February 12, 2006

Restructuring or Reformation?

A cutting from a comment on Where is the students' work ethic? Be Just said...

We teachers are trapped inside our own metaphors so we can't see the forest for the trees. We are the functionaries of a system that is designed to suppress learning while pretending to promote it.
Ask yourself this question, how many students in your school site are passionate about learning? Now, do you really think that what is wrong is the children?

I don't feel trapped in a metaphor. What we teachers do is real, tangible, and important. Not a figure of speech. Of course there are times we all get lost in the experience and have trouble seeing the "big picture." But at the very least, all of the teachers I know, while not equally effective educators, take the education of children very seriously, not metaphorically.

I'm not sure I know what "functionaries" are. I looked it up and found this definition. If we are officials of "a system that is designed to suppress learning while pretending to promote it," that's news to me. I need a more detailed definition of what that means because I don't want to think that every classroom teacher was being accused of simply being a meaningless and ineffectual cog in some cosmic wheel of censorship disguised as purposeful public education. That would be insulting.

I hope that nothing I have written in any of my posts appears to place any blame at all on children in general. That is not my intention, my purpose, or my message. Yes, the children can be a point of frustration, and of course there are a few bad apples. Teachers should be compassionate and caring. If teachers don't approach teaching with the children's best interest as their main focus, they should not teach. Period.

However I think the point of the comment was that change is desperately needed in education. I think that is a point that every educator agrees with. However, what is the best type of change? Does the “failing” education system need a simple business model-like restructuring, throwing out middle management, and gleaning away the chaff? Or do we need to scrap the whole think and start over?

I am definitely out of my area of expertise when it comes to the subject of school reform, so forgive me for stepping out of my comfort zone. I haven’t taught as long as some of my colleagues, or some of you readers, but I have been around long enough to see the metaphorical pendulum swing back and forth a few times. In my school we are headed back to “families” of teachers and students similar to the same concept used in the 70’s. Back then schools “tracked” students towards an educational and career goal. Now we have “Career Pathways.” Today, standards and test scores ignite the educational engine with API, and AYP ranking higher and lower performing schools. One of the biggest gripes heard in the hallowed corridors of my campus is the lack of vision and direction being provided by our administrators. Nobody seems to know which was is up, or how best to raise the students’ performance and achievement. It’s a mess. So what do we do?

We can try to restructure the educational system by following the lessons learned in business. Education is a top-heavy institution with out-of-the-classroom administrators, detached district personnel, and rarely-sighted board members making decisions for classroom teachers that ultimately effect kids. I’m not even going to touch the issues at the state and federal level. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to education that works. The more top-down pressure that’s applied to the classroom the less success will be produced in students. Teachers know what’s best for kids, why doesn’t the “brass” get that? For example, I am desperately in need of new computers for my classroom. I uses Macs. Macs are the standard machine used in industry for the curriculum I teach. The district wants the Win/Tel machine to be the standard on every campus. We are at an impasse that is holding back the students who are in fact passionate about learning and need the appropriate tools. If the decision was up to me, the machines would be in place today. But it’s not. That is a problem. I know the kids, the curriculum, and the requirements of success, but my voice is not counted, not heard, not heeded, not important. When these problems happen in a business driven by profit, the hindrances of success are removed so the business can survive. But not in public education. Yesterday I attended an open house for a new art/tech school in my area. One of the presenters referred to the “education industry.” As offensive as that may sound, the results are undeniable. This school has a proven 9 out of 10 job placement rate. 89.4% to be exact. Most traditional 4-year university cannot boast those numbers. What is the education industry doing right and traditional public and university education doing wrong?

Our other alternative is to start over. Tear down the temple only to build it up again. Maybe that’s what public education needs. The kids are the kids, the teachers are the teachers, the administrators and so on, so what can we change? How about the institution itself? If the traditional model of public education is so broken (and I don’t believe it’s that bad) then perhaps we need to start fresh. Instead of the 5-days/6-hours work week, how about 4-days/7.5 hours? Or maybe no days; online education seems to be popular and effective, why not take public education to the Internet? Imagine, 24/7 education. The students could graduate on their own schedule whether it took them 8 years or 16 years for their high school diploma. Students could work from home and we could turn all of the school sites into skateboard parks (wait, that’s happened already). Teachers could work from home in their pajamas. Social interaction a thing of the past; we can always chat online. Ok, maybe that’s going a little too far. I don’t have any reform vs. restructuring answers so I’m just spinning my wheels and that’s a waste of time. I’ll stop now. Beside, I need to spend some time working my way out of my metaphorical trap.

Please post comments below.

1 comment:

  1. That was a very thoughtful response. Suprisingly, as you groped for self-described far-fetched answers toward the end, you came up with what I would call real solutions.
    The biggest problem with school as we have designed it is that it is mandatory. Think about that. Education as mandatory. Flies in the face of everything we know about learning. Rather like mandatory love making, it becomes the opposite.
    Manual work should be honored instead of belittled and relegated to illegal immigrants. Education should be encouraged but never forced.
    When children can come to knowledge by their own volition, learning will become a treasure rather than a punishment.
    Everyone knows this in their gut, just as we know how to solve crime and war and hunger and all of the other injustices that we have institutionalized for the sole purpose of protecting wealth and power in the hands of a corrupt and bestial few.
    Of course, as you suggest, we teachers don't have much to do with this sort of larger world solution making. Or do we?
    At the very least we can honor the truth and stop pretending that the lies are inevitable and unassailable. We can dare to dream and pass on that daring to the children.