I have wanted to write something for my friend Dawn, who is a teacher outside of Boston, for awhile. She posted on Facebook that some new ruling/department decision was making it nearly too hard to do her job. There are two or three things you should know about Dawn — 1) She loves teaching; 2) She’s not a particularly political person; 3) She never complains. In short, she is normal, but unrepresented in the press. She goes through life, raising her kids and her students, whom she sees as “her kids”. She goes to work, does her job, and goes home. She cares about people, wouldn’t rip anybody off because, well, she wouldn’t. She pays her taxes and — though you’ve never heard of her — she makes the world better in her corner of the world.
For the world to lose such a person in such a career would be a terrible waste and a sign that something is wrong. When we make life hard for the average person who isn’t doing anything wrong — and in fact, is doing things right — there’s a problem. When the political among us write and say and do things, we expect backlash. When non-political types start having difficulties, there’s a serious problem.
Education reform is a complicated thing based in a lot of factors, mostly politics and money, test scores, standardization, privatization and unions and/or union busting. Given all of that, it’s hard to understand the situation and I have generally refrained from saying something I don’t actually understand.
Turns out, I know a lot of teachers and I hear from them all about the complex system that causes them pain when, frankly, they’d rather just teach. They teach because they believe in education, they teach because they like kids (on a side note, there are a lot of teachers who don’t like kids and are working out their own issues of control on students — especially inner city ones — but that’s a whole other blog piece) and their kids get smarter because of it. College professors, high school teachers, early-education teachers, elementary teachers, generally teach because they believe in education and creating fully functioning individuals who know things about their world.
Schools where students are overwhelmingly violent are not schools, really, but warehouses until those kids can be let out in into the world and society can say “Good luck!” to them. No teacher should be forced to work in a situation like that and no student should try to learn in a situation like that. So, yes, there are things that parents should be doing in this whole educational process. This is difficult when there’s one parent or when both parents work, so economics again effect things. Aside from that, though, it seems like we’re doing things wrong in schools.
This is what I think is wrong: as in much of America today, we’re too short sighted. The new basic philosophy is that students should be 1) productive and 2) ready for work in the jobs we foresee coming. In short, those “job creators” we pay so much attention to want people to fill those jobs and it’s the educational system’s job to create the people who can do that. Further, they want teachers to prove that they are doing that, so that they can keep their jobs.
Put succinctly, they want education to produce people who know things, not think about things, or create things. I think we’re starting with the wrong premise. we are aiming for people who know what we know about, rather than people who can face anything. I always kind of thought it was stupid to publish lists of careers that people should go into because a) people already know what they like to do and b) if everybody rushes toward those jobs and college takes 7 years, by the time they get there, the job market will have changed and people already in the field will have taken those jobs. Oops.
The best teachers that I know want kids to know things, to think about things, and to creatively face whatever challenges face them. They want kids to learn because they are curious more than anything else, and they see kids as full people who need to know about the world they live in.
I still can’t believe it when I see what my kids are expected to know and do in school and — right or wrong — I go back to my own childhood. Kindergarten was a half a day because kids can’t be expected to produce all day long. They can be expected to play. Our “texts” were “We Read Pictures” and we played with trucks and sand and dolls from 8am to noon.
Later, in elementary school, we learned basic fundamentals by rote. I know that this is not every teachers favorite style of learning, but it worked. I can add, subtract, and multiply in my head to this day I have a fairly good vocabulary. I do believe in learning facts and I think that may have been where the problem was that people felt we needed to reform.
In junior high, aka “Middle School” now, we started developing Selves — figuring out who we were, who we wanted to be and what we were good at. In High School, we began to think about what it all meant. We could learn about atoms in elementary school, figure out that they were cool in junior high, and think about the ways they should be used — or not — in High School. If we wanted to think more or think in depth, we could go to college. If not, we could think on our feet and adjust to life. We were supposed to be “well-rounded individuals”. Out of that, I got an undergraduate degree and two graduate degrees. I got a career or two and a way to decide what to do with my life.
In those days, though, we had recess. We had art, we had music, we had vocational and tech ed. Now, like everybody else in America, we want our children to do more with less. We take away art as not “practical enough”, we take away music as “not practical or productive enough”, we de-fund programs for hands-on learners and then we test them about what they know.
Brains don’t function that way, though. Music and beauty and fun and time to think and time to play are all important to learning, and they make the difference between smart people and wise people. It’s like an orange and orange juice are better for because of things that are in the peel than reduced to their core, processed, and put in a can. It’s the whole thing that makes it work, not just the obvious, and not minus the obvious. (Orange peel is no substitute for a whole orange, and it doesn’t make much juice).
We should educate kids as they are, and we should let teachers teach to kids as they are. They know how to teach. They know what it takes to make wise, well-rounded adults. The Powers That Be won’t let them do that. They have different goals in mind.
Kids coming out of the way of education I experienced have careers, not jobs. They have callings, not an 8 hour day. They create new industries, rather than jobs for the old ones. Let Dawn and all the teachers like her do their job. Fund education, let kids be kids, and let them use their whole Self. It might make things messier, but it’ll be a whole lot more useful.