We all knew this day would come. The day we all watched in horror as a video circulated across the internet demonstrating in stunning HD quality just how much we have actually devalued education in our nation.
No, I am not talking about a video of a teacher being assaulted by a student in the classroom.
No, I am not talking about another misguided and ill-informed adult ranting at a school board meeting about a new fake fear like CRT.
Instead, I am talking about a video from South Dakota, which shows that we seem to be willing to equate teachers—and the children they educate—to contestants in some freakish type of Survivor-esque game show, crawling on the floor while the Sioux Falls Stampede and CU Mortgage Direct make it rain dollar bills.
Think I made this all up? Just take a moment to watch the 13-second video clip, where you will see ten teachers on their knees in the middle of a hockey rink frantically scooping up cash that they will be allowed to keep to pay for supplies for their classrooms. Just watch and think about how this makes you feel. I feel dirty and disgusted.
In their frantic apology for hosting and sponsoring this dreadful event, the Sioux Falls Stampede and CU Mortgage Direct shared that 31 teachers applied to take part in the event. Yes, 31 teachers felt compelled to try anything to secure any amount of extra cash to help their students.
But in all honesty, this disaster on ice event is truly symbolic of our nation and the state of K-12 education. The disgust we all probably feel watching this video is the deep understanding of how we have devalued education and schools in all of our communities—captured perfectly in 13 seconds. To watch these educators be placed in this atrocious position to entertain the cheering crowd by frantically trying to pick up as many dollars as they could—because they know that even a few dollars can help their students—says so much about who we are as a nation.
Should we be surprised that South Dakota, currently ranked 38th in our nation at $10,178 per pupil and 50th in teacher salaries, would turn education funding into some type of degrading contest that combines reality TV and strip clubs? Maybe the lesson learned here is to stop all the crazy bake sales, online auctions, and candy fundraisers and just install stripper poles in every classroom. I bet they could even live stream and make even more money.
Our nation continues to demonstrate that we no longer truly value one of the most important institutions of our democratic society. The American education system was the envy of the world because it allowed people to better their lives and improve their socioeconomic status. Generations of Americans used our once robust public school systems and low-cost public colleges and universities to obtain a world-class education and dramatically change their lives compared to their parents. But what once was is no longer the reality for Generation Z and the future generations coming behind us.
For Generation Z and Generation Alpha, the dismantling of funding for our public K-12 and higher education systems is something we have lived through for almost our entire lives. In 2018, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published census data, which demonstrated that state and local school funding cuts, which began in 2008, took until 2016 to restore. Even then, many states like Arizona, North Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, Alabama, among others remained significantly behind 2008 pre-recession levels in inflation-adjusted terms.
Census data also showed that between 2008 and 2019, state funding for higher education saw significant cuts and remained significantly below the levels of funding before the 2008 recession. And this was before a global pandemic that placed every student in our nation in an emergency-induced distance learning disaster.
As you can imagine, for Generation Z members who have spent a significant amount of their lives in the K-12 and higher education systems, this crushing and deliberate decision by policymakers, and honestly most adults, to walk away from fully supporting our education system has not gone unnoticed. In a 2021 survey by TD Ameritrade, Gen Z members responded to questions about the costs of higher education by sharing that they were considering many ways to limit student loan debt. Thirty-six percent of Gen Z members responded that they were looking at attending community college before transferring to a four-year university and 31% said they would consider a gap year between high school and college so they could work and save money to pay for their education.
At the very same time, we are also seeing daily stories about teachers opting to give up on their profession and walk away from their jobs. The decades-long underfunding of our schools combined with a global pandemic and irrational parents worried about fake issues like CRT have combined to create a perfect storm that is likely to severely harm our education system. RAND Corporation’s recent State of the U.S. Teacher survey found that “nearly one in four teachers said that they were likely to leave their jobs by the end of the 2020-2021 school year”. The same survey found that Black teachers were even more likely planning to leave their jobs.
This is all happening at the very same moment that we are seeing a long overdue discussion about the lack of diversity in our nation’s teacher workforce and how it is impacting the education success of Generation Z and Generation Alpha. The Center for Black Educator Development recently launched a campaign to address the Black teacher shortage. In spite of all heor hard work, this type of video from South Dakota, combined with national headlines about teachers quitting and the ongoing dismantling of education funding, makes it nearly impossible to convince Generation Z that education is a viable career option.
Maybe this video from South Dakota will inspire elected officials, policymakers, business leaders, and all Americans to finally have a conversation about our schools and reconsider what type of future we truly want for our nation.
Or maybe someone in Washington, D.C., looking at the two U.S. Senators from South Dakota, will see it and think about actually supporting a start towards solutions by voting yes for the Build Back Better legislation.
No matter what, full funding of our K-12 and higher education systems will be crucial. Because I can assure you this one thing, that Generation Z members are very unlikely to embrace a career in an education system that is so devalued that the only solution to making a decent living working in it is to turn us into contestants in a school-based game of Survivor.