January 19, 2006

Education Idol?

I do not have a beef against Simon Cowell or American Idol. In fact I am a fan and I find myself agreeing with the Simon Cowell more often that I disagree with his analysis of talent. I just got to thinking, what would the world be like if Simon Cowell was a schoolteacher?

If Simon Cowell was a schoolteacher education would be a competition to discover THE one best and brightest student. All the other competing students would be "losers." Many would try out, only one would succeed. The one successor would then represent all of the others as the perfect example, or "Idol," of what all students should aspire to be. The Education Idol's success would be measured not by the depth of their character, or their wealth of knowledge, but by the wealth generated in their position on the "Billboard Chart of Popular Intelligence". They would tour the world showing off how clever and charming they had become, and entertaining the masses "Jeopardy" style along with the top ten runner-ups.

If Simon Cowell was a schoolteacher students would be assessed not with A's or B's but with brutally accurate observations, slicing sarcasm, a devastating wit, and of course, America's vote. Regardless of their classroom performance, America could vote the young scholars on to the next round (school year) if the contestants had built up a strong enough fan base. Quality and substance would be overruled by performance and personality. Our futures would lie not in the hands of the most qualified, but in the hands of those receiving the most votes (wait, isn't that how our government works right now???)

If Simon Cowell was a schoolteacher then teachers themselves would be idolized as gods of wisdom. They would be asked to appear in Coke commercials, and on talk shows like Oprah as authorities in their content areas. They would be offered millions of dollars to appear for an hour or two biweekly in front of their pupils and deliver 90-second critiques of their homework. Of course, those appearances would be televised for millions to watch and potentially purchase soap products from the advertising helping to keep the economy moving. Teachers would actually be considered useful economic contributors, can you imagine?

If Simon Cowell was a schoolteacher then the rewards of scholastic success would be fame and fortune along with heartache and loss of privacy. The Education Idol would receive instant fame, a speaking contract, and money beyond their wildest dreams. Expensive cars, new mansions, personal assistants, designer clothing, caviar and the rest would suddenly be thrust upon the winner. In return, their family, friends, and neighbors would be cast out, left behind, and replaced by the "Hollywood" crowd. The Idol's personal life including all of their successes and failures would become a matter of public record available for all to see and read about in the pages of the National Enquirer and Entertainment Tonight.

But Simon Cowell is not a schoolteacher.

Because Simon Cowell is not a schoolteacher education is not a competition. Students are not competing with each other for the top spot on the assignment, in the classroom, or in the school. They are competing with themselves to reach their individual potential. But education is not about comparisons, number 1's, or even coming out on top. Sure, there are outstanding students, valedictorians, and plenty of other excellent efforts that should be recognized. But honoring a "straight A" student does not mean that the other students are less important of unequally successful because they didn't reach a 4.0 GPA.

Because Simon Cowell is not a schoolteacher students are assessed with meaningful indicators that reflect progress and accomplishment without killing their spirits, hopes, and dreams. Even if a student receives a less-than-expect score on an assignment, that score is used as an opportunity to grow and improve, not as a dead-end message of worthlessness delivered through a mean spirited personal attack. Students are promoted to the next level after being properly prepared and evaluated, not because of their social status within the classroom (well that's not as true in education as it should be.) Results, not popularity, open the door to the next opportunity.

Because Simon Cowell is not a schoolteacher teachers themselves are not idolized by contemporary society, in fact they're rarely given appropriate respect. The people who hold the most control over the future of the planet are often treated with disregard and dismissed as "less-than" professionals. Instead of being lifted up and celebrated, teachers are often the targets of parental frustration (that should be aimed at their children, or the parents themselves), the political scapegoats for reformers desperately looking for some answer to student under-achievement, or the butt of jokes seen daily all over television and film. Could you imagine if teachers were given their proper respect and place in society? Images of champion teachers whose entire roster of students just passed the CAHSEE would replace professional athletes like Kobe selling shoes on billboards across America!

Because Simon Cowell is not a schoolteacher the rewards of scholastic success do not automatically include fame and fortune, although that does follow for some. Instead of stories of fallen idols being arrested for attempting to purchase heroin filling the news, stories of successful students who begin their educational career without the ability to read, write, or add, and with the help of teachers, in the end graduate with a high school diploma would be the "breaking news!" Student achievement is a reflection of not only the effort of teachers and students, but also the help of family, friends and neighbors who support the students along the way. No, a high school diploma is not as glamorous as winning a singing competition, but it's far more useful, and a much better indicator of future success.

The good news is Simon Cowell is not attempting to take over education and turn it into Education Idol. Neither should the teachers. Our job is to support and raise up all of our students in a supportive environment that can include competition, but success should not be solely based on being first. Assessment of students should be accurate and constructive without judgment and delivered without sarcasm. Teachers should be recognized and honored for their efforts that include painfully long hours invested into the success of other people's children. The rewards of scholastic success should be greater opportunities to prosper in life, not just a chance to become the next Education Idol.

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