DISCLAIMER: The following contains honesty, critical thinking, philosophical conjecturing, counter-point and common sense-in no particular order. Use caution if you are adverse to deep thoughts and open minds. The opinions and advice found here represent the thoughts of the author and the strange voices of his invisible friends.
To help ring in the New Year with some mental housecleaning, I have tried to write to conquer and divide my thoughts on what has been called “education reform”. In this three part “use my time off to write” series, I have two parts behind me. Part I, focused on those who pointedly ask “What are teachers responsible for?”-while believing they already had the only answer and incontrovertible evidence that teachers regularly failed to meet their responsibility. Young people going to prison, low test scores, poor/unemployed people, the depressed state of our economy and a disappearing middle class…all it would seem are proof that public schools and the teachers in them are failing us-and this impression was promoted to an extent by our elected leaders at the state and national levels. To these responsibility police, teachers looking to provide counterpoint are simply avoiding the tiny box that is being defined for public schools and the teachers in them. Parents looking to bring a more well-rounded truth to the debate on behalf of their children have either been subverted by “special interests” or are disillusioned white suburban mothers who need to be shown that their children aren’t brilliant.
Of course brilliance, it seems, is only found now in charter schools, magnet schools, and prep schools…Objectionable practices in those settings are defended because those schools are described as representing “school choice”.
In Part II, I discussed some of the beginnings of reform in a slightly more serious way than in Part I (where I named a couple examples of outspoken critics of teachers and compared them to turds in a toilet bowl that prove themselves difficult to flush away). Plenty of writing has already done about how our new standards came to be and how much of whose money has been behind the making it happen-I prefer to focus on the disease (the ravages of a free-market focus and a culture/caste system that relies on consumption-ism over constructivism) as opposed to the symptoms (the cult of undeserved celebrity within the reform movement, an increasing population of economically/politically excluded, and students struggling to achieve expected outcomes).
This Part III is going to be about an admittedly idealistic (and yet more truthful) path forward-curing the disease. But first, let me frame my own writing-path forward (otherwise I slip much too far into creative writing mode- and then I’m slaying dragons whilst perched bare-chested and hero-style on the back of as manly a magical rainbow-farting unicorn as I can find). As I type I am sitting munching pizza and typing while my little “girl in recovery” gobbles pizza and draws a portrait of some other clown name Dan who has a blog where two boys just talk, squeal and laugh. A much greater threat to today’s youth than schools, in my opinion. Thanks to Peter Cunningham (@PCunningham57) for sharing the story that included my Ella, but was really about the overwhelming dedication of a teacher who really gives it all, and I’m saying this now because I foresee the possibility of a PART A and PART B with this one.
To set up PART B, whether I get to it tonight or tomorrow, this is the road-map:
1) Public education really does need to be reformed-but it’s more about needing a grass roots driven reform-of-purpose, not reform conjured up by the casual elite who swim in closed circles and pat each other on the backs for how great their theoretical ideas are for other people’s children, OR purpose narrowly defined by data points that do no justice to the struggles of today’s learners or today’s teachers serving them…but work wonders for those with dollar signs in their eyes.
2) The endemic issues we are trying to solve, specific to education, are subject to the more systemic issues in policy, society and culture. In tandem with core academics and accountability for supporting higher standards in those areas (endemic issues do include stagnant student achievement), we need a system for accountability that makes test scores a facet, not the focus. We hear a lot about students not prepared for college-I fear we are not preparing them for any life other than a perpetually indebted consumer. The most meaningful results could be achieved through re-purposing learning standards, instructional approaches, and teachers’ practice/profession to an end-goal focus on what I call “climate change”: reform within our political, economic and social systems. Unfortunately, huge profits are made on those indebted consumer populations, and there is political resistance to changing those conditions.
3) It appears that education policymakers and their closest advisers, knowing the way the influence wind blows have done a cost-benefit analysis regarding public education and have chosen efficiency and cost-savings over moral and societal obligation to the greater good.
Okay…a busy few moments coming up here, so I will be posting this PART A. PART B is going to require more thought and self-restraint, and I’m in father mode right now. Thought and self restraint don’t really apply to proper fathering.