Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Revolution

A great friend of mine recently asked me to espouse what my intentions were for my revolution in education. The following are the excerpts from the email that I sent back to him:

As far as the revolution goes, I generally find myself bogged down. When I left Asheville I was all ready to start a radical movement that involved both teachers and parents. I thought that we could start with discussions about what we thought was wrong. Ultimately I felt like we needed to boycott the end of grade testing. I feel like if the parents truly understand the realities of what the test is doing to our kids, they'll easily agree to band together to say no. If the parents boycott, then the teachers wouldn't have to be concerned about their livelihoods.

So I came to Raleigh fired up. Then I started at a gifted and talented magnet school, a school who, for most of the years past have easily jumped through the hoops set forth by No Child Left Behind. The faculty was happy, parents overly supportive, and they seemed to be doing everything right. It opened my eyes. I thought, perhaps I need to have some more experience within the educational system, before I can reasonably rail against it. Two years later and in many ways I am back where I was. Something's got to give.

As of this point it looks like the give is going to come from me. I feel like a flea circling an elephant trying to figure out how to get it to move. Most of the teachers, and parents for that matter, see the problem, but in the same breath, most feel like the problem is just too much for one person or even a small group to tackle. Most actually feel like it will be better just to wait until the pendulum swings. Even I have become intimidated by the mammoth. I have worked within my school to cultivate the kind of conversations that I think would be necessary to foster a movement. Towards the end of the year we had a book club, but our discussions, I felt were cyclical and ultimately only scratching the surface. In the meantime I look at my wife finishing her degree in architecture, and feel like that is where I am meant to be. I haven't actually faced the facts about whether or not I am copping out, though I know that reality is looming.

I'll stop dancing around. Here is what I envision for a revolution in education, for what it's worth. Parents will need to be educated, by teachers, to the true realities of what is going on in the educational realm. We have to get them to recognize the effect that all of this testing is having on our children. Essentially we are creating a generation of individuals who work only for reward. The reward is a number. The number, in reality means nothing to the majority of individuals involved. Frequently I ponder, laughingly, how many of my students will take their EOG score and use it as a means for entry into college? Who benefits from the information we take away from the numbers produced by an EOG. I find that kids have become complacent, in that they work, more and more, solely to achieve a number that they have been told will give them worth. Even within the minimal confines of the classroom, students have become a group who tend to care mainly about the minimal that should be accomplished to achieve the passing grade. We are losing pride. We are losing self motivation. We have set a bar that most students can get over with reasonable ease, and because there is only reward for getting over the bar, that has become all most students are willing to do. The truth is why should they do more?

Now, because of the nature of the EOG, and because of the great fear of failure that permeates our culture, the majority of teachers and administrators have begun to do what most of us say that we won't do. We are teaching to the test. Many teachers agree that if we teach the curriculum that our state has selected, throughout the year, then our students should be prepared for the test. You hear as much in many of the educational circles. "As long as we are teaching what we should be teaching, then our students will be fine." Even I have bought into this mindset. But the reality is that more and more of us are gearing our regular daily instruction subtly towards preparing for a test. This has to stop.

This is working to foster a generation of underachievers. This is contriving to create a generation who are not interested in learning because they hunger for knowledge, but because they need to show seven points of growth in a given year. This creates a generation that looks at their education and can't see their stake. Why should anyone be expected to invest in something where the profits are hidden beneath statistics that even the educated adults will struggle to interpret?

Additionally, if I am considered to be highly qualified at my job, then why am I not trusted to represent the outcomes of what my students do? I spend 180 days with my children, and come to know them better than most, and yet my interpretation of what they are capable of has minimal bearing of what they have accomplished in a year. It has to change.

The testing must end. The classrooms must be given back to the teachers. We have to get away from a system that is so narrow in our understanding of academic ability. Change should not be only in small pockets, i.e. charter schools. We have to recognize that we are pushing the most highly qualified individuals away, by creating an standard that is impossible to achieve. Change must be across the board. This is why I see a revolution. It seems to be the only reasonable answer. Break it down completely, so that we might build it up correctly into what it should be.

What is a correct educational system? I will be honest in saying that I don't have that answer. I do, however, feel up to the task of having that conversation. I feel capable of bringing much to the table for the founding of a new beginning. I am ready to be on the board of revolutionaries.