I am sitting at a Days Inn in Virginia with my wife. It is Sunday, July 24 in Newport News, Virginia, a sweltering 90 degrees at 8:45 am. Vacation time? Sort of. My son is with the Marines to Japan and then points unknown. His departure date. Well that’s a secret for now. I’ll tell you later. His choice was to serve our country out of high school, and to do what was not easy, but what was hard, to become a United States Marine. My wife and I are pacifists by nature and didn’t like the thought of our little boy going off to a foreign land and running afoul of dangerous and unsympathetic people bent on killing him. I guess that’s blunt enough. But, as a man, he made that choice, and is now on a first phase of overseas deployment for some years to come.
What does this have to do with education in our nation? Everything. If it weren’t for this trip, I would have been planning a trip just a little farther north, to Washington D.C. where another group of patriots will be protesting the cavalier and erroneous national educational policies that are bringing grief and confusion to many cities across the United States. Los Angeles is just one of the many cities across this great nation suffering through a process of reform that simply doesn’t work. Coincidentally, the state of Virginia, where we find ourselves at this moment, is one of a growing number of states that is requesting relief from the Bush-Obama policies of No Child Left Behind. None of the counties in this state have met their NCLB goals, and all are in danger of reconstitution, re-jiggering, reconfiguration or mischief that will throw them into despair, misery and confusion and open the door to modern carpetbaggers, Charter School operators, who will give it a try from another angle.
No. Virginia wants none of it, nor do we the teachers in California. Nor do the teachers who will be marching at the end of this month on the capital in a great show of force, stating the obvious, “Let us teach!”.
We have had enough! Teachers have woken up across this great nation of ours and are proclaiming that the pundits have just gotten it wrong. What a revelation! We need to have a voice in the process that controls education in this country. We have seen the effects of too much government in our schools. This may not be a popular point with many of us, but it is clear to many others, that the Federal and State governments have taken the democracy out of our schools by imposing solutions in the form of giant bureaucracies. Instead of allowing educators to make decisions about homework, academic standards, and discipline, they have taken a government issue rectal thermometer and plugged it into a computer to see how our teaching practices improve from moment to moment. The government has ignored the humanity of our profession, have put us on a treadmill, and have decided to measure our ability to teach by measuring student outcomes on badly written standardized tests. What the nation has discovered time and time again is that students in poor areas tend to perform on the whole worse than students in affluent areas. Does that surprise anyone?
There are no magic bullets, but there are policies that aggravate this process, that alienate the educators from the students and drive the administrators away from the teachers. The policies of high stakes competitive testing do all that and more.
Another revelation that has dawned upon many educational pundits of late, is that, when you make the test the most important thing, relevance goes out the window along with honesty, passion and learning. What is good teaching? Good learning, perhaps. Many of us believe that the product is more important than a test. I don’t teach a subject that is as easily measured by a standardized test, although there are certification programs that can measure students ability to be employable after taking my class. I like that sort of test. You see. I don’t believe that the size of the rubber mallet is effective when promoting learning. Not every student in Los Angeles is going to college. Let me say that again. Not every students in Los Angeles is going to college. Why should we pretend that is true? Every student is going to do something with his or her life, though. We should help them discover the best path for them, not the proscribed path of a pundit.
How do students learn? Primarily through curiosity, of course. If we are to save our society, we must embrace the love of that innate curiosity that makes our students, our children and those we love around us ask questions, not try to answer all of them with 85% comprehension on a timed test. In our time, nobody is the great provider of knowledge. There is too much to be learned, too many ways to go about it. What matters is productivity through the learning process. As the saying goes,”Life is a journey, not a destination.”. We as teachers must wrest that essential paradigm from those who would control us, dehumanize us and reduce us to flesh and blood laser pointers who point out the best probable response out of four. We are human. Our students are human, and we embrace humanity! We will not settle for less, because we are teachers. We will not let administrators and school board members who act out of fear and the need to placate pundits in Washington or Sacramento, reduce us to pawns in the educational process. We may not always know what makes students learn, but we do know this; if we don’t work together, share idealism, keep the greater good of our country in mind, and do all this with passion and conviction, we will not save our neighborhood schools, and in the process we will lose the faith and respect of those who need to know what is the right direction to turn to for their generation’s salvation. Stand up! Be proud! You are the light!
Make a contribution to the S.O.S. Cause. It is our own.