Corrosion from Within: Higher Ed’s Toxic Lead Problem

If you wish to meditate on the relationship between education and the State (once you’ve read The Republic) go no further than looking at the issues killing the modern university.  I have been thinking a lot about what the future of college and university looks like and most of my thoughts have been disturbing and depressing.  But in reading up on the recent event with lead poisoning in Flint, MI (during which I did not expect to think about college at all), I ran across the following interview with the research scientist at the forefront of that controversy and what he had to say about academia.  Perhaps it is easier to hear doom and gloom from those within (like him) than those from without (like me).  Read and judge for yourself.


Getting Real Local


I got to thinking about the reforming of education when I realized as a full time teacher that real education in America was broken.  This realization was slow in coming.  I saw many signs before I read their meaning.  And this was 20 years ago.  A quick overview of what I saw back then included:

  1. A lack of trust between parents, students, and school.  I could build this one out for several book’s worth of words, but the short version is sufficient – none of the three groups trusted the other.
  2. Efficiency replaced quality – finding a way to do the same instruction quicker and easier could get you a stage at a teacher’s conference in no time, but talking about how to go deeper, become better, take our time and really make this thing called education become humane got you a ticket out the door.
  3. Questions will kill you – I got drummed out of my teaching post for the stated reason that I sent students home to dinner asking questions they “just don’t need to be thinking about” (things like, “Why was Jesus poor His whole life?” or “Did God choose me or did I choose Him?” or “How does our family obey the Great Commission?”).  Asking questions, and getting students to ask questions, seems to be against the grain.  I just never knew.
  4. College is King – this one is really bad now, but it was bad back then too.  If my kid gets anything other than A’s in Middle School, he won’t qualify for Honors and AP in High School and then we are screwed in college.  So when my Bible class started giving folks anything other than an “A” and especially when some managed to fail, things just could not continue as they were.

That brings me to my title: educational reform must be done at the local level.

Any reform that is at a national, or organizational, or abstract level will fail.  That is just the way it works.  Organizations sustain themselves and unify their constituents by agreeing on things, and there is no way they can agree on enough to actually affect real change in specific ways: their agreements are just too general.  So a bill is passed, or an idea is put on bumper stickers, or some such grandiose thing is done, and people feel good because something “got done” and yet in the end nothing changes, or by diverting local action to the national level, things actually get worse in the meantime.  We must change our own appetites, and then our children’s appetites will change, and in a few generations, with enough change in appetites (away from the points made above), we may have better education in our nation.  And none of that happens without internal spiritual change, and none of it happens unless it is local, and I mean so local that it has the same address as your water bill has on it when it comes to your mail box.