Just try to read an editorial or feature piece on education, via any media outlet at all, without coming across a commenter who wants to righteously and indignantly toss all the problems--from low test scores to Security Guards Run Amok--back into parents' laps. It's as if the rest of American society didn't exist. As if grinding poverty, political corruption, greed, cultural debasement and racism had nothing to do with the so-called failings of students and their families. Let's blame the parents.
What is this amazing low-tech strategy that's filling the gaps in cyber-learning? Answer: the teachers are sitting in the same office, as they're managing their on-line classes. So it's valuable for teachers to be physically present and connected to their peers, but not so important for kids? But--wouldn't students wouldn't also benefit from putting their heads together with peers and having in-depth conversations about literature or democracy or fractions?
I am in full agreement that we would be better off if people across the spectrum in Ed World started with a vision of what public education could be, rather than going for the next big win, as is our habit in matters of public policy. But. I spent 30 years in the classroom, serving as test subject for high-flown political rhetoric and ill-advised policy. The idea of a "personalized, relevant, and real-world-situated" classroom for every child is not even close to new.
So what are we to make of Arne Duncan's surprise departure from his cabinet position, where he dutifully played POTUS Basketball Bud and less-than-articulate mouthpiece for the extremely well-heeled Democrats for Education Reform? Does anyone else wonder about the timing of this? Why was John B. King waiting in the wings? What's the policy-making strategy here--and who's calling the shots?
Finding the ideal environment--solitary or collaborative, active or passive--for each student's optimum performance, when you see them four and a half hours in a week, if there's no pep assembly? Not likely to happen. Not that teachers don't try. That's what bothers me most about these "if schools would only" articles: the assumption that teachers are blindly plowing ahead, happily adopting "fad" educational trends, heedless of the needs of individual students.
Wherever you are tonight-- aspiring educator, in the field teaching, studying the field as researcher or teacher educator--it's really easy to push big philosophical questions away. There are hundreds of other things to worry about. But-- if you don't get in the habit of keeping Big Questions like these bubbling on the back burners of your mind, the magic and moral purpose of teaching will fade or even be lost. Here are four questions for you to consider.
Here's the truth: "Schools"--and the people who work in them--have always understood that they only have so much time with students and only some of that time is prime learning time. Start and end times are part of a massively complex system of overlapping needs and goals, not contained in a single district.
Education is not simply about constructing efficient delivery systems for the transfer of information--books and computers can do that. Education is about the building of relationships--between students and teachers, and among learners themselves. And schools, in all of their messy, noisy, confusing chaos, do this spectacularly well.
Most teachers who blog do so to share their well-honed opinions and experiences with being the object of policy, rather than partners in creation of the policies that shape their professional work. A lack of firsthand information from the front-line school workers--teachers and school leaders--is what has gotten us into the policy mess in which we're currently swimming.
I have to say I'm grateful that I taught for 30 years in a district that did not try to help me "understand my weaknesses"--a process that all teachers go through, with varying degrees of introspective pain and effort, even those (perhaps especially those) who have long-term careers in the classroom. The implication here is that teachers' own assessment of their effectiveness is worthless--they're oblivious to or ignorant of their shortcomings. This is patently absurd.