Saturday, April 21, 2012

Yanno what really grinds my gears?

There's been a few times this semester I promised myself I'd post about educational policy because it's important to me and by far the most salient issue for me. It's an issue that's salient to a lot of people actually, and I've even had discussions with my fourteen year old sister about it. Anyone who has come up through the public school system can bring something to the table in this debate.

The combination of a fast-approaching end of the semester, reading a series of AEI articles, and then this editorial in the New York Times finally prompted me to write on it.

There is no question that the American public education system is broken, but our attempts to fix it are hollow at best and harmful at worst. Let me make this very, very clear: teachers are not the problem with the American educational system, data is. The business mentality has pervaded a great deal of non-business sectors, and while it's been beneficial in many areas, one where it has not is education. We are starving for data to measure the effectiveness of our schools, but schools are not a business. We don't measure success by profits and sales in education. We're in search of some amorphous end goal, and you know what--that's completely fine. This is one area where results aren't instant.

Yes, we're falling behind. But it's not the teacher's fault. It's the system's fault--hell, it's the government's fault. A teacher can't inspire a kid to learn when the first twenty minutes of a forty-five minute class are dedicated to test-taking strategies. Most children graduating middle school and high school could tell you how to structure a 5 paragraph essay to get a 5 or 6 on the state exam, but have no idea where Russia is on a map, who the Chief Justice is, or what Ernest Hemingway wrote. That's a problem. A real problem. And we're more worried about making sure children get that 5 or 6 than if they know anything about the world? Come on.

A popular proposed solution is another business model--competition. But competition can't work when you've got a race between a shackled participant and one with freedom to run. Charter schools are a distraction, not the answer. It's avoiding the heart of the matter. The shackles are the problem, not the speed of the runner. Charter schools aren't required to teach to the test. They can develop their own systems. Public schools can't. Free up public schools to teach without worrying about end numbers, and you'll get better teachers. You'll get happier students. (Also, charter schools are often places where children with parents who care will go. Getting parents to care is way more important than who is standing at the front of the room. It's a process way beyond the teacher, and scapegoating only allows us to feel better about ourselves. It prevents us from looking in the mirror.

A Nation at Risk is the major driving force behind the modern educational system. It's the fuel for the data-driven, standardized test fire. But have we taken a minute to think that maybe the numbers don't matter? Should we really be worried about having hire test scores than China, or should be more worried about having a generation of critical thinkers with diverse knowledge, skills, and abilities? Is anyone taking the former?

My solutions and suggestions are endless. It's enough for a post thrice as long as this. I know we prefer pithy writing here, so I'll end now. But once again, I want to plug this editorial. Because this woman is absolutely right.

And think about your future for a second. Because that's what our school system is: our future.


Dylan Wulderk said...

I didn't post the picture. It's just there. So weird.

TJE said...

Image courtesy of Fearless Leader.