Saturday, September 11, 2010

Race to Nowhere......

"If you haven't noticed, the parameters of public education are changing. Gone is the day of hourlong lectures that cover basic academics. Gone are the expectations that teachers only teach academics. gone are the standards that left Tennessee students among the lowest performing in the nation.
Now is the time for us to teach relevant, real-world skills that will keep students engaged in learning anad help them succeed in the 21st-century workd force. Now is the time we ask teachers to help students develop positive social emotional and physical behaviors. ........we are asking students to absorb more information; we are asking teachers to deliver more information...."

Dr. Jesse Register - The Tennessean Sept.10,210

These are stirring words, inspiring words, but when I reflect on their ultimate meaning I am disturbed by them. I believe we have gone too far in one direction and we continue to push....words about failing schools are every where. Failing by what standard? NCLB goals change every year making it very difficult to make "progress"toward a moving target. Even making strides toward that goal is questionable. What is it we are actually measuring? Up until this year the tests measured things that are easy to measure... computational skills, vocabulary and straightforward knowledge.

Dr. Register suggests that we need to do more than teach basics to teach "relevant, real-world skills" I couldn't agree more. That 'more' is often described as critical thinking and problem solving. So this year the tests were a lot more difficult. Not only did we test for discrete skills, but kids had to show their critical thinking skills to solve problems using those discrete skills! Still there was no time for developing those skills in a curriculum that forces constant measuring of skills....

This year we will be adding tests to 1st and 2nd grade....testing them at younger ages! And for what purpose? Are we robbing children of childhood? Between homework, and all the scheduled activities, soccer, choir, ballet lessons, scouts, and t-ball.....every moment is scheduled. And what about those kids whose parents can't provide that much support? How will they catch up and what will schools do? Well, according to Dr. Register, with the chamber of commerce's and the community's help we will be able to bring all children to this higher level of learning by third grade in time to meet the 2014 NCLB deadline.

We expect so much of children already. We expect it earlier and earlier --- Students are to enter 1st grade reading! Math concepts that we were not expected to understand until high school are pushed down to 4th graders who may not have the mental sophistication to actually grasp them. Teachers have chunked the computational parts into bite-sized bits that can be memorized and used without understanding and regurgitated. This has been what appeared on the tests! Now the new tests are geared to find out if kids really understand the concepts behind the computation. As these new tests are given we will appear to have fallen even further behind when the statistics come out.

My mother, a life-long educator, said "All children are gifted, they just unwrap their gifts at different times." The current educational landscape doesn't acknowledge this philosophy. all children are to be reading at grade level by third grade. No more Leo the Late Bloomers!

The question we should be asking is what do the tests demonstrate? There is no indication that pushing "information" down to lower and lower grades creates better employees, students or human beings. Such pushing doesn't allow children time to experience, process, develop and wonder about things. What does this kind of pressure do to kids and teachers who used to live as a community of learners --- who used to have reflective time to respond to literature and history!

Does it produce a better educated student by forcing a child to learn something earlier and earlier--- or does it make many children feel inferior, or stupid because they cannot perform what suddenly we suggest they should be able to do?

In times past I would not have tried to get children to fully understand Dewey Decimal organizaiton by 4th grade-- (there is a mathematical issue as well as one which presses us to grasp the sweep of human knowledge). Did you understand what history was when you were in 4th grade? Kids are still struggling to get states, cities, countries, and continents sorted out! But now we expect them to understand the overarching concepts of history including primary vs. secondary sources!

When I asked what history meant, one bright-eyed girl sitting at my feet said, "yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift. That is why they call it the present." I don't know if she understood fully the meaning of what she quoted, but it touched me and reminded me why I find the push and pressure of educational policy so destructive of wonder....and such a problem.

Wouldn't it have been wonderful to take the time to go down that rabbit warren, to spur thought about the deeper experiences of history? Some of the children would not have related to the discussion, but seeds would have been planted. I didn't plant those seeds. Too much pressure to go on to the skills at hand. When we do this to meet the measures set out in standardized tests we are cheating the future!

This week we will challenge children to memorize the preamble to the constitution (the very same preamble that Rep. John Behner couldn't quote and confused with the Declaration of Independence in a speech last fall.....maybe we should administer the tests to house members) Many of our K-4th graders will be able to recite it in full by the end of next weeek. They will say it many times before they come to understand what it truly means! Like many things in education we must live with words and ideas for a time before they seep into our being.

I have been looking for others who believe as I do, in a power beyond that which can be measured and meted out. Others who believe that together we must change educational policy!
While I was searching I found such people here - Please take the time to view this website and possibly help bring this film to Tennessee...there is begining an awareness that what we are doing is wrong. Some believe it is even distructive to children, community and humanity!