Since the beginning of civilization there have been schools to educate citizens with the knowledge and skills needed to be productive in the community. Most early schools were available only to a select few, but as time passed, the concept of educating everyone became more acceptable, specifically for religious reasons. For example, in the United States, the first schools were decreed by the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1647. Those early schools were intended to teach all Puritan children to read the Bible and receive basic information about the Calvinist religion. Since that decree to establish elementary and Latin schools in every town, schools have grown from the one room school houses of the early Colonial days to the mega multi grade complexes of the present day. Today, there are fancy boarding schools for the affluent, religious schools to ensure the propagation of spiritual doctrine, private academies for those with societal peculiarities, and free public schools intended to provide all citizens an equal opportunity for a quality education. All have their place, but none more so than free public schools.
Regardless of what some may say, public schools have been the educational mainstay of the United States. Although under attack lately for a grocery list of ills that encompass about every evil known to man, public schools have nevertheless been an integral force behind the success of the United States. Few nations provide all citizens the education opportunities the United States provides its citizens, and regardless what the haters say, overall, public schools have been a tremendous success though at times they struggle with change. However, in fairness, the inability to change has not always entirely been the fault of public schools. Quite often shortcomings are due to outside forces beyond their control such as politics, an obtuse culture, or an ill-informed public. Nevertheless, sometimes public schools are to blame. That is especially true when a good school idea such as copy machines morphs into a bad idea.
Copy machines are ingrained in public schools to the point that the odds of doing anything to jeopardize their existence are slim at best. Tinkering with them can get a person strung up by his thumbs even though these machines are an example of a logical, well intended solution to a school problem that has mutated into a monster. Copiers often masquerade as essentials when in reality schools would most likely fare much better without them. Due to the aura of innocence that surrounds these machines, few people in or outside education recognize the serious negative impact they have on America’s public schools. However, it is time to expose the monster for what it truly is!
What would you say if I said copy machines are responsible for the demise of public education in the United States and should be outlawed in public schools? If you are a teacher who is dependent on the copier for copying worksheets and tests, you might think I am crazy! If you are Joe Public burdened with ever increasing taxes to pay for such 21st Century playthings, you might cry “Hallelujah!” Whereas, if you are a parent who too often is confronted with volumes of handouts crammed in the bottom of their child’s backpack or inch thick packets of handouts sent home as homework, you might sigh with relief, “It’s about time.” On the other hand, if you are a politician committed to a never ending war against public education, you might feel a tinge of excitement.
Unfortunately, copy machines are indeed responsible for the demise of public education. It’s not simply passing out endless homework and busywork packets that canonize copiers as a lethal schoolhouse disease slowly sucking the life blood from public schools, but the fact that copiers directly lead to other school related cancers such as state testing. From the mimeograph machines of the late 19th century to the super-fast, high efficiency digital duplicators used today, a direct line of decline in public education can be tracked. From the beginning, copiers generated an unnatural gluttonous need for paper, which in turn created a strain on the timber industry to provide pulp to paper manufacturers at a reasonable cost. When paper manufacturing costs rise, textbook prices escalate, and as a result, school districts can no longer afford to maintain up to date textbooks . Without the latest textbooks, teachers are more likely to use copy machines more frequently to provide current materials to their students.
With the decline of textbook sales, textbook publishers were forced to find a viable educational alternative or go out of business. Therefore, they turned their attention to the test producing business, which required less paper per unit to produce while escalating overall paper volume usage exponentially. With the help of their lobbyists in Washington, they were able to finagle policies that required all students to take their tests. Since testing mandates are virtually free of testing exceptions, the publishers basically found a lucrative never ending market for their number one new paper product – state tests! As a result, today, states divert billions of education dollars each year from public schools to the test publishers, which more than makes up for lost textbook revenue, and they ultimately owe it all to the copy machine.
Copy machines are the catalyst for this cycle, and consequently must shoulder the blame for the current state of public education in the United States. This cycle greatly benefits paper manufacturers, test publishers, lobbyists, and politicians, but does little for public education in return. The bottom line is that public schools now spend more money on copiers, paper, and testing than they ever did for textbooks. So, should there be any question as to why there is not enough money to hire quality teachers or properly maintain school facilities? As long as there are copy machines in schools, paper manufacturers, test/textbook publishers, lobbyists, and politicians will continue to get richer while public schools fiscally slowly spin down the drain.
When these costs are coupled with the diversion of public tax dollars from public schools to support special interest projects such as charter schools, private schools, and vouchers, it is easy to see why public schools are gasping for life. Unfortunately, little can be done to keep public school funds from being diverted to such special interest projects, but there is something educators can do to facilitate some relief. They can GET RID OF COPY MACHINES! Schools have little control over funding, but they can remove copy machines and hopefully, over time, minimize the damage these monsters cause. Chain them up, haul them to the dump, or convert them to garden sculptures, but get them out of the school house. Parents and politicians are always talking about the “good old days” when they were in school, so why not go back to ink wells, mimeograph machines, and numbering a sheet of notebook paper from one to ten before taking a test? Since apparently no one is to blame for under-funding education or testing the life out of education, why not put the blame where it belongs – on copy machines? With copy machines, we have a scapegoat everybody can live with at least for now!
©Jack Linton, December 12, 2016