I once read an interview of a nutritionist who said if he could eliminate one thing from the American diet, it would be cheese. That’s right—cheese is what’s causing the obesity epidemic. Not candy, not soda; in a fast food meal, it’s not the Coke, the burger, or mayonnaise or fries—it’s just the cheese.
After the shootings at school, a radio talk show host asked his guest what was the one thing we could about school shootings. The guest tried to explain that it was complicated, and the host cut him off and said, “I’m asking for the one thing.” Like there was one.
I hear all the time that in education teachers are the problem. Their unions are the problem. Parents are the problem. Fix any one of these things, and you will eliminate the problem, and schools will run like well-oiled machines, turning out a perfectly polished product.
This is lazy thinking about any significant problem we face. If the problem is significant, it is most likely complex, but to chalk it up to one element usually means it’s an element a single individual cannot fix. This absolves people of any responsibility to do anything about it. It’s usually an element that cannot be removed, and this means we can bitch about it forever without being able (read: expected) to do anything.
I don’t know how to solve all the problems facing us. I mean, poverty is a huge piece of a lot of our problems, so if we could just eliminate that one thing, we’d make a lot of headway. But poverty is, in and of itself, a significant problem, so there’s no easy solution there.
I do know that the only way to eat a bear is one bite at a time. In schools, instead of labeling parents as “the problem,” we need to find out what supports parents need. Maybe instead of labeling teachers and their unions as “the problem,” we should invite them to be part of the solution.
Here are some things I do about the problems I see:
- I teach kids who struggle in school. I try my damnedest to figure out what it is about school that’s not working for them and help them navigate those challenges.
- At parent-teacher conferences I spend a lot of time giving parents concrete strategies to deal with the home barriers to their child’s success. They are usually very appreciative.
- I have served in a leadership capacity in organizations that tackle the problems I see in the world but cannot fight on my own, organizations like my union and my church.
- I have walked door to door for many miles over many hours for the causes and candidates I think can help solve the problems I see in my community.
- I have taken steps to bring people of disparate opinions together in my life and in my classroom with the sole objective of reminding all of us of our basic humanity.
None of this will solve any of the problems in my society. These steps I take will, however, chip away at the elements that are within my grasp. These are my bites out of the bear.
We cannot give up on ourselves or each other. We cannot just complain and label each other as “the problem.” It’s clichéd, but true: If you’re not part of the solution [not the whole solution, just part], you’re part of the problem.