Disclaimer: Today’s post is pretty-much stream-of-consciousness thinking in response to a question. I might not be able to defend some of my reasoning if pressed, but these thoughts should be good for discussion!
“In my reading of JT Gatto, he blames, substantively, an educational system which he claims is systematically designed to produce mediocrity. His further argument, there are countless good and great teachers stuck in a system that demands, and even rewards, the mediocre rather than the excellent. As an educator, I was wondering if you agree, even in part, with that assessment. Or does JT have it wrong?” – Adam
Today – having participated in yesterday’s Great American Teach-In – is as good a time as any to throw out a few comments.
The Great American Teach-In
hursday I had the privilege of visiting one of our local high schools as part of The Great American Teach-In program. I guested in two reading classes designed to give a boost of encouragement for students who have failed – or re-failed – part of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).
The purpose of the class is to equip young people with the skills necessary to take and pass the reading portion of the standardized assessment. Their teacher – Melissa – is obviously passionate about her work; she takes a very positive approach, loves her students, and is thoroughly engaged in the very specific task of preparing teenagers to re-take the test.
Teacher Melissa Roy, smiling her way through another day at Spoto High
ENCOURAGE: My role was simply to be a cheerleader for reading and writing, to point out the relationship between good writing and positive life experiences, and to share a few stories designed to increase the likelihood that the students might see making the effort to pass as a worthwhile investment of their time and interest.
The FCAT may be a skills-based testing instrument, but that’s only a small part of the picture. It’s abundantly evident that the road to passing such assessments is more about helping burned-out and discouraged students find the motivation to care than it is anything else.
BIG PICTURE: And this is where today’s experience dovetails into the proposed big-picture discussion about how we “do” school. Because it’s clear to me that our schools – the institutions, the administration, the teachers, and the students – are being increasingly hemmed in by soulless standardization.
There’s a kind of stenosis happening, and it’s largely because we’re stuck – philosophically – in the 19th-Century factory model of “success.” In fact, the state is fine-tuning the concept to deadly effect. Education is being squeezed so hard that all that’s left is teaching to the test.
NOT EDUCATION! Teaching to the test is different from education in that the whole purpose of standardization is conformity, and conformity is achieved by shaving off the edges and playing to the middle.
Education is about training the mind to learn and to grow, whereas standardization is a factory approach, where the goal is the production of similar widgets, end-products that fall neatly within a fairly narrow range of tolerances. “Success” means having a higher percentage of widgets pop out of the business end with a “passed inspection” stamp before marching happily into the workforce with a similar set of tools.
But standardization has more to do with conformity than actual education.
THAT’S NOT WHAT WE NEED: Fortunately, our world doesn’t need everyone to enter the workforce with the same set of tools. What our world needs is young people who have learned how to think, who have found their passion, and who are being encouraged to take whatever dreams they have to the next level.
Obviously, everyone needs a set of basic tools. But unmotivated kids are not going to do what it takes to acquire such a skill set just because the state’s Department of Education says they need to pass some standardized test.
Teens who have been struggling are only going to do what it takes if they’re motivated, and if they care. The next time we take $100-million of someone’s money to “fix” education around here (no offense, Bill Gates), we should pass on sabotaging teacher moral, and instead use the money to figure out how to get students motivated and how to get the State of Florida to butt out and let the teachers teach.
I’ve decided that the next time we take $100-million of someone’s money to “fix” education around here we should pass on sabotaging teacher moral, and instead use the money to figure out how to get students motivated and how to get the State of Florida to butt out and let the teachers teach.