Mississippi Public School Education: In Search of the Emerald City

In L. Frank Baum’s book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a tornado ripped Dorothy from her home in Kansas and dropped her in the Land of Oz. To get home, she had to travel to the Emerald City to meet with the Great and Powerful Wizard.  In similar fashion, Mississippi is caught in the grips of an education tornado that has left both public school educators and state legislators looking for answers to the state’s education problems. Unfortunately, instead of a collaborative effort to improve public schools, many legislators seem to be more interested in taking on the role of the vengeful wicked witch than working constructively with educators.  On the other hand, thanks to directions from the Good Witch and the Munchkins, educators are slowly following the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, and its promise of a brighter future.  Meanwhile, the corridors of the state capitol are regrettably filled with the omniscient swagger of self-appointed education messiahs who have chosen to find their own way.  As a result, they are so far from the yellow brick road that they are forever lost in the land of the Munchkins.

These legislators, primarily Republicans, talk big about improving education in the state, but like the Munchkins, they spend the majority of their time flailing at overripe gumdrops and playing peek-a-boo from behind giant lilies, towering sunflowers, and tall weeds. They cannot see beyond party politics, personal agendas, pettiness, shallowness, and antiquated biases to get the job done. Instead of waging a war to improve public school education, they wage a war to destroy it and rebuild it in their image. These men and women have failed to embrace their roles as servants to the good of all people and have become the embodiment of disservice to the people. Is it any wonder why the Good Witch, Glinda, cries, while the wicked witch, Elphaba, cackles triumphantly?

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy fell into a world she did not understand, but she was wise and knew better than to dash off blindly on her own searching for answers. To get back to Kansas, she listened to Glinda the Good Witch, to the Wizard of Oz, and ultimately to her heart. She did not try to find her way on her own; she sought directions, wisdom, understanding, and courage from those who knew Oz best. She embraced the unique talents of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion in her quest to get back to Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. Unlike so many Mississippi legislators who ignore and refuse to listen to public school educators, Dorothy embraced the experiences and advice of those who lived in the Land of Oz. She was smart enough to realize without them she would never find her way back to Kansas.

Dorothy trusted the inhabitants of OZ to help her get home. She did not attempt to silence the wicked witch or the winged monkeys just because they took sides against her (HB 49 and HB 958). She did not show bias towards the Munchkins, Winkies, or Quadlings (HB 209). She did not require those who offered their services to first declare if they were a horse of a different color (HB 76), and she certainly did not intentionally undermine the Land of OZ or the Wizard (HB 30, HB 56, SB 2006). Her goal was to get back to Kansas – to go home – not to destroy Oz in the process. Likewise, the legislative goal for K-12 public school education should be to improve it – not destroy it! The goal should be to unite the people of Mississippi in an organized effort to build a better and brighter future for the children of Mississippi.

If Dorothy had believed the inhabitants of Oz were less intelligent, she would have never put the ruby slippers on her feet or taken advice from the Scarecrow. If Dorothy had believed the creatures she met in Oz’s menagerie of weirdness were inferior or incompetent due to shape, color, or uniqueness, she would have never made it home to Kansas. Unlike so many in the Mississippi legislature, she embraced the strength that comes with physical and intellectual diversity. She embraced the wisdom and experiences of those who had traveled the yellow brick road, and by doing so, she found the Emerald City and ultimately her way home.

Public education in Mississippi will continue to struggle as long as state legislators believe they have all the answers and refuse to include educators in the conversation. If they maintain the mindset that public school education is broken and the only way to fix it is to privatize it, they will slowly but surely destroy public education in the state. Without respectful collaborative conversations, the outrageous, vindictive, and bias pens of Mississippi’s elected officials will continue to single out educators and orchestrate legislation designed to control and manipulate the life out of public schools. However, all blame should not be placed solely on the shoulders of state legislators; the ultimate blame for the slow death of public schools in Mississippi lies with the people of Mississippi who year after year tolerate the political malpractice that is suffocating public education.

There is room for improvements in public education just as there is room for improvement in the Mississippi Legislature, but in both cases, the goal should be to improve them not destroy them. Dorothy found the Emerald City by listening to and trusting the inhabitants of Oz, and state legislators would be wise to listen and trust those who live and breathe public school education – Mississippi educators. Ray Bradbury said, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” Likewise, the greatest threat to public education in Mississippi is not vindictive and bias legislation reeking of personal and political agendas. The biggest threat to Mississippi’s future is a public that remains silent and allows the non-supportive and divisive attitudes of elected men and women to undermine the education of Mississippi’s children.

JL

©Jack Linton, PhD     February 19, 2016

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