Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Diminishing public education by consensus.

I don't know that you want to get some people started on what is being done to American schools at the moment.

Many of us see this as a large fight between people who know what they are doing and another group who THINKS they know what they are doing.

On the one hand we have the Gardner multiple-intelligences group which argues for multiple approaches to learning (and teaching) with a varitety of learning experiences available (expensive) and on the other hand, you have those in political power who say that we need to choose ONE way to do things and have backed up their viewpoint with NCLB, defining "success" and "failure" in a very narrow and unrealistic manner, adding a wad of money that is going to private industry for teaching "scientificly proven" methods (which means that schools have to buy a whole slug of new books) with money also going to testing companies (who, oddly enough, are subsidiaries of the publishing companies) to test the "learning" that is going on (cheap).

Educational tasks in the classroom are being pared to the lowest common denominator: all teachers at the same grade and subject area are to teach the same lesson. "Rigorous" curriculum is being eliminated because "consensus" has to be reached, and who wants to work hard? I was even told by one administrator that the goal of these reforms is to have a 3 ring binder in each classroom that will outline each day's lesson so simply that "anybody could come in and teach." "Anybody?" Do we want to turn our children over to "anybody?"

There are schools that are "in trouble" certainly, but the school is not the CAUSE of the trouble, but only a reflection of it and is the last hope to avoid it. The problems that walk through the school house door are generally not the fault of the school; when a school is "failing" it is merely reflecting the "failure" of the segment of society that it is serving. It is not the fault of the teacher that Jane's mother has to work three jobs to pay the rent and get food on the table, doesn't speak English very well, and is not be able to help Jane with her homework or take her to the zoo or a museum or a folklife festival or some other enriching experience. It is not the school's fault that Jack has to spend the weekends away from his house and can't get his homework done because his parents are selling drugs there Friday through Sunday. In an affluent suburban school, if Jimmie has been given everything that his heart has desired and he doesn't see the point of doing any school work and would rather disrupt the class in order to get the attention he is not getting at home, that is not the fault of the school, either.

We take in whatever problems walk through our doors. Yes, learning sometimes suffers while we are dealing with those problems, but if we had public support and resources appropriate to the task, we could be doing better.

As long as we are fighting over how to slice up a 12" pie, we're still only going to be slicing up a 12" pie and not solving the underlaying problems.

Contributed by Richard Reuther

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