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This story from NPR is a sad look into the world of employment today. The city of Seattle is one of the big computer science hotbeds in the country (along with San Francisco, Austin, and a few others) and yet they find themselves unable to fill jobs people desperately want because there are not enough people leaving college with that major. Part of the local problem is that the University of Washington is not growing their computer-related majors of studies to meet the demand being brought to the area. Students are getting turned down because even though they want to come there and learn there just is not enough classroom to handle them.
Is that really the student’s fault that they can’t make that work? Is it the company’s fault for putting down its roots in Seattle and trying to grow a brand? Yes, the company could have gone anywhere and maybe made it work. After all, the world of high speed internet is making it easier to put a business just about anywhere and still having them be able to succeed. Looking at the student, who knows that these areas of opportunity exist, maybe should not be looking at the local school market to get a degree. There are hundreds of universities out there that can get you a computer science or engineering degree and yet that student is looking at that one school to help them out. Sure, these local Seattle companies are going to work with the university to find interns or look for those hungry students that are yearning for work in that field. Again, though, the world is becoming a much smaller place by way of social media and internet communication. You can be as much in a company’s employment radar from a thousand miles away as you can be from ten miles away. Companies love willingness to adapt and if you show the desire to want to work with them and the skills to do the work then you will have just as good a shot to get that job as someone who is coming out of the University of Washington or wherever else. That is the kind of world we live in now.
This does not mean that the University of Washington, or any such school in their predicament, is off the hook. It’s not exactly news that the computer science field is exploding, especially in Seattle. This school is at the forefront of bringing employable people to the region and yet they have not been able to grow that program to meet the demands of the student body. They are screaming at the school to take their money (loans or otherwise) and let them be computer scientists and engineers but oh, no, they can not do that because that’s just too heavy a workload for the people they have there.
Okay, the following is going to be completely off the top of my head and is entirely fictional but will be used to prove a point. Let’s just say that, I don’t know, History has tapered off as a college major at the University of Washington. Maybe ten years ago there were 150 graduates in that field and now there are 50. If that program has not shrunk, maybe not even by two-thirds but at least somewhat, then the school is not doing its part to help the students coming to their school to get a career-worthy education. It’s not to say that they should not offer History because there isn’t enough students to sustain it, but if you have students beating your doors down to do other subjects that you can’t afford to give them because you are funneling funds into History (or whatever lesser-desired field) just because you feel “you have to”, then again you are failing to do your job as an institution of education. Just as there is a reason students do not have to partake in buggy-driving class because there are not buggies to be driven anymore, then maybe everyone needs to look at the system they are a part of and see what people want, what you are giving them, and where there are opportunities to improve.
Students can find an education if they really want to work, schools can find students if they really want to work, and businesses can find workers if they really want to look. The problem is that students don’t seem to want to look, schools don’t care to change, and businesses will cry that they can’t find the proper employees because the college two blocks down the road would rather teach Shakespeare and the Franco-Prussian War than Objective-C and HTML5. Show your wants and needs to the world, and people will come. It does not matter what side of this you are on. Companies can find work, Schools can find students, and graduates can find work. They have to be willing to work a little harder than looking just outside their front door, but the rewards can be so much sweeter.
You will note Terry Gross wasn’t on this story, because she would have Chuck Norris-style roundhouse kicked these idiots and told them to post on Twitter that they are hiring and watch the resumes roll in. You don’t have to live in Seattle/SF/Austin to learn how to use a computer for money and you don’t have to go to school there, either. Being unemployed is not always your fault, but you might have to be willing to do a little more than cry about it to fix the problem. Sorry to be the one to tell you that.
I have become intrigued with the idea of “starting from zero” in education (or at least as close to zero as we can get to) because it is one angle into the discussion of ‘reform’ that is not as highly touted or talked about. I presume the issue with ‘zero’ is that it involves quite a lot of figurative (and potentially literal) demolition, destruction, and mayhem to get back to only to then have to start right back up again. However, my brain does not have the limits of the social and political climate to deal with, so as such — I want to look at zero.
What is Zero?
When I talk about “zero”, I mean taking away all the fun constants that make up our education system – the infrastructure, the schools, the teachers, the curriculum, anything that anyone is trying to sharpen to a point and then mandate is gone. Period. I want everything to be distilled down into three categories -
- People With Knowledge
- People Without Knowledge
In broad terms, I’m going to simply use “Adults” and “Children” as simple terms for the latter two categories. Yes, I know that subcategories exist (because a fifteen year old and a five year old have different levels of knowledge in them), so maybe instead of the original terms I can just switch them into “Teachers” and “Students”, because then anyone can fit into any category and I don’t have to get age-specific. This is proofing on the fly, people.
Anyway, all that needs to occur in the educational system for it to be technically successful is to have a Teacher impart Knowledge onto a Student. That’s it. Okay, so the Student has to actually retain the Knowledge for it to be worthwhile, but as far as flowchart diagrams go, there is not much simpler than TEACHER -[knowledge]->STUDENT. That is what the goal should always be, not babysitting, hand-holding, or distracting – just get thought from point A to point B.
Old Habits Die Hard
If I snapped my fingers and suddenly we were without any school system (public, private, or otherwise) and then asked people what to do they would probably immediately try to trend back into the system that just vanished, even if it was not a very good one. People would hunt down “professional educators” to deal with their kids and slowly but surely common and standard curriculum would appear from the ether and disperse into the wilderness. Adults all have memories of what our schooling was like, and that is what we would rush right on back to no matter how much we hated it.
If, however, I snapped my fingers and not only schools vanished – but the concept of schools as well – and all we were left with was the idea that older generations need to pass knowledge onto younger generations, there would only exist a small possibility that “school” as we know it now would come to exist. Granted, this is just a theory, but as the system itself is what is breeding more user of the system (teachers teaching teachers how to teach), then removing that constant opens up a place to dump in way more variables – most of which we use now (home-schooling, one-on-one tutoring) but as more of a case-by-case basis than an overarching system.
Education is case-by-case. It always has been and it always will be, someone along the line just thought it would be much more fun to make it into an assembly line rather than a discovery process. There’s not exactly some wild new car popping off the end of the line every few seconds in the auto industry because they have built a system that is all constants. Education isn’t a paint-by-numbers vehicle to drive to adulthood. If people want to use the automotive industry as a good analogy to education, they should look just a bit above the assembly line process to the fact that there are dozens and dozens of different assembly lines going all that once, because not everyone wants to drive the same black Model T, and damn it, not everyone wants or needs the exact same replica of some die-stamped education out of a catalog.
Because of a system that is based on ideas that are many, many decades old, the entire notion of wiping everything out and starting again is as conceivable as doing a vertical leap from your driveway and landing on Jupiter. It’s not going to be possible without a lot of help, time, and equipment. As our society struggles with things like standardized testing, No Child Left Behind, and Common Core, we are always looking for what will show improvement as fast as possible. That’s it. It’s all GOALS, QUOTAS, and RANKINGS, with little in the way of long-term thinking into not only what it is doing for the students of today but what it will do to the students of tomorrow.
Knowledge, defined, is without limits (as far as we know). However, there are not very many good reasons for trying to find all of it as fast as you possibly can – even if we define ‘all of it’ as ‘what school teaches’. First, there are enough people that glower and scowl over their shoulder at their time in school that one might think problems exist with both the what and the how of their methodology. Second, that whole case-by-case basis thing is a mosquito sucking the system dry. Every time a teacher, student, or parent has to “adjust” because of the needs of one or both of the others, then people start to get very angry and very fast because that is not how it is “supposed” to be. It’s “supposed” to be “Go to classes for a few years and -hooray!- adulthood” but people just keep jamming up that road with all kinds of speed bumps, traffic pattern modifications, and an incredible amount of people with giant red “Stop!” signs that by the time you get out of eyesight of where you started you aren’t really all that psyched up about the trip any more. This pulls all the way back to the ‘empathetic’ high school kids, staring out the window dreaming of an exit ramp away to take them as far away as possible.
Maybe even straight back to zero.
Full disclosure on this, because I feel it might be necessary. It was Thursday morning, the 9th of May 2013, somewhere around 11 EDT, when I realized that I did not have a real grasp on what “tenure” was. What I knew was the simple pop culture/media awareness definition – the one that they like to put forth when showing some evil, glowering teacher standing over his or her class with fire burning in their eyes knowing that there is nothing anything that anyone can do about the hell they are about to unleash on their students because they have (dun dun dun) tenure.
Other than that, I really had no idea. So I did what I usually do in these situations and I ran myself to Wikipedia at my earliest convenience (some time between 1:25 and 1:35 later that afternoon) and found Tenure was waiting to be read all about. So I did. While the wiki article sticks to mostly the college/university level, I am aware at least tangentially that primary/secondary school tenure also exists – but that is not what is important about all of this.
What is important is that while reading the article I noticed that, like many things in the world, there are very divisive views on the idea of tenure and how it is used (or even if it should be used at all). Thinking about that, and also many of the other topics I have researched in the name of education, I have come to a very reasonable (I think) conclusion, part of which is the title to this post.
I am not saying that education reform is impossible, but…
Yes, for now I am only adding the “but…” because, really, that is all I can add at this very moment (this moment being some time around 10 pm EDT on Friday, May 10th 2013). I know that education reform is a big topic across the world – as I truly feel that people do want education to get better. I like to think that this kind of thinking is just more proof that the current system is insanely broken and worthless but in all honesty it more than likely just means that people are always looking for ways to improve anything at all and this is just the one thing that everyone can have an opinion on because almost everyone has been in a classroom at some time in their life and feels that they have a good grasp on not only what is going on now but also what damn well should be going on and they are going to hold their breath until it happens.
Sometimes I talk like that, and I’m sorry.
I might be just dog-piling on with everyone else, but it just adds to the frustration of it all. There are many (many, many, many, many) people that believe in their hearts and minds that either the system needs fixed from the ground up, that it needs improvement in places, or that it just needs a nice spit-shine to get us back in the world education race that we are slowly falling behind in. That, of course, is the first hurdle.
We can’t all agree on what is necessary.
That’s a big deal when potentially hundreds of thousands of people’s daily lives are at stake. Whether it’s political, moral, ethical, racial, whatever the heck biases people might have and push, these are things that can get in the way of these types of agreements. The second that one person decides one school, one class, or even one student deserves a whole different education from another school/class/student, that is when punches start getting thrown. Then again, it may be worth noting at this juncture that “different educations for different people” happens whether we like it or not, just not on a grand enough scale as to be noticed and burned at the stake. Everyone leaves high school, or even grade school for that matter, having experienced a different education than the person standing right next to them. There is so much that constitutes the “experience” of just growing up (with school and all it’s ups and downs being a part of it) that maybe trying to force it into a mold is the last thing we need to do to set things right. a
Everything is interlaced and woven together like Ernő Rubik and Betsy Ross had a few too many bottles of wine and nine months later your formative years popped out, stumbled around, and tried to straighten up while “With A Little Help From My Friends” played and Daniel Stern narrated. Trying to change education will change business, will change politics, will change….well, culture. The way I grew up into who I am is in part to blame (blame?) on my education, and if I were to go back and time and send myself through a whole new rigmarole of learning then who knows if the person I would come out as is the same as who I am today. I doubt it. Same thing with growing up in California compared to New York, or Minnesota to Texas. So many factors exist to make you into who you are, changing education might have a bigger effect than we can even fully comprehend until it has overtaken us and swallowed us whole.
If you tell me that I should have gotten my education in Kansas or Nevada, I’d probably laugh – even if it was true. How am I supposed to know that is what would have changed my life? Just living that thousand or two thousand miles from where I am now would be a big enough change without sliding in a few new textbooks or grammar worksheets. Are standards and all these constants in the equation of education what we really need, or is the fact that we are such incredibly large variables be enough to throw out the entire idea of constants all together?
Just as I said 27 minutes and five or so paragraphs ago, I really have no idea. It might not be impossible for me to know, but for now I’m still running around with my diving rod and hoping to hit water. Where the oasis appears is anyone’s guess, but damn am I thirsty.
I was passed along this article from NPR earlier this week, and while it is from December it is not exactly something that has some kind of newsworthy flashpoint where I should have totally been right on top of it the moment it appeared on the interweb. With that said, here I am – and I have one question in particular about the entire idea of flipping the classroom.
The article is telling me that the idea of students listening to podcasts and watching video lectures at home is fantastic for all sorts of reasons, chief among them being able to pause, rewind, and fast forward depending on how well you are understanding your lessons. I like that idea, because it is no fun being the one student that does not understand and it is definitely no fun having to sit there, dumbfounded, and watch as the teacher breaks down a subject that everyone else in the class understands. By doing more of the “homework” style stuff in class, it can allow for better one-on-one interaction between the students and teachers. That is exactly the kind of thing education needs.
However, and this is my question, how long are these lectures? While I am first to say that students should put their education first and foremost in their lives, it would be a slog to sit through an eight hour school day and then deal with hours upon hours of lectures that night. Even if you are able to speed through them relatively quickly because you understand the concepts, I still feel like it could potentially be more work overall than the current idea of doing your actual homework at home in the first place. If these lectures are too long, and every class in a school decides to move to that model, you risk students being stuck in some kind of weird loop where they are spending all of their out-of-class time doing what is essentially class work, and I’m not sure even the best of students would be able to handle a constant barrage of public education flying at them from sunup to sundown. Then again, if they are too short, it only proves that maybe classes in schools do not have to be as long as they are in the first place, and that giving kids 40 to 50 minutes in a room with what looks to be 15-20 minute lectures is not the best use of time. Of course, there are ways teachers can fill the other half hour of a class, but I find it difficult to rationalize a good use of that time that does not involve more lectures or just giving students time to do their ‘homework’ right then and there so as to free them up in the evening. That is about the only positive a student could see in that, but it still does not justify having the students download files first when the information dump would almost take less time than the downloading itself.
The article states that this idea is helping under-performing students do better. That is fantastic. But this is only with schools using the technique in a few classes here and there and not all of the curriculum. I think the maths have the best benefit for this, and would find it odd to be staring at a video screen for something like U.S. History that is almost all lecture and very little else in the first place. I also like the entire idea of the ‘transparency’ behind learning, as now parents can see exactly what their children are learning at just about any time by watching a video with them or listening in on a podcast. Parents can use that information to get a better grasp of what and how their children learn and be able to assist them just as much, if not more, than a teacher in a classroom can.
All I am worried about is that time and attention issue. Education should always be a top priority, but it should not be the only priority, especially if it is simply handing off work from teachers to students. I support (good) teachers and want to see them justly compensated, because the joke about teachers being underpaid is only funny because it’s sadly true. If this is how you are showing the world that you deserve the pay you make (and more), then I’m worried that less people are going to buy that as reason to add to your pay in the future, regardless of whatever it is extra that you are doing in the class as part of the “flip”. Educational supporters tend to be happy with what they are given as reasons for raising compensation without seeing it because they see school now as exactly what it was when they were stuck in a desk and staring at a blackboard. They know teachers work hard. Flipping the classroom might make students better and teaching easier, but I would be afraid that even with those two things in your favor that this kind of game change to “teaching via the internet” might make you seem redundant and field fewer teachers working with higher student counts because, hey, all they are doing now is ” homework”, and parents have seen how “easy” that is for generations.
This is a very thin line to walk, and while I support any idea that helps students excel in their studies, I fear for the future it may lead to.
I give disclosure. I have tried to write the beginning of this post four or five times and nothing that I have typed out has hit me with the proper motivation to actually try to answer the question that I have posed in the title above. Frankly, I am not sure I can answer the question at all even though it seems easy enough. “Does education do anything right?” he asks. Such a silly question. It’s as though he has his brain in upside down and is just looking for targets to throw darts at. He, of course, is me. I also do not own any darts (again, disclosure).
I have spent a lot of my life hearing that education is on some unstoppable downward spiral of awfulness and won’t get better until we [insert all manner of possible explanations]. Sit down, take as long as you like, and try to figure out exactly how many students have gone through the educational system, from pre-K to graduate studies and beyond, in the last decade. That is almost how long I have been out of the system, just one of millions over the past quarter century since I walked into my first ever school-room and learned everything I could ever learn in the hallowed halls of kindergarten. I’ve heard that phrase quite a lot, too, now that I think about it. It has books based on it – that everything I know I learned in kindergarten. I doubt that is all that true, because I am fairly certain that I was not made aware of algebra while finger-painting, but still it persists as though it actually means something important, when all it does is add more color to the picture that, truly, education is a mire of garbage water and compost with students being churned through it during their formative years of life.
Let me first wonder aloud for a moment. If education really is a complete waste of time, as it is just an awful system that will always being getting worse – then why have it at all? Why waste so much of our youth’s time sitting in classrooms, going on field trips, forcing them through tests and presentations and every other piece of “being a student” that fills most people with pain and suffering than some kind of longing for the past. It’s not exactly any big surprise that most of the “remember the good old days” rah-rah BS about school has almost nothing to do with the actual class time itself. It’s about dances, parties, big games, hookups, breakups, and everything and anything that has to do with not sitting in a room staring at a chalkboard for eight hours a day. Why are we doing any of it? While it is not out of the ordinary to remember specific lessons, specks of dialogue, or getting that one really good grade on that test that you were certain you failed, most of it is a cloud of boredom that is best forgotten. Is that what we waste all that precious tax money on? Is that what we waste thousands of teacher’s everyday lives on? Is that what we waste twelve to sixteen to twenty years of all of our lives on? Unnecessary Boredom?
“Oh! But wait!” you cry “It’s not unnecessary! We need it to make our future better and brighter!” Okay then, so now you are saying that it is a good thing and it is not going into the toilet on a yearly basis? You are staring at me, confused, as though you think I just threw a ball down the hallway but in reality am holding it just out of your view, tricking your senses into chasing something that is not there. Is the educational system really what makes everything turn out just peachy keen? Is it even turning out that way? It does not always sound as though it is. Usually it sounds as though we are one or two tests away from being declared the intellectual equal of concrete mix. It can not be both. If you think we are building a better tomorrow on the backs of all these kids that you deride as dumb and in need of as much help as we can possibly give them (and this is awful!) then maybe you are the one that needs to sit back down in a desk for a while and pay attention.
Education has to do something right or else it should be done away with. All of it. Period. End of story.
“We have good students” you say, “they are our bright future! Cherry picked out for being awesome! The best part of the bell curve!” You are almost giddy now, and I’m a little bit upset at the interruption. Fine, so education does do something right. It lets everyone else figure out who is good and who is bad and who is just stuck in neutral and throwing smoke around (I think I would fall into the latter category). The problem I have with this is that it takes a decade and a half to truly figure this out. “We figure it out way before then!” you interrupt me again, “That’s what standardized tests are for!”
I was wondering about that. I was wondering exactly what purpose they served outside of things like merit pay in Florida and government aid in numerous places. It’s too spend even more time judging the good from the bad from the mediocre, because that is absolutely something that schools need more of. It is not that I am going to advocate doing away with grading or getting rid of championing good work, but I am sure you can ask any teacher of any class who has known his or her students for more than a few weeks who the good and bad ones are, and I am positive that they will not only be 100% correct but that they will have, in their mind, at least some sort of plan for dealing with each of them. I’m not saying the plan will be a good one, but they will more than likely, at the very least, have something.
I’m still not getting any sort of good answer, or at least one that I really feel I should be getting. We’ve had education in this form for quite a long time. You’d think we would have worked the kinks out of it moderately quickly and be on a steady up-tick generation over generation, but most would not only say it’s obvious that the opposite is happening, but they will find it hard to believe (even with solid proof) that anything but crashing and burning is taking place. It gives those in power reason to push for new, new, new (which is not exactly a bad thing) while attacking absolutely everything about the current system as though it has only just now passed over the threshold from “useful” to “utter nonsense” in the last six or so months, or around the time they were elected to office and think that yelling about education is a good way to win people over. It’s very hard to say “no” to “helping education” even when it’s not clear if anything they are doing is actually being of any help.
I have said before and I will say it again – my high school alma mater no longer exists. It was tore down a few years ago and replaced with a brand-spanking new building with all kinds of beautiful soothing architecture and some new equipment and hallways upon hallways of shiny classrooms. Part of it was that there was a rash of consolidation going on in the area and they wanted to shove a few schools together and this was the easiest way. Fine. But is giving the math teacher a clean-as-a-whistle whiteboard and an Aeron chair (note: I have no clue what they are actually sitting in) going to help them do a super fantastic job compared to the dusty dirty chalkboard and duct-taped 1970′s mass-market chair? It is still the same teachers teaching the same lessons, but now it is somehow better because the floors are polished and the parking lot is brand new. I’m not sure this is how people want to see their “money toward education” spent. In fact, I’m not actually sure at all how people want that money spent except they want it to help kids and make this crappy, crappy, crappy education better than it was for them, which apparently was not very good either.
I’m still looking for an answer here. Either it does plenty right and we are obfuscating stupidity in the name of trying to make people happier about giving up more in taxes to better something that does not need the boost, or it does not do much right at all and we have not done a damn thing about it in the decades since we first started complaining about it. Maybe I am just looking at it all the wrong way. Maybe all I need to do is find one thing, one little thing, that it does right – like the aforementioned “pick out the good ones” – and that will technically answer the question and at the very least get me some kind of partial credit.
At the end of the day, every student walks away from their education – complete or not – with some kind of opinion about what it was that they went through and with some kind of knowledge base – good or bad – that they can use to build onto. It could be that they hated learning and would rather spend the rest of their living moments being bashed over the head with a book than be forced to read it, or it could be that they loved every moment they were in class, remember every single teacher and refer to them on a first name basis and send them Christmas and birthday wishes and hope that one day they can touch a life just as much as they did for them. Fine. Then, yes, there are people like me, that wonder exactly what the point of it all was, if there even actually was a point to it, and are still struggling to find an answer to the question of whether or not it was actually worthwhile or, well, did anything right at all.
If my education did anything right, it was to tell me that learning only stops when I want it to stop, and it is nobody’s choice but my own to pick when that time is. I thought I picked that point ten years ago when I walked off the stage at my college graduation and had no desire of looking back. I thought it was all worthless and believed more in the failure of the system, regardless of some of the great people I knew (and know) inside of it, than I thought of it as being worthy of anyone’s time, mine or otherwise. I was wrong, but only because it took me until just now to understand the question I was asking myself was not the right one at all. In that moment all I was asking myself was whether or not my education did anything right by me, when what I should have been asking was whether or not I did anything right with my education…
Everybody thinks they have the right answer to the title of this post, but the truth is that either answer, yes or no, is correct depending on how you answer that other question – the one that nobody wants to answer but, with perfect accuracy, could. There is not a single veteran of the educational system that could not hit a bullseye if they really wanted to, but just like me at the beginning of this post — nobody has the darts.
Legislators in the state of Texas are trying to pass a bill that would divert taxpayer money to private (and religious schools) if a student that is currently enrolled in a low-performing public school wishes to transfer. The state already has in place a tax credit for businesses that could pay up to 100% of their donations to private schools by way of scholarships.
Pardon me for the confusion, but I thought the entire reason for private schools even existing was to get away from being under the thumb (or taking from the helpful hand) of the government, subsisting instead on donations from the community (yes, yes…I know you can deduct those during tax season) and tuition from students. If I lived in Texas, I would be writing my state officials daily, if not hourly, to try and get them to explain to me why part of my taxes were going to help pay for a student to move from a “lesser” school to one that may or may not be better but charges for the privilege of attending.
Many of these under-performing schools are already on edge because of funding cuts that the state has made recently and, at least in my eyes, taking away more of their money due to circumstances that may be even more out of their control than the general actions of a student taking a test is absolutely mind-boggling. It is stated in the above article that there is a cap on the business tax credit set at one hundred million dollars, which they mention could cover tuition for around 10,000 students for a single year.
I know if the grand scheme of government bankrolls that $100 million is not a lot, but when you are all but pulling it from the pockets of the public schools (which have a much higher rate of attendance percentage among a population than private schools) it smells afoul of educational prostitution. “You, Public School, are not able to satisfy my needs for this fifty bucks so I’m going over here to Private School to see what they can do for a hundred.”
Waving cash in a school’s face, without handing it to them, and expecting them to even want to do better is similar to a boss telling his employees that he, the boss, won’t get his big fat healthy bonus check unless they, the employees, start working harder and faster. There’s a whole lot of resentment crowding around that plate of donuts every morning, that’s for damn sure. If you want public schools to do better, you have to give them what they need when they need it. I don’t mind letting students have a choice into what school they attend, but just because I really might have wanted to go to Stanford, Florida State, or even the lowly Vassar I would have been spending more of my time looking for personal loans and preparing for a date with debt than telling the government to hand over the money they were going to use to pave roads so that I could wander through the stacks of Hoover Tower.
A school’s troubles should not be shoved under the rug or dumped to the side in favor of this new, sexy school that everyone is talking about and that you heard might put out on the first date. If you are already footing the bill for your live-in public school girlfriend to stick around in your studio apartment then why go out at night and make it rain on the private schools who are dancing, smiling, and telling you that just a few more weeks of this and they might be able to afford college? You would never consider doing it for a streetwalker, so why do it for them? You already have everything you need but are neglecting it, and for what? Any answer might just show you how much you were never in love in the first place and that you know deep down it’s all just a waste, except that it’s not. Because the public schools will always be there for you so long as you let them. They will try to turn a blind eye to your cheating heart and roaming hands, crying themselves to sleep at night wondering if they will ever get the nice seafood dinner or if they are just stuck with a basket from Long John Silvers.
You will have the money either way, but it’s your choice whether or not you spend it wisely.
Will that be for here or to go?
I want to take this time to point out that I have never said that all teachers are bad teachers. Of course I would never say such a thing, unless maybe I was talking about those teachers that were caught allegedly cheating during standardized exams. Cheating by teachers tells the students that the only way to get ahead and win is to be underhanded and willing to lie to get what you want. Great lesson, right there.
Anyway, no. Not all teachers are bad. In fact, some teachers are amazing. I hear about great teachers all the time trying new things, experimenting in the classroom to help their students do better than they thought possible. Those are the teachers that should be making the news, especially when the only other teachers making the news do so because of cheating and sex scandals. We need to show the world what good teaching looks like and set good examples. It’s easy to not be as bad as a cheater and it’s easy to not be as bad as that teacher you know in whatever school you work in that seems to get by because of magic powers or something, because it sure isn’t their teaching ability.
Being a good teacher is hard. Being an excellent teacher is about as easy as balancing a sword on another sword tip to tip. It may or may not work out, but someone is probably going to lose a limb eventually. I do not want anyone to think that the entire reason I write is to attack teachers, or to attack parents, or to attack students. Now, there are times where I will attack specific teachers, parents, or students, but only if I am really certain they deserve at least a little bit of razing. Otherwise I am mostly upset at the system, because far too often do I hear stories of people, and this can really happen in any line of work, that want to do better but are being held back by things outside of their control. This is a big reason why I am not a fan of standardization as a satisfactory method to reach the goal of “better education for all” when, as I just wrote earlier this evening, what works for one may not work for another. The same goes for teaching skills and even parenting skills. No two are alike because they probably should not be. I never blew out my birthday candles wishing for some sort of Orwellian society full of Stepford students (or teachers, for that matter).
If you are a student, parent, or teacher who has placed the blame of their troubles on the other two legs of your educational stool, it should be noted that very rarely do chairs break when they are not being sat upon by people who have no place putting themselves in the chair in the first place. Just because it might be a student’s fault – or a parent’s fault, or a teacher’s fault – does not mean that it always is. Be prepared to look at the bigger picture, see the forest for the trees and the classroom for the desks. Sometimes just killing the witch to serve the man behind the curtain is not the best action. Sometimes you have to be willing to actually talk to the Munchkins before joining in their postmortem song and dance. It might be the only way back to home sweet home, and yes – that is my second Wizard of Oz reference today, thank you very much.
Of all the things I was in school, I was never a statistic. Why then now are students treated more like numbers than human beings? Learning isn’t about statistics unless that happens to be the subject you are studying. My two biggest complaints with the entire idea of standardized testing are that it turns a person’s education into a number and that it tries so incredibly hard to even be standard in the first place.
What got me through school – through my education – would probably not work with most other people. In fact, what gets anyone through school is probably best suited for them (hopefully, anyway). Trying to corral dozens upon hundreds upon thousands of minds and hammer them into symmetrical shapes and hope all the molds come out right is about as good for the education of a child as feeding them lead paint or giving them a half hour smoke break after their afternoon nap time. Not everyone is meant to be on the same rigid path, regardless of how much you (the figurative you) wish that was possible. The quickest way to get a child to be uninterested in the world of knowledge is to try to shove them into it in a way that leaves them more suffocated than out in a wide open ocean of possibility and dreaming. Maybe I’m being a little too poetic and melodramatic, but I am still not a statistic.
Everything needs to be taken into account. Everything. Where the student lives, who they live with, who they interact with, sleeping and eating patterns, dreams and fears – all of these can shape a student to be different than the one you are looking for with your slide rules and abacuses. You have turned a classroom of 20 people into a classroom of percentiles and hash marks, hoping that when your eight or nine months of their time is up that you will have gotten enough of a percentile of them to understand the words coming out of your mouth to keep your job, keep funding, or keep some ethereal Wizard of Oz complacent in your abilities as an educator.
Do you want a statistic? Ask yourself how many students you have taught that have used anything you gave them. I do not even care if they used it in a negative way. All you have to ask is did your interference (if you wish to call it that) in their life – your specific interference – change their lives? Could I take any Random History Teacher and plug him or her into your spot and accomplish exactly the same thing? This is sort of like WAR in sabremetrics. If you want stats, that is stats. Are you any better than the average high school history, language, art, science, or whatever teacher that losing you would be a determent to the education given by your place of employment? I’m not saying that all teachers should be exactly the same, no, far from it. What I am saying is that in the same way that students have to find the path that is right for them, the teacher has to find the right path for the way they spread information. You can be a hobbit, you can be Johnny Appleseed, it doesn’t matter – so long as it works the way it is supposed to and in the best way possible.
If you want to paint entire educational populations as colors and numbers on graphs and charts, then you have to open yourself up to the fact that you deserve it just as well. Maybe you really are not a good geometry teacher in Portland, Maine but in Portland, Oregon you might be Teacher of the Year. Nobody knows that, because they are turning their eyes to the students, and only turning them back to you if all they see when they look into the eyes of their children are blank stares and the realization that no matter the outcome of this twelve years of their life, they are going to be remembered more as a series of numbers on a spreadsheet than as a person in a classroom trying to figure out their life before school boards and standardization can figure it out for them.
If you want me, or anyone, to be a number – then you had full well better understand every minute detail of the equation that makes me who I am. If you don’t, then no matter how good I do I will never be what you want and, sadly, I may never be what I want. I know what it takes to be me, but I doubt you would have as much luck on that particular test as you think you might.
Students are people, not statistics.
Question: What do you do when you want to get your school district to meet core standards of education as quickly as possible with no regard for the consequences?
Answer: What New York is trying to do.
The state of New York has raised the difficulty level of their standards, to help try to meet the “Common Core Standards”, but have decided the best way to do so is to force their public students to prepare for tests that contain subject matter that has not been made a part of their curriculum. If you are having trouble following this logic, then I guess it just hasn’t been taught to you yet for the test.
States are being pushed to adopt these new standards, which is fine, but apparently school boards around the country are putting the questions ahead of the answers in the worst way possible. “Oh no, our test scores are dropping!” If this does not make sense to you and you work in the field of education, then you are in the wrong field. Period. Granted, it seems that parents and teachers do realize that this is a pretty silly thing to do and are doing their best to deal with the issue. Hats off to them for that. I have no problem with teachers, parents, and students working as hard as they can to try and keep the ship afloat, even though the people building it appear to be having way too much fun drilling holes into the bottom the farther you get from shore.
Please explain to me the purpose of putting people through this torture. I know all about government funding and new regulations, but I would hope somewhere between the classroom and the state government someone would speak up and make it known that education takes real time and is not something that can just be downloaded into a brain over a few weeks in the hopes that your students can regurgitate it for a test and then breathe easy. Because why? So now you, the educators-in-charge, are off the hook while they forget almost everything they learned because the only reason they knew it was important to remember is because it was going to be on this very important test that might get them a few extra computers or some newer books in the library next year.
The entire premise of education is to, well, educate. It is not to hit a quota or to use children like statistics in a game of Bonus Pay Bingo. If your students are not prepared for these tests and everyone knows it, then stressing out about taking them and failing does nothing to help anyone. Let it be known as much as possible that your expectations are not to see them do the impossible, but to simply do the best that they can. It’s not exactly easy to complete your homework when it doesn’t quite exist yet.
Maybe it is rude that I refer to the state of Florida’s system for evaluating their unionized teacher’s dumb, but oh boy is it ever. The CliffNotes version of the story is that teachers are being evaluated based on the merit of their students. In some situations I am at least nice enough to consider that potentially fair. However, it appears the state of Florida just learned what the meaning of the word ‘gestalt‘ is and decided to use it as a primary means to base wages (and then parade it around, set it on fire, and try to beat back the flames with laughter and childish pointing), and as such are pulling out the red pen on teachers based on students that the teacher may have never (or barely) taught.
Of all the ways you can fail at merit-based wages for educators, this is probably at least in the bottom five. You might as well pay them based on what time buses arrive in the parking lots in the morning. If you want to base an adult’s pay on how well a child completes a task, at least let the adult have as much say as possible in the education of said task (barring cheating, of course). Florida is one of the states that use standardized tests for this measure, but only in things like reading and math (which is at least somewhat better than Washington state, as they just learned what numbers look like) and only in select grades, because we also know that of those first twelve or thirteen only about three to five of them matter, it’s just a toss-up as to which three to five they are.
What this means is that those teachers that cover Health, Foreign Language, Physical Education, Wood Shop, whatever…all of them are having their pay based on what the English and Math teachers are doing. One, this puts way too much pressure on those poor teachers, and two, it puts too little pressure on the rest of them to do what they are told. If I taught Metalworking and suddenly found out my pay was going to be based on reading, my class would turn into “Let’s delve into the deep symbolism present int he screenplays of Short Circuit and Short Circuit 2 and how they were executed on screen” because there is no way I’d be going down without a fight if it just so happens I’m at least tangentially aware that Mrs. Whatsherface on the third floor likes to spend more of her nights between bottles than between book covers.
You want a merit system? Fine. Be fair about it. Maybe pay a little bit more attention to what is actually going on in your classes instead of just staring at a spreadsheet at the end of every few months and getting ready to slash up a checkbook. If English and Math are your benchmarks, then work with them and leave the rest of the subjects alone, or figure out better ways with which to judge their positive additions to the education of the nation’s youth.
It would beat trying to figure out the deep emotional resonance of El DeBarge and how it pertains to mid-1980′s robotics culture, that’s for sure. “Your mother’s a snow blower” should never be present on a state-issued exam under any circumstances, let alone Steve Guttenberg.