Public Education Is Willfully Failing Our Children

Making education a political issue is the worst thing we could have done

Political issues

Instead of our children’s education, mental health, and development being the central focus, we’ve made education a political issue. Now the primary concerns are optics, data, and re-election prospects.

Education should be a purely public service, a nonpartisan issue. The quality of our children’s education should not depend on who’s in power, what their personal and political views are, and how well they can convince people to support their ideas.

Trying to get policy-makers to take notice and make any kind of meaningful change is near impossible. The ability to play politics, make those in power look good, and tow the party line should not impact our children’s education, yet it does. Significantly.

Our education system is built on out-dated ideas and ineffective policies written by people who didn’t know what they were doing and still don’t. Yet we can’t change them because there’s a wall of bureaucracy standing in the way, and nobody wants to listen.

The programs adapted by schools and divisions are based on cost-effectiveness, optics (that old thing again), and who knows people in high places. They’re based on sell-ability, marketability, and what will make politicians look best.

…only school is credited with the principal function of forming critical judgement, and, paradoxically, tries to do so by making learning about oneself, about others, and about nature depend on a prepackaged process.” 

— Ivan Illich

What’s important is what will convince voters that politicians are doing a good job when they proudly announce they are sinking more millions of dollars into yet another program that won’t make a lick of difference because it’s addressing all the wrong issues in all the wrong ways.

It’s a bloody joke, except I’m not laughing.

I don’t care about the pictures of you shaking hands and smiling, I don’t care about your catch phrases, and I don’t care about your empty proclamations.

You know what I do care about?

I care that my son was allowed to be secluded in a separate room from his classmates at six years old, with just himself and an EA — no friends, no qualified teacher, just a pure sense of rejection. This was allowed to continue for an entire month, and was set to continue for even longer, until I found out and put a stop to it.

That wasn’t in the 1950s or even the 1970s (I wasn’t born yet), it was in 2019.

Every day I receive messages from parents about their children being mistreated. I hear about students not having their basic needs met, school staff unable to follow a student’s plan due to lack of training, knowledge, and resources.

I hear about children afraid to go to school because they keep getting in trouble every single day. They’re made to feel like “bad kids” because they can’t hack it in a system that wasn’t made to work for them in the first place, and can’t or won’t adapt to help them succeed.

Our public school system was created as a giant daycare so mothers could go to work when fathers went off to war. It was meant to prepare children to become obedient little workers for waiting factory jobs. It was created to “weed out” the atypical kids who wouldn’t make good soldiers or good workers.

It’s working exactly as intended

Public education was based on systems of inequity, ableism, racism, classism — all the isms —and the way public schools operate today is startlingly similar to the way they operated 80–90 years ago.

In the cases of typical children, school is maybe helpful, and maybe not too harmful. They learn some stuff, remember a fraction of it, and progress though the stages of their education as expected. They come out with a few of the necessary skills to succeed, perhaps go on to post-secondary education, then on to employment.

School reserves instruction to those whose every step in learning fits previously approved measures of social control.”

— Ivan Illich, 1970

For ‘atypical’ children — neurodivergent, disabled, and otherwise outside the statistical average — few escape from public school unscathed. Most (if not all) children who don’t fit inside the rigid box the education system demands end up harmed or traumatized in some way.

They are repeatedly set up to fail, then blamed when they do. Staff are not properly trained, supported, nor given the resources to adequately meet the needs of these students. These kids quickly begin to see themselves as dumb or bad, lacking in some essential character trait that all the “normal” kids seem to have.

Spoiler alert: it’s not a character trait, it’s the ability to conform and comply.

A low bar

My child is incredibly smart. His IQ is in the 99th percentile (and yes, I know, IQ tests are highly problematic, but it’s language educators and politicians understand). When he started school, I had such high hopes for him because he is so bright and curious.

Now my only hope is that he can complete middle school without our system compounding the trauma he experienced in his early years.

That’s how little faith I have in public education.

Please understand, I don’t mean I don’t have faith in the individuals within that system. There are administrators, teachers, EAs, resource, guidance, and other clinical and support staff who are amazing.

I imagine these people cry or yell out of frustration nearly every single day of their working lives as they try to navigate — and fight against — a system that doesn’t give a shit about the children they support.

In fact, many teachers and school staff are expressing the utter desperation and despondency they feel — usually anonymously on social media, or after they’ve finally had enough and left the profession altogether.

They’ve seen first-hand how it’s nearly impossible to get kids what they need, while they watch those students struggle every single day. They see the tears of the children and their parents, as they beg and plead for help, and are told “we’re sorry, this is just how the system works.”

They’re right, it’s working just as intended.

Refusal to change

The only way this system is going to change is if we take the politics out of education entirely. As is, the only changes that will be made are those that benefit the parties and people in power, policies that will make them look good on paper and social media.

I’m sick and fucking tired of the dog and pony show.

I don’t give a shit about your optics or your glad-handing, I just want our kids to get an actual education without being traumatized in the process.

I want neurodivergent and disabled students to be given equitable access and accommodation, something that Article 24 of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities has required since 2006.

In fact, Ivan Illich tried to tell us much of this way back in 1970.

The pupil is thereby ‘schooled’ to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence.” 

— Ivan Illich

How disappointed he would be to learn how little has changed.

© Jillian Enright, Neurodiversity MB

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Related Articles

The Kids Aren’t Alright

I Don’t Care What My Son Learns in Elementary School

Playing Politics With Our Children’s Education

Our Kids Deserve So Much Better


Illich, Ivan. (1970). Deschooling Society. Marion Boyars Publishing Ltd.

Waltz, M. (2020). The production of the ‘normal’ child: Neurodiversity and the commodification of parenting. In Bertilsdotter Rosqvist, H., Chown, N., & Stenning, A. (Eds). Neurodiversity Studies: A new critical paradigm. Routledge.

Published by Neurodiversity MB

Jillian has Child and Youth Work diploma as well as a BA in Psychology. Jillian worked on the front lines of Social Services agencies from 2003 - 2012. Jillian has taken numerous continuing education courses and has attended various workshops focused on supporting neurodiverse children, in particular children with ADHD.

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