Saturday, May 23

Ilities & Anities

You know. Humility. Insanity. Adaptability. Applicability. Ability. In-breeding. Oops. Sorry. I got carried away.

I'm looking back and realizing that I've already commented on this here, at least in a manner of speaking. But much to my shock and dismay, the world hasn't changed yet, so it appears to be time to say it again. Do you have your thinking cap on? I'm wondering if maybe that was the problem. Look how hard this little girl is trying. Give it a go.

Yeah, I know. Miss Nancy let you down, and never saw you through the Magic Mirror. The same thing happened to me. It was a hard road, but I've recovered (take what you like and leave the rest). So can you. So get out your thinking cap anyway. The grudge thing may be satisfying (don't I know it), but it's unbecoming.

This time, I am inspired once again by a video, which came to me courtesy of a facebook friend. Here you go. Take a look see.

Come to think of it, that's not quite true (that it inspired me). The video is interesting, sure. But in itself, it does not compel me to write. It's the responses, the comments, the fact that this video, and others like it, have apparently been created and circulated for years now. There's a lot of "interesting" and nodding going around. But there is still a serious problem. I see a lot of knowing nods, but I don't see people demanding anything different out of our schools. And that, my friends, is what gets me fired up.

Now, I'm not a big fan of trite. But you know that thing about the definition of insanity? About doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? Well, welcome to our educational system. Yes, even under Obama.

Every time something like this comes up, every time a friend posts something like this video, every time I see some "startling" (yes, that does belong in quotes) article in the news about the future job market or how right-brained folks are the future (blah blah blah, though everyone should read this book just so that we're all in the loop), it makes me want to scream.

There is no doubt that we have no clue what our children's futures will be like, what jobs will be like when they are grown, but we continue to educate them as we were educated. For a different time, for a different era, for a world that is largely long gone. As that wonderful Gibran poem and song says "...for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams". Amen.

Yes. Competition (if that's what you want to call it, though don't you think it's a bit of a misnomer in a global economy and a digitally interconnected global community? What difference does it make if we're all working together?) is fierce. One country has better math scores. Another has more honors students. We have to catch up, we have to do better, we can do better than them--these are the mantras. Our best universities are packed with foreign students! We have to find out what they're teaching, how they're teaching, which curriculum to use, how much more homework to assign, how long the school day or year needs to be, what we can do to dominate the world educationally. Why we want or need to do that, I'm not quite sure, but that's what they say, anyway. Don't shoot the messenger.

Here's the problem (ATR*). And here's where it gets sticky. Very sticky. The answers to these questions--the reasons why we do not do as well as other countries, why our children are not as prepared to compete (it makes me shake my head every time I write it) as those in some other countries--are very unpopular. And most definitely politically incorrect. They have, in my view, far more to do with homogeneity and heterogeneity, than with anything even remotely related to our public school system or methods of assessment. But we can't talk about the former. So we tinker endlessly with the latter.

It's got a whole lot in common with one of my other favorite arguments...that when children are failing in middle school, we look at how they were or were not "ready for kindergarten".

Now, don't get me wrong. You couldn't meet anyone on this planet who would advocate more vigorously for early intervention and comprehensive high quality early education than yours truly. I've devoted my whole professional life to it.

At the same time, I defer, as ever, to a comment made years ago by Ed Zigler (one of the founders of Head Start, Sterling Professor Emeritus at Yale, and Director Emeritus of the Edward Zigler Center on Child Development and Social Policy at Yale) at a meeting I attended with him at Yale. He was discussing the successes and pitfalls of early education, and mentioned just the scenario I outlined, in which early education is "blamed". He responded directly to those in elementary education, those complaining about children "falling behind". He said, and I quote, "Early education is not an inoculation. I sent them to you ahead in kindergarten. What have you done with them since then?". Double amen.

Look. I'm a parent. I've got a kid in public school (one of the best districts in Massachusetts) Maybe you have a kid in public school too. Or even private school. Same deal. While you're watching these videos, and reading these articles and books about the future need for right-brained ability, for creativity, for thinking "different", stop and think. How much of that do you see reflected in the curriculum and practices of your local school? Would you know it if you saw it? Do you see those things being measured or valued? Or do you see largely what you remember from school---worksheets, tests, facts, multiplication, division, fractions (do we really think in 20 years that ANYONE is going to do math on paper?), standard reading comprehension, mass-produced social studies texts? Do you see things like these revised lesson plans?

So how do we respond? We argue for continued "higher standards". Who could argue with that? President Obama says "The solution to low test scores is not lower standards; it's tougher, clearer standards.". Maybe, just maybe, the problem with low test scores is TESTS. It's like the person who looks for their keys far from where s/he dropped them because "the light is better over here".

To his credit, Obama acknowledges that standards must not "simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking, entrepreneurship and creativity." That's good. It's a start. But it still misses the point. Testing, "standards", rubrics, hierarchies....these things are left-brained analytical constructs. You simply can't measure real creativity and critical thinking that way. Out-of-the-box thinking can only be measured in out-of-the-box ways by out-of-the-box people. To my knowledge, our education systems are not overflowing with those folks (yeah, I'm prone to understatement).

Obama says that his plan will be "tied to results". Tough to take issue with that. Results are good.

I still have a question (I always do). It's about this "results" thing.

Better results? Or different results? They are distinct. I'm for the latter. I'm not holding my breath.

In the meantime, I'm keeping this sign up on our living room wall, where it's been since my daughter was born.

I've been told that I'm asking for trouble. I sure hope so.

*According To Robin (of course)


Anna said...

Ontario introduced a new standardized curriculum in the mid-90's, citing many of the same arguments - that Ontario was falling behind, and our children were not learning. Now the curriculum is the problem - at least to me. It simply does not account for the fact that children learn in different ways, and at different paces. Standardized tests were introduced for grades 3 and 6 - of course, your child is not evaluated on the basis of these tests, but the schools are ranked. And guess what! Schools in more affluent areas consistently rank higher, while schools with larger ESL populations and in areas of need consistently rank lower. Go figure! Grade three students are not ready for a solid week of formal testing...and the ranking system in no way reflects the quality of education a child receives in their schools. Yet, parents wait for test results and school rankings as though they are biblical pronouncements.

ConverseMomma said...

I'm a reading teacher in a middle school, and I agree with every single thing you said. But, here is something you did not say, what am I suppose to do when I am continously second-guessed and under-minded by parents who expect their children to get A's and go to the ivys even if they have not done the work. I work in an affluent district, and you would be amazed at how many please excuse little Johnny letters I get each week because the family was vactioning in some tropical resort. Learning is a job of the district, yes, but it all goes back to what parents are doing or not doing at home.

Pat said...

ok, so you've become a part of my morning ritual now... read email, read blog, check fb. you can't just stop without warning, ya know!

Coffeegurl said...

um, hello? I'm with Pat... what's goin' on? i keep checking and keep getting disappointed. No NOBLOPOMO award for you this month -- and you were so close! Tell ya what, I'll buy ya a coffee anyway -- just keep writing :-)