Thursday, April 21, 2011

it's not all puppies and sunshine, kids

I’ve had a hard time coming up with something to write this week. I feel like I’ve hit a wall; not with the blog, I can keep pumping smart-aleck commentary without taking a breath. Just ask my wife. I’ve hit a wall with regard to my journey, as I’ve come to call it.
I think it’s easy to not face your fears and pretend that everything is OK all the time. At some point, though, you’ve got to wake up and assess the reality around you. And my reality is that I am bummed out right now. Don’t misunderstand; I still feel I’ve made the right choice in hitting the reset and starting over. I love the time I get with my girls and am committed as ever to public education. What’s got me bummed out is how education, and the professionals committed to education are being diminished and used as a scapegoat for “what’s wrong with America today.”
I think I’m bummed out for a couple reasons. For one, budgets are getting slashed and I’m worried that I’m investing all this time and money and won’t be able to get a job. This is the pragmatic bummer. I am responsible for a family and need to support them and I lie awake at night afraid I have set my family back for my own selfish goals. I think I’d make a pretty good teacher, but I’m worried I won’t get the opportunity if things continue to decline. This is not the big bummer that has me down.
The big thing that bums me out is how it has become so easy to point at teachers, teachers’ unions and front-line education professionals as the “problem.” I have strong opinions on what the problem is (and they are the same as they were before I decided to teach).  I think far too much emphasis has been placed on “results” and not enough on education. Sure, test scores can be valuable; but they are not and should never be the be all end all of whether a student is learning. I want to educate, not be a test prep facilitator. The core of this issue and my greatest peeve of the modern view of public education is that somewhere over the last decade someone decided that EVERYTHING should be run like a business and focused 100% on ROI (that’s Return On Investment, for those of you lucky enough to have avoided the cubicle farms all these years). It makes me want to scream. A business model doesn’t work on everything. Heck, it often doesn’t even work in business. The only return on investment that should be worried about when it comes to education is that our kids are learning. It doesn’t take a winner takes all test one day out of their year to determine that. It takes engaging with them, spending time to create understanding of their world and teaching them how to communicate that understanding to others. Assess their skill at that. I wrote essays and reports, took short answer quizzes and tests all through my academic life and, frankly, I turned out to be a pretty well-rounded, intelligent, and successful guy. So did many other of my friends and family.
We’ve only been “failing” at education since we based everything on a high stakes snapshot test. There are a hundred reasons that these tests don’t accurately reflect knowledge, capability, or learning. What they do reflect accurately is test taking skills and the level of preparation they were provided. Yay.
It’s time we as a society woke up and realized we took a wrong turn somewhere on the road to education. The teachers, principals, and school boards didn’t take that turn; they were guided down it by Federal mandates. Let’s get back to educating and away from just measuring. It’s pretty easy to leave no child behind when you aren’t moving forward. Contact your representatives, senators and even the President and tell them that education deserves better, and so do our kids.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll try to be funnier next week.

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