Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Toward a Better Tomorrow

Businessmen do not know how to educate. Most of them have never taught - or if they have, it's been of fellow businesspersons with principles that work almost exclusively in business. They don't know much about multiple intelligences or adolescent behavior or learning disabilities or childhood development. They certainly don't know about alternative means of evaluation in the classroom besides those concerning a #2 pencil and a bunch of bubbles on a strip of paper.

But yet, they are always put in charge of what is taught in the classrooms. And what those classrooms are allocated. And how long those classes should be. And the objectives of those classrooms. And how students should be evaluated. And how teachers should be evaluated...

Because they know how to make money? Because they know how to lay-off people, or know the profit margins? Does that make them better and more qualified to teach the teachers than other teachers who study and experience teaching? Because that's the trend these days. No Child Left Behind, Arne Duncan, Chicago 2020, school vouchers, maximized tests, teaching to the tests, Waiting for Superman, most charter schools...

All big money. All hidden under the misguiding nombre of School Reform. All meant to trap us into thinking that spending money *in* the classroom is not the answer, but giving that money to private and connected firms is the answer. It would all do Orwell proud. Goebbels might even shed a tear.
no futurephoto © 2007 Fabian Bromann | more info (via: Wylio)

Take the wording on this phone survey that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's pals floated last week. Of course, this sort of pseudo-"reform" in education has been happening for well over a hundred years. And it's generally been just about anything but reform. Often, the more these "reformers" talk about tests and studies, the less likely that they've been paying attention to educational experts who study learning and pedagogy, and the more it has to do with taking and comparing fill-out-the-correct bubble tests.

As Mayoral Tutorial explains:

In Chicago there are three things its highest performing schools have in common: Active Local School Councils (LSC) that are well-trained in how to run their school; principals in those schools being on four-year contracts with clear goals set out by the Local School Council leaders; and a very active cadre of unionized teachers who work closely with the principals and LSC. To get some idea of how far away these mooks are from reform, they've eliminated the active cadre of union teachers from the mix and appear to be about to greatly curtail or perhaps even completely liquidate the powers of the LSCs. That's 2/3 of the three most effective reform measures taken in Chicago. Sweet, let the Great Leap Forward continue.

In Chicago, that's what that means. From that, we can grapple a few universals. This is what I've heard/experienced tend to be universal concepts to improve the state of education:
  • Allow the children to work on goals and curriculum of their own choosing, with guidance from their teachers. Invest them with education that allows them to - now, not just some time way down in the future - put the rubber of the classroom on the road of their world. Education is not relevant just because it could lead to a good job somewhere in the distant future (which is understandably not enough for youth who rarely ever see those good jobs), but for the worlds it opens up and has us fiddle with in the present. It gives power within that world. Power to affect meaning and change.*
  • Don't just say you're listening to the community and parents. Actually do it. All signs say that even the smaller schools are being torn from their active communities.
  • Engage and empower the parents and families throughout the calendar year. One benefit of Catholic schools is that they do just that. And though not everybody can afford to pay or live on a Catholic school teacher's wages (which are missionary-like low), we could benefit from being involved in our children's schools and volunteering a certain amount of time per year. And the schools could benefit in MANY ways by having game nights, movie nights, adult education classes, government boards for parents and community members (like the Local School Councils that are being disempowered in Chicago, for example), etc.
  • Open the school for parents in multilingual capacities and allow them to see their children's work and progress on-time.**
  • Incentivize teachers to collaborate and cooperate with each other. Much of the talk from "reformers" is going towards destructive competition. Which, of course, means that teachers will not share resources, skills, or classroom projects. They will not be able to learn from each other and develop each other as only fellow teachers can. Rather, with the 'incentives'-type of plans in place, each instructor will fight for her share of the increasingly-shrinking pie. This builds distrust and teaches the students the worst possible lesson: to survive is to destroy others. Of course, businesspersons should know better. Sometimes I think they do know better...
  • Realize that funding for education isn't a liability or an expense, but an investment. A severe investment. If these businessfolk know what's good for them, they'd ask to invest more of their hard-earned money into the education of their future workers, associates, partners, and clients. Unless they believe that having uninformed clients is better than having a beneficial work and living environment, that is (which I doubt many of them do).
We must ask, "Are we truly willing to spend more money on prisons than on schools?" Because that is what is happening. Who's advocating for the teachers to be able to teach with all their tools handy? There sure are quite a few people advocating for bigger and badder jail cells.

*I want to demonstrate this concept of making education present and active and relevant by telling a story of Brian and his students in Cabrini-Green.

Cabrini-Green was one of the most notorious housing projects in Chicago, not to mention one of the most infamous neighborhoods in the US. It was a text-book case of Northern segregation - both racial and socio-economic. And it was multi-generational. The Chicago Housing Authority had a plan to clean it up. Not because they necessarily wanted to backtrack and do everything right this time, or clean up their mess, or help these families make it to the next level. But because the property is next to some rich, rich real estate. The Gold Coast, Magnificent Mile, Old Town, Lincoln Park, and of course the Lake Shore within walking distance. All that wealth wouldn't mean that they'd be fixing or rehabbing the area, even the parts that were salvageable. It's almost as if they felt that the buildings should come down on their own, only to be replaced by paying customers.

Or at least I'm sure that's how it felt to the students at a local grade school just outside the complex. And so they got together with their teacher, Brian, and brainstormed a bunch of ways to fix up their school (their idea) for their social studies project. They interviewed people on the street and in the school, as well as bureaucrats. They petitioned. They argued and hassled each other. They brainstormed and collaborated with each other. They took pictures. They wrote detailed letters to the editors and to state senators and talked to members of the press - going so far as to getting on the local news with their side of the story. Their conclusion was that the school needed to be rebuilt completely.
Our school building, Richard E. Byrd Community Academy, has big problems. There
are too many problems to mention in this letter, but we want to tell you about some of the most important ones. These main problems are what we think are important issues: the restrooms, temperature in our building, the windows and the lack of a lunchroom, a gym and a stage. We need a new school because of these problems. It is really important for our learning so we can be great when we grow up.
The Board paid lip service to them and their suggestions, of course. And then shut-down the school completely. The students were dispersed, and a few stopped going to school. The new school was too far away and the route too violent (considerations that the Board doesn't like to consider).

But many of them would come back to Brian and each other and reminisce and wonder why school can't always be so challenging. So rewarding. So frustrating, empowering, so active. So hands-on.

And ever since I heard their story, I wondered the same danged thing...

**Here is a big failure of mine. If I could turn back time like Cher...

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:33 PM

    Don't be fooled by Students First. It has nothing to do with students or keeping the best teachers. It has everything to do with privatizing all public education.


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