tree, shooting up out of the ground a dizzying one inch per year, on average. That means it will take nearly 400 years to grow to full height. But he knew that someday that tree would become a great source of shade, and as I learned, offer several medicinal purposes. In Asian and African countries people have found it can be used to treat infections, wounds, even liver and spleen disorders.
Here's the point: clearly Abraham didn't plant that tree for his own self-interest. He would never be able to reap the fruit of it because he wouldn't live nearly long enough. He did it because it will be a millennial-long, valuable resource to many who would come after him. It demonstrates the future of others was most important to him. His descendants and his nation will thank him and others who were equally unselfish. A Tamarisk tree may not sound like a lot in our day, but it was gold in his, and is equally important in much of the world today.
Education powers the economy of the future. The lack of it's success will result in an economic slow death. Education is our Tamarisk tree. Planting it today will not help our wallets today. But it will reap manifold benefits for generations to come.