Better than We Are
“The Grown-Ups Are Losing It” by George Packer
The Atlantic, March 10, 2022
In an era of teacher absences and departures on top of culture wars (about remote and hybrid learning, masking, book banning, and critical race theory), George Packer calls us to attention as citizens of a democracy with higher goals for education. Though he focuses on public schools in some ways, his latest Atlantic essay holds insights—provocative and profound—for us all. Indirectly, Packer overviews reasons for the Covid flight from public schools, giving independent school educators a synthesis of these parents’ hopes and expectations for our communities and programs. More than anything, though, Packer makes a case for preparing all American students for democracy and citizenry. If “our core civic institution”—public school, serving 90% of American families—is in crisis, what is our role, as independent schools, also striving to equip young citizens of a democracy? Packer quotes Robert Pondiscio, a former fifth-grade teacher: “Horace Mann went to his grave having never once uttered the phrase college- and career-ready. We’ve become more accustomed to thinking about the private ends of education. We’ve completely lost the habit of thinking about education as citizen-making.” Emphasizing key, transdisciplinary skills that all of our children need (reading, listening, empathizing, debating, reconsidering, and persuading), Packer concludes, “We owe our beleaguered children, the victims of our inadequacy, a chance to be better than we are.” Packer’s piece is a sobering one—and potentially a bipartisan one—around which we can unite and reinvigorate our loftiest goals for schools.