...the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support. Geo. Washington Feb. 22, 1732


Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
Robert Kennedy, South Africa 1966.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Changing the Subjects II


Changing the Subjects

Right now Education is on the Agenda in the Iowa Legislature. The Legislature is working on a bill that would pass rigorous standards for our state and hopefully create “World Class Schools” for Iowa.

You know it is funny back in the 1990’s we were talking about “World Class Schools” for Ames. I was one of the people who was working to put some things in place which would increase student accountability and performance. I believe in it. I think for far too long schools have allowed students to slide by and get away with substandard performance. When compared with schools in other parts of the world we are severely lacking.

At that time the “Business Roundtable” was suggesting radical changes in testing to see if schools could be improved. I disagreed with their methods and wrote an article for the Des Moines Register that was printed. (they paid me $50. for it – the only money I have ever made writing) If I can find it I will copy it later.

I was reminded of it by a letter to the editor in today’s paper.Mary Lee Barnett writes about Marvin Pomerantz’s lawsuit. She writes:

“ So Marvin Pomerantz is helping three families file a lawsuit against Gov. Chet Culver and Judy Jeffrey, Iowa Department of Education director…”


She continues,

“ It would be more appropriate for teachers to file a lawsuit against many families for expecting teachers to assume the parenting role for most of their children’s waking hours; for failing to assume the responsibility of getting their children to school at all; for not instilling in their children respect and responsibility; for not having high expectations for appropriate behavior in classrooms and hallways.

Pomerantz and the public would be surprised at what schools could produce if hallways and classrooms were free from disruption, if students were on task with support from parents, if teachers were supported by parents and administration and if teachers were allowed to do what they were trained to do – educate young people and prepare them for life in the adult world.”

I fully agree with her as you will see when you read my article (if I can find it) but I think that it is OK to sue the Governor and Ms. Jeffrey. And if the Legislature fails to act perhaps they should be added to the lawsuit. Not because of the (stupid) No Child Left Behind Law but because Education is the most important aspect of a democratic society that there is. You can certainly see the effects of our educational system over the past 20 or 30 years. People have lost the ability to reason, to engage in dialog, to determine what is true or false. Politicians (and others) and been able to lead them like myrmidons wherever they want and no one really holds them accountable or questions what is going on.

We need to have standards and the schools should be accountable. Teachers need to know what is going to happen to their students in the next grade and the grade beyond that and eventually in the world. They need to be prepared to work and live in that world. They need to hold their elected officials accountable and to replace them with capable individuals who hold the society and the world foremost and not their own self-aggrandizement.

Schools need to be radically changed. The agrarian world in which they were developed has changed. Schools have not changed nearly enough.

Parents also need to change. I read a story in the paper (also this morning) of a parent who is accused of changing her child’s grades (she worked in the school office). I don’t know if it is true or not but I can believe it could happen.

Here is the article I wrote:

Early Puritans were said to have devised a test to see whether a person was a witch. The accused was placed on a stool and dunked ito a pond. If she was not a witch she would drown. If she was a witch she would not drown and could then be taken out and burned at the stake. This was an early form of assessment.

Recent articles in the Des Moines Register tell us that the business community feels that something is very wrong with education. The business leaders are criticizing the ability of some students to communicate verbally or in writing and their ability to carry out written instructions. The Iowa Business Roundtable Task Force wants to change education from a process orientation to a product orientation and to restructure Iowa schools k-12. They are advising the Department of Education to come up with significant changes in the educational system. They feel that their plan will become an “Iowa Initiative for World Class Schools.”

They feel we should decide what to produce and then produce that product. Their Iowa system would be based on results. They would reward those schools which perform the best, help those that need remedial help and penalize the ones that can’t seem to make the grade.

I feel that this ignores the human factor and forgets the fundamental concept that the school is a community not a factory. We do not have the prerogative of rejecting the raw materials that come to us that are substandard. We may not throw out the product that comes off the assembly line that does not meet a certain quality. We are not able to recall the defective product that “slips through” quality control. We are not able to control the variables in our students to the same extent that a business is able to demand in its raw material.

Schools have students for about one-sixth of the time from the ages 5 through 17 or 18. During that time we are expected to educate, socialize and produce a worthwhile contributing member of a society that says it holds one set of values but too often sends the message that the exact opposite is what is important.

We are expected to take the child who regularly has no breakfast (or sometimes no breakfast), the child who witnessed mother being beaten by father, the 12-year old girl who was passed around to her parents’ friends, the ones who tried drinking and smoking pot they obtained from their parents, and turn them into a “product” that will somehow magically reach a standard set up for s by some businessman.

We were told that there was a sense in Iowa that the schools were not working.

I would maintain that, perhaps, the sense should be that, perhaps, the senses should be that society is not working.

The very scary thing about the Iowa Futures Group is that it would use assessment procedures very much like the dunking school to determine whether a school was doing its job.

If we don’t drown, we will be burned at the steak.

Even though they suggest that a variety of tools would used to assess the schools, in reality they would have to have some sort of “standardized” test to compare one product with another.

I am fearful that this tool would become the dunking stool where schools would be tested to see if the job they were doing produced the “right” product.

If not the “burning” might consist of being held up to ridicule much as sinners were placed in the stocade in that early Puritan community.

This will lead to less sharing about what is working and more competition and will set education back and will in the long run hurt our society and our economic system.

In a democracy change should come from the grass roots and it should reflect the community.

Change should not be rushed into for the sake of itself but it should be tested and tried and proven.

Factors such as class size and availability of material and assistance that affect the quality of school life and enable the teacher to do his or her job should be equalized.

Assessment should be driven by the curriculum rather than by some outside group that does not understand that we are not a factory, but instead are a community of living human beings, each of whom has a different background, motivation and aspiration.

I would suggest that business people such as the Iowa Futures Group should readjust their “sense” that the schools are not working.

They should realize that perhaps it is society – the society they helped to create and structure that is not working.

They should take a long, hard look at that society.

Then they should plan their efforts into helping that single-parent family, that battered mother and that sexually abused 12-year old along with the myriad of other problems tha affect our effectiveness.

Once some of those problems are taken care of there will also be dramatic improvements in the schools and in the “product” tha the schools and society together are able to produce.


You know, I wrote that when I had been teaching for 25 years. I finished up with 38 years of teaching about 4 years ago. So that was about 13 years ago. Unfortunately it is still valid today. Not much has been done.

Legislators, one of the differences is that with the Internet and the global world we now live in it is more important than ever that changes be made. I suggested some of these changes on this Blog earlier in the year. I will link to it here. I hope you realize that something needs to be done. High statewide standards and radical changes in schools and society are in order. At least in my opinion.

Other Education Posts Here. Here

5 comments:

Dave & Carol said...

Well said, Jay! The attempt in Iowa sounds so much like the TAKS system in Texas. We end up with teachers teaching the tests and little else, and then the administrators try to massage the results to get the proper ranking (and funding) for the schools. You should email a teacher in the McAllen, TX. School system. Chris Ardis has a column in local paper each week. Her email is CARDIS1022@AOL.COM
S & F Dave Slater

Exploding Light Bulb said...

Jay,

I appreciate your post. I believe that the major issue with schools are:
1) Standardized Testing. Each child is unique, and that should be taken into account. A genius could fail a standardized test, and be forever lost.

2) Parenting. Parents have forgotten how to discipline. Growing up, I knew that if I misbehaved in school, I would get it worse at home.

3) Political Correctness. Schools are nervous about offending someone. So, they should teach both sides of an issue, versus just the PC version.

Yes, our school system has issues, but they are relatively simple to solve.

Exploding Light Bulb said...

Jay,

I appreciate your post. I believe that the major issue with schools are:
1) Standardized Testing. Each child is unique, and that should be taken into account. A genius could fail a standardized test, and be forever lost.

2) Parenting. Parents have forgotten how to discipline. Growing up, I knew that if I misbehaved in school, I would get it worse at home.

3) Political Correctness. Schools are nervous about offending someone. So, they should teach both sides of an issue, versus just the PC version.

Yes, our school system has issues, but they are relatively simple to solve.

Jay Simser said...

Simple to solve. If only someone had the guts to do so.

Matt McCoy said...

Jay,

Enjoyed the read. Well thought out and life experience to go with it.