Joshua Katz’s TEDx Talk: Toxic Culture of Education

Joshua Katz describes perfectly the plight of American education, the damage it does to our lower achieving students, and the super villains behind it all.

“We need to pay attention to our students and who they are. . . . How can we help them be better students? . . . How can we help them with these non cognitive factors, like work ethic and character? . . . It’s the public narrative that must be shifted. We must talk about what is happening in the lives of our students–even our honors’ students–because we are simply creating a massive population of future citizens who are afraid to attempt anything challenging, unable to read or think critically, or unable to find a way to earn a meaningful income.”

I can’t say it any better than he did, so take the time to watch this video all the way until the end and pay attention to his solutions.

We can have an educational system that meets the needs of every child. We can change the narrative. We just need more people willing to stand up for our children, stand against the super villains, and demand an educational system that encourages success, not failure.

My Resignation Letter

Dear Administrators, Superintendent, et al.:

This is my official resignation letter from my English teaching position.

I’m sad to be leaving a place that has meant so much to me. This was my first teaching job. For eleven years I taught in these classrooms, I walked these halls, and I befriended colleagues, students, and parents alike. This school became part of my family, and I will be forever connected to this community for that reason.

I am grateful for having had the opportunity to serve my community as a teacher. I met the most incredible people here. I am forever changed by my brilliant and compassionate colleagues and the incredible students I’ve had the pleasure of teaching.

I know I have made a difference in the lives of my students, just as they have irrevocably changed mine. Teaching is the most rewarding job I have ever had. That is why I am sad to leave the profession I love.

Even though I am primarily leaving to be closer to my family, if my family were in Colorado, I would not be able to continue teaching here. As a newly single mom, I cannot live in this community on the salary I make as a teacher. With the effects of the pay freeze still lingering and Colorado having one of the lowest yearly teaching salaries in the nation, it has become financially impossible for me to teach in this state.

Along with the salary issue, ethically, I can no longer work in an educational system that is spiraling downwards while it purports to improve the education of our children.

I began my career just as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was gaining momentum. The difference between my students then and now is unmistakable. Regardless of grades or test scores, my students from five to eleven years ago still had a sense of pride in whom they were and a self-confidence in whom they would become someday. Sadly, that type of student is rare now. Every year I have seen a decline in student morale; every year I have more and more wounded students sitting in my classroom, more and more students participating in self-harm and bullying. These children are lost and in pain.

It is no coincidence that the students I have now coincide with the NCLB movement twelve years ago–and it’s only getting worse with the new legislation around Race to the Top.

I have sweet, incredible, intelligent children sitting in my classroom who are giving up on their lives already. They feel that they only have failure in their futures because they’ve been told they aren’t good enough by a standardized test; they’ve been told that they can’t be successful because they aren’t jumping through the right hoops on their educational paths. I have spent so much time trying to reverse those thoughts, trying to help them see that education is not punitive; education is the only way they can improve their lives. But the truth is, the current educational system is punishing them for their inadequacies, rather than helping them discover their unique talents; our educational system is failing our children because it is not meeting their needs.

I can no longer be a part of a system that continues to do the exact opposite of what I am supposed to do as a teacher–I am supposed to help them think for themselves, help them find solutions to problems, help them become productive members of society. Instead, the emphasis on Common Core Standards and high-stakes testing is creating a teach-to-the-test mentality for our teachers and stress and anxiety for our students. Students have increasingly become hesitant to think for themselves because they have been programmed to believe that there is one right answer that they may or may not have been given yet. That is what school has become: A place where teachers must give students “right” answers, so students can prove (on tests riddled with problems, by the way) that teachers have taught students what the standards have deemed to be a proper education.

As unique as my personal situation might be, I know I am not the only teacher feeling this way. Instead of weeding out the “bad” teachers, this evaluation system will continue to frustrate the teachers who are doing everything they can to ensure their students are graduating with the skills necessary to become civic minded individuals. We feel defeated and helpless: If we speak out, we are reprimanded for not being team players; if we do as we are told, we are supporting a broken system.

Since I’ve worked here, we have always asked the question of every situation: “Is this good for kids?” My answer to this new legislation is, “No. This is absolutely not good for kids.” I cannot stand by and watch this happen to our precious children–our future. The irony is I cannot fight for their rights while I am working in the system. Therefore, I will not apply for another teaching job anywhere in this country while our government continues to ruin public education. Instead, I will do my best to be an advocate for change. I will continue to fight for our children’s rights for a free and proper education because their very lives depend upon it.

My final plea as a district employee is that the principals and superintendent ask themselves the same questions I have asked myself: “Is this good for kids? Is the state money being spent wisely to keep and attract good teachers? Can the district do a better job of advocating for our children and become leaders in this educational system rather than followers?” With my resignation, I hope to inspire change in the district I have come to love. As Benjamin Franklin once said: “All mankind is divided into three classes: Those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move.” I want to be someone who moves and makes things happen. Which one do you want to be?

Sincerely,

Pauline Hawkins

 

Pauline’s first book, Uncommon Core, is available for purchase here. If you would like a signed copy, please email Pauline at pdhawk1010@msn.com

 

 

I’m Taking a Stand

Thursday, March 13, 2014, my children and I will be at our state capitol in Denver, Colorado protesting standardized state tests.

I may be putting a lot of things at risk by taking this stand, but ethically, I cannot support a program that is damaging the profession I love.

Join us in Denver at 11:30 a.m. and let your voice be heard.

If you’re not from Colorado, start a movement in your own state.

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Opting Out: Why Ian Will Never Take State Tests

I’m taking a stand this year: My son is not taking the standardized state tests that are being mandated by the government. His school will receive a zero for my opting him out, which will lower his school’s proficiency standings. On one hand, I feel bad that his school is being punished for my decision; his school has wonderful teachers and administrators. But it is not me who is punishing the school: Our government is punishing them. On the other hand, as Ian’s mom, I am ultimately responsible for his education. I believe 100% that this test will do more harm than good to my child.

Let me explain why I am opting Ian out:

#1: Ian does not learn the way other children learn. When he was four years old, we discovered Ian had a cancerous brain tumor. He had it surgically removed, which was followed by radiation and chemotherapy. The treatments were successful, but it came at a price: A void was left where the tumor was, and brain cells were damaged from the treatments. His brain has had to make new neurological connections. I am confident that Ian’s brain will eventually make those connections and learning new things will become easier for him, but it will take time. In the meantime, we have to find innovative ways to help Ian be as successful as possible in school right now, much like other children who are more creative than logical/sequential learners. Even though Ian is functioning well physically, visually, and verbally, the biggest problem is his memory. He struggles with holding onto new information, which is essential when learning to read and learning math facts. I know this about him. His teachers know this about him. If the government wants to know this about him, they could immediately get the information by asking his school; they don’t need to collect data on him in March, just so they can share their evaluation of him in October.

#2: Ian doesn’t need the stress of a high-stakes test that adds nothing to his education. First, this test will be used as an evaluation of his teacher. His teacher has nothing to do with his learning issues. As a matter of fact, she is working hard to make Ian as successful as possible. The thought that his poor performance on this type of test could result in a bad evaluation of his teacher devastates me. I don’t want to do that to her or any other teacher. I know my high-school students are worried about how their performance will affect me. Children don’t need that kind of pressure. Second, Ian doesn’t need the stress of a test that will label him as “partially proficient” or “below proficient.” Ian will deal with enough labels in his lifetime; he doesn’t need some arbitrary label from a test that only measures a small portion of his abilities. These tests don’t measure the things Ian excels at like art, music, spatial reasoning, and verbal communication.

#3: State tests weaken his education. Because of the new importance placed on these state tests, most elementary schools halt normal educational practices, so students can participate in a number of standardized test preparation activities that have nothing to do with real learning–it’s just test-taking strategies. This time could be spent on teaching children to think for themselves instead of how to “perform” properly for the government and the big businesses making these tests. The actual time spent taking the tests does the same thing. If people are wondering why our students are falling behind other countries, they need to look no further than the hours spent every year on preparing and testing our students for these standardized tests.

#4: These tests will measure whether Ian is at the same level as the rest of the students in 3rd grade, which we already know he is not. He is making progress, but Ian is still at least 6 months behind most of his classmates. Testing him at a level we all know he is not at is a waste of time and money. Opting Ian out may not get the time and money back, but it is sending a message to the state that they will continue to waste their time and money on Ian and other students who have parents opting their children out.

#5: Because of the current culture in education, Ian hates school. Outside of school, Ian is a curious boy who loves to learn and teach other people what he has learned. This is why my heart breaks every time Ian says he hates school. How can a boy so full of curiosity hate school? Because to Ian, school is punitive; it is not a place where he gets rewarded for his natural curiosity; it is not a place where he is taught what he is ready to learn when he is ready to learn it. The current culture of school is not meeting his needs. He has to learn what the standards tell him to learn. Teachers are being forced to get students where the state tests say students should be for each grade level by March. What makes matters worse is that with all the budget cuts made at the district and school levels to pay for these state tests, class sizes are getting bigger because there is no money to hire more teachers; therefore, Ian cannot get the individual attention he needs to catch up.

Opting Ian out of these state tests will help Ian become a healthier, more confident student–I am certain of that. If I allowed Ian to follow the same path of so many children before him, children who learned differently but were told they didn’t measure up to the state’s expectations of them, I’m afraid the beautiful light in his eyes will fade until he becomes one of my sad juniors who cannot engage with their education anymore, or one of my repeating seniors who will eventually drop out of school because school did not meet their needs. Ian will not become another dismal statistic–not on my watch.

Take a standI know Ian’s story is not unique; there are too many students like him. I see what they become when they get to high school. I don’t want that sad fate for my child or anyone else’s for that matter. I believe 100% that this test does more harm than good for children. I hope more parents take a stand this year and fight against state testing. Let’s send a message to the government that enough is enough.

If anyone is interested in taking a similar stand, here is a link to the United Opt-Out Organization (Link) for additional information on movements around the country.

And from that website, here is a simple letter that I used to opt Ian out of his tests. 2014 Opt out letter

Part 3: The solution is right in front of us

Robinson’s final point is that we cannot help our students thrive under the current educational system, but we do have an alternative-school model that should replace what we are doing now. I agree. I’ve transcribed his main final points in italics, and then I’ve added my own thoughts and experiences, but feel free to watch his presentation in its entirety below:

3rd Principle: Human life is inherently creative.

We create our lives and we can recreate them as we go through them. Instead, we have a culture of standardization.

Finland doesn’t obsess over [math and science]. 1) They have a broad approach to education which includes humanities, physical education, the arts. 2) There is no standardized testing in Finland (a few tests but it doesn’t drive curriculum). 3) They don’t have a dropout rate. Finland [wonders]: Why would children dropout? When they are in trouble, we get to them quite quickly and support them.

What all the high performing systems in the world do is what, sadly, is nowhere in existence in the systems across America:

 1) They individualize teaching and learning. They recognize that it is students who are learning and the system has to engage them, their curiosity, their individuality, and their creativity. That’s how you get them to learn.

A few years ago, I had a student teacher; it was one of the best teaching experiences I have ever had. The first semester we worked as a team: We had individual conferences and helped twice as many students because we were both in the room. So many things would change in education if that were the norm rather than the exception. We would have teachers accountable to each other; no one would be able to hide behind a closed door and call it anonymity. Students would have two teachers to talk to about learning issues. One teacher could teach while the other walks around the room monitoring individual learning. Teachers could have individual conferences with students about their writing or comprehension of certain concepts. Informal, diagnostic evaluations could happen every second of classroom time.

As a parent of a child who is struggling in school, the team-teacher approach would have unlimited benefits as well. Having a 2nd teacher in his classroom–not support staff, but an actual trained teacher–would get him the individualized instruction he needs. As it stands now, he is lost and confused during most instruction. The classroom is not about his learning, but about the standard that is being taught–standards that become meaningless as he is increasingly distraught over his inability to keep up.

 2) They attribute a very high status to the teaching profession. They recognize that you can’t improve education if you don’t pick great people to teach and if you don’t give them constant support and professional development.

Right now, anyone can get into a teaching school. Teacher candidates could have been D students in high school, yet they are admitted into the teaching program. Those teacher candidates may have been average students in the teaching program as well, yet they can apply and be hired to teach our children. I want my child to have the best and brightest teachers, so their knowledge base is greater and their passion for learning is evident. I don’t want my son to have a teacher who thought teaching would be easy, or to have a teacher who wasn’t able to get into another profession.

 3) They devolve responsibility to the school level for getting the job done. There’s a big difference with this and the systems that go into a system of command and control [America’s current system]: central government decides they know best and they are going to tell you what to do. The trouble is that education doesn’t go on in the committee rooms of our legislative buildings. It happens in classrooms and schools, and the people who do it are the teachers and the students, and if you remove their discretion, it stops working. You have to put it back to the people.

This is the most revealing fact for me. Not only has the government stripped us of the respect we deserve as teachers, they have stripped us of our discretion. They don’t trust us to use our knowledge and experience to make educated decisions for our students. That is not what a democracy is supposed to be like. It reminds me of Animal Farm, and Squealer’s rhetoric:

“Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure! On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility. No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?”

As the general public stands by and watches the government take away teachers’ discretion, be aware that they are also taking away the general public’s equality. Instead of educating all citizens to be solutions orientated and trusting us to make decisions for our own well-being, they are giving us a script to follow because none of us, according to our current government, can be trusted to make wise decisions.

I hear constantly that a socialist system like Finland’s won’t work in a democratic system like America’s. The irony is that Finland has more freedom and equality than our democracy does. Their teachers are trusted to teach; their parents are trusted to make wise decisions for their children; their public is allowed to make their own choices. The wool has been pulled over our eyes; democracy is no longer the operating system of America. We are a capitalistic society being controlled by big businesses.

There’s wonderful work happening in this country, but I have to say it is happening in spite of the dominate culture of education, not because of it.

Many of the current policies are based on mechanistic conceptions of education. It’s like education is an industrial process that can be improved just by having better data. Policy makers believe that if we fine tune it well enough, it will hum along perfectly into the future. It won’t, and it never did.

The point is that education is not a mechanical system; it’s a human system. It’s about people: people that either do want to learn or don’t want to learn. Every student who drops out of school has a reason for it, which is rooted in their own biography. They may find it boring, irrelevant, it’s at odds with the life they are living outside of school. There are trends but the stories are always unique.

Alternative Education Programs: these are programs that are designed to get kids back into education. They have certain common features: they’re personalized, they have strong support for the teachers, close links with the community, and a broad and diverse curriculum that involve students outside of school as well as inside of school. And they work. What’s interesting to me: these are called alternative education. If we all used this system, there would be no need for the alternative system.

This is the key to changing our current education problems. If we ran all public schools like an alternative education school, there would be no more drop outs. Students could explore what they are good at and passionate about. We would have smaller class sizes; students will be engaged because they will have more choices and will want to learn what they choose to study.

The culture of the school is absolutely essential. Culture is an organic term. Death Valley isn’t dead; it’s dormant. Right beneath the surface are the seeds of possibility, waiting for the right conditions to come about. With organic systems, if the conditions are right, life is inevitable.

There are public school systems in this country that look like Death Valley. There seems to be little to nothing growing in their schools; however, if we pour the right mix of money and quality teachers into each school, we will see growth.

You take an area, a school, a district you change the conditions, give the students a different possibility, you give people the discretion to be innovative and creative. Schools that were once bereft will spring to life. Great leaders know this.

The real role of leadership in education is not and should not be command and control. The real role of leadership is climate control, creating a climate of possibility, and if you do that, people will rise to it and achieve things you completely did not anticipate.

We need real leadership in this country, not command and control. If we sit back and do nothing, we will have lost an entire generation of people to this standardized, one-size-fits-all mentality. A real leader will put the right people in charge and then get out of the way. A real leader will create a climate of possibility, not limitations. The recipe might be slightly different for each socioeconomic area, but the bottom line is we can meet each child’s needs in a school system. How? By taking back the funds handed over to big businesses. If we stop pouring billions of dollars into standardized state tests, we could stop this downward spiral.

Imagine what we could do if that money went back into the school system: we could hire more teachers, decreasing the student/teacher ratio from 30-35 to 1 to 15-20 to 1, allowing for more individualized instruction; we could provide free meals and snacks to children who often go without meals, but are expected to learn at the same rate as everyone else; we could attract better qualified people to the teaching profession by offering more competitive salaries, giving the profession the respect it deserves; we could offer more vocational choices for students so they could join the workforce as contributing members of society right out of high school, instead of having dropout rates skyrocket, limiting their earning potential. It can be done, but we need to make a stand.

Quote from Ben Franklin: There are three sorts of people in the world: those who are immovable (people who don’t get it, won’t get it, don’t want to know about it), there are people who are movable (people who see the need for change and are prepared to listen to it), and there are people who move (people who make things happen and if we can encourage more people, that will be a movement, and if the movement is strong enough, that’s, in the best sense of the word, a revolution). And that’s what we need.

We need a revolution, but first we need people who are willing to move. I’m willing to be that person who makes things happen. How about you?

Ben Franklin

Part 2: the 2nd principle that drives human life

In an earlier post, Part 1: Identifying the problems, I discussed how Ken Robinson’s video

 is helping education by shining a light on the problems, identifying the 3 principles that drive human life, and then he offers an existing solution. The first principle is about individuality.

Robinson explains the 2nd principle this way:

2nd Principle that drives human life is curiosity. If you can light the spark of curiosity in children they will learn without any further assistance. Children are natural learners. It’s a real achievement to put that ability out or to stifle it. Curiosity is the engine of achievement.

This is the true goal of an educator: to encourage students’ curiosity. The teacher needs to create a climate of curiosity for his/her subject matter. If the teacher does that, the majority of students will embrace what’s being taught because they are naturally curious. Unfortunately, I have some students at the junior level who have almost lost their natural curiosity by the time they get to me. The flame is not completely out, but they have been disengaged for so long that they don’t know how to begin fulfilling some of the tasks I ask of them.

I am saddened by this fact. I spend many of my teaching hours trying to undo the damage that has been done to the psyche and confidence levels of my students.

However, one of the greatest joys I have in teaching is when a disengaged student finally engages and trusts me enough to ask or answer questions. That engagement is a sign that curiosity is still alive within him/her, which means the desire to learn is still present. All is not lost.

Robinson identifies what I believe is the biggest problem in education in our country:

One of the effects in this culture is to deprofessionalize teachers. There is no system in the world that is better than its teachers.

That statement is so powerful, I need to repeat it: “There is no system in the world that is better than its teachers.” Therefore, if the government, big business, and the media have all worked together to destroy the profession of teachers for their own monetary gains, they are ultimately destroying our country. The question is, to what gain? If the general public is buying into this propaganda, they are also contributing to the destruction of our country. I can’t imagine why people would do that on purpose. The only answer is that the general public has been intentionally misinformed.

Here is the truth as presented by Robinson:

Teachers are the lifeblood of the success of schools. Teaching is a creative profession. Teaching properly conceived is not a delivery system. You are not there just to pass on received information. Great teachers do that, but what great teachers also do is mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage… You see, in the end, education is about learning. If there is no learning going on, there is no education going on. People spend a lot of time discussing education without ever discussing learning. The whole point of education is to get people to learn. You can be engaged in the activity of something, but not really achieving it. . . . The role of the teacher is to facilitate learning; that’s it.

Sadly, I know there are teachers currently working who do not facilitate learning. There are a few in every school, but they are not the majority. The whole basis for starting these tests was to weed out the “ineffective” teachers. Who really thinks that a billion dollar industry is needed to get rid of bad teachers? Ask any teacher, counselor, or student who the ineffective teachers are, and one will get immediate feedback. Everyone knows who the teachers are that show movies instead of teach their subject matter, who give answers to diagnostic tests instead of teaching the material and checking if their students understand it. How much money would that cost?

Definitely not the billions of dollars taken out of the classroom to fund state tests:

Part of the problem is that the dominant culture of education has come to focus on, not teaching and learning, but testing. Now testing is important. Standardized tests have a place. But they should not be the dominant culture of education. They should be diagnostic; they should help. Testing should support learning; it shouldn’t obstruct it, which it often does.

I am not against all testing, obviously. We need to check what our students know and don’t know; we need to find out as teachers what we need to go back over so our students actually learn the material. I have diagnostic tests that tell me if they understand it. If they don’t, they come in to work with me one-on-one until they do. If it were my error, I re-teach it. Simple. Cost effective. Immediate. We have had these type of tests since I was in grade school. Why do we need extremely expensive tests when good teachers already create valid assessments?

The argument may be that depending on the teacher, school, district, region, or state, some students may not be getting the same education as other students. That’s true, but it starts and ends with the teacher, not the test. Truthfully, this all begins with good leadership. A good leader knows he/she has to hire the right people and then get out of the way and let them do their jobs. If a teacher is struggling, a good leader will provide the support needed to help that teacher or have the strength to fire the teacher and find a better qualified educator.

But that’s not the goal of these government mandates:

Instead of curiosity, we have a culture of compliance. Our teachers and students are encouraged to follow routine algorithms, rather than to excite that power of imagination and curiosity.

It is no accident that we have a culture of compliance instead of curiosity in public education. If we see the writing on the wall, we can see the future of education: The elite private and charter schools will produce the leaders and the public schools will produce the followers–those who have been trained to comply. (More on that in my post Can we escape the matrix?)

This is the type of education the general public is allowing for their children. Yes it is free education, but at what cost? Doesn’t every child deserve the right to the best education possible? The type of education that will nurture individuality, curiosity, and creativity, rather than compliance?

In case there are readers who think I am exaggerating, here is a resolution document from a local charter school against the Common Core Standards. They know that educating their future leaders is being stifled with this type of narrow, compliance-based standardization of education, which is driving the state tests.

Let’s give all of our children a fighting chance, whether they are poor, rich, or somewhere in between.

Students first

Part 1: Identifying the problems in our current educational system


Ken Robinson: How to escape education’s death valley

I love Ken Robinson’s videos: He is entertaining and makes a lot of sense. Recently I read some criticism about him; these people thought Robinson was a lot of fluff with no substance, and some thought he was doing more harm than good because he creates a type of “caricature” around education with no real solutions. I disagree. Robinson has an important role: He draws attention to the problems in education, which he does very well, and then gives us the motivation and tools to start a revolution against the government mandates for testing. Not only does he identify the problems we have in education in this video, but he also suggests a simple solution to those problems, a solution that we already have available in this country.

We just need to get enough people to voice their concerns and desires for public education. That’s where the rest of us come in.

As a high-school teacher in a middle-income district, I won’t pretend to have the problems that the lower-income districts have; however, if the problems I face as a teacher are exacerbated in lower-income areas, we have a crisis on our hands.

I teach honors English to freshmen students and American Literature to mostly juniors, with a handful of seniors repeating the class. Even in this middle-income neighborhood, 27% of my American Literature class failed last semester (up from 10% seven years ago). Some people may be tempted to blame me as the teacher for those failures, but let me assure those naysayers that I did everything I could to help those students, but they chose not to get the help they needed. I literally begged them with tears in my eyes to let me help them. They flat out refused my help because they have either stopped caring or think they are beyond help. Even though I didn’t have any freshmen fail, I still had a number of Ds, which was unheard of in years past.

Sadly, a few of those F students dropped out of school at semester; I’m sure they had their own reasons for making that decision, but in general, school has become irrelevant for them. Both children were bright students who chose to sit in my class and do nothing, even though they were fully capable of performing every task.

In my limited experiences with middle-income students, the disengaged students are getting more dominant. I am finding them in my honors classes now as well, not just regular level classes. If No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top were working, wouldn’t we see the opposite results?

Robinson makes this claim:

In some areas, 60% of kids drop out of school. There are others who are in school but are disengaged from learning.

Obviously, my numbers are lower, but any percentage of dropouts, let alone disengaged students, is unacceptable.

Robinson bases his talk on the three principles on which human life flourishes, all of which are being contradicted or actively destroyed under the current culture of education:

3 Principles on which human life flourishes:

   1st, human beings are naturally different and diverse.

   2nd, curiosity drives human life.

   3rd, human life is inherently creative.

As ridiculous as Robinson’s claim that the current culture of education is destroying these principles may seem to laypeople, I know this claim is true because I teach, and always have taught, life lessons in my classes through stories and classroom discussions. Every year I get more and more students who are starved for this type of teaching. Their ears perk up when I encourage them to be individuals; some cry when I tell them it’s okay to be different. Students stare at me in shock when I tell them I’m proud of them for asking questions because it shows that they are thinking and learning; sadly, for some, their natural curiosity has almost been destroyed. I also have students who need a lot of prompting and encouragement to find that which has been stifled for far too long: their natural creativity. I encourage doodling and out of the box thinking to solve problems, which some cannot do. Most students just want me to tell them what to do and what to think.

Robinson explains the deterioration of the first principle this way:

1st, human beings are naturally different and diverse. Education under No Child Left Behind is based on conformity, not diversity. Schools are encouraged to find out what children can do across a very narrow spectrum of achievement. One of the effects of NCLB is to narrow the focus onto the standards of things. Science and math are necessary, but they are not sufficient. A real education has to give equal weight to the arts, humanities, and physical education.

Kids prosper best with a broad curriculum that celebrates their various talents, not just a small range of them. The arts aren’t important just because they improve math scores; they are important because they speak to parts of children’s being that are otherwise untouched.

Thankfully, I work at and my son goes to school in a district that has all of these things, but it’s not enough. When I went to school we had Home Economics and Life Skills courses that taught us how to cook and bake, sew, take care of children, and perform everyday tasks that made our lives a little easier. What’s ironic about this is that I had close family members who also taught me these things because the nature of family was so different 30 years ago. Today, children don’t have these classes and many don’t have that type of family around to teach them those skills.

If school districts have the arts, humanities, and physical education courses, some schools take away these “electives” if students perform poorly on any portion of the standardized tests. Parents should not allow schools to do that to their children. I know my son would never go to school if they took him out of art or music so he could get extra help in math and reading. I know he needs these important skills, but he is just developing slower than other students his age for various reasons. He cannot be punished for that fact by having the things that bring him joy eliminated from his education.

For the schools that don’t have these electives because of budget cuts or poor standardized test scores, I can’t imagine what a grim, lifeless place that must be for students.

The solution is not to take these courses away from public education, but to allow students more choices and options in life. If they are allowed to choose their own paths, they will be engaged with their education. Isn’t that the goal? We want our children to discover their talents and passions so they can become productive members of society.

Next post: 2nd principle, curiosity drives human life.

Can We Escape the Matrix?

The MatrixMany people are talking about what’s right and wrong with education; Luba Vangelova’s Steve Hargadon: Escaping the Education Matrix is a thought provoking position.

Hargadon’s idea that we are in an “education matrix” of which many of us aren’t aware clarified my confusion over why people aren’t rebelling against this new wave of mandates. Why are intelligent people allowing the government to use our tax dollars inappropriately?

Part of the problem is, unless a person is an educator, most American citizens believe the propaganda coming from media and big businesses that teachers are to blame for the state of education; therefore, most Americans support the current testing trend that is purported to weed out the bad teachers. However, the only thing this trend is doing is pushing out the great teachers and destroying our children’s individuality.

The government is taking money allocated for education and giving it to wealthy textbook companies to create these tests. The result: Our tax dollars aren’t edifying our children; instead, our money is used to label our children as advanced, proficient, partially proficient, or unsatisfactory. Why are parents allowing this to happen to their children? As an educator, I have no idea how these labels help my students, and I have yet to see how these tests improve education. Instead, these tests are taking money out of the classrooms.

Hargadon addresses this testing movement in education:

“If we really want children to grow up to become self-reliant and reach their full potential, ‘we would be doing something very different in schools. We live in a state of cognitive dissonance.’ ”

Testing does not create self-reliant children. Testing does not help children reach their full potential. All state testing does is label our children and make them feel inadequate. As a parent whose child is struggling in school, I don’t need a test to tell me that. I know he is a struggling reader because of my interactions with him. I know he is a struggling reader because the diagnostic tests he takes at school confirm it; diagnostic tests identify weaknesses with immediate feedback.  State tests are not diagnostic. They claim to be, but all they are is an expensive waste of time. State tests are usually administered in the spring, and the results don’t come back until the fall. How does that help my child right now? How does that help his current teacher find out what interventions he needs today?

We need to decide, as a nation, what we want for our children and for the future of our country.

Not all schools are bad, just as not all teachers are bad, but we are all paying the price for a top-down mandate, where non-educators are deciding what they want the majority of children to know.

“What are most kids getting out of 12 years of school?” he asks. “The honest answer is they’re learning how to follow, and that was the original intent. Public schools were based on the belief that what was needed was a small group of elites who would make the decisions for the country, and many more who would simply follow their directions” —hence a system that produces “tremendous intellectual and commercial dependency.”

The students who are free-thinkers are the exception not the rule, and they became free-thinking individuals because they had educators who taught them to think for themselves, educators who largely ignored the federal and state mandates. They also had parents who encouraged them to think for themselves. Unfortunately, the majority of our youth don’t have these type of people in their lives.

I try to reach every child in my classroom, but by the time they get to me in high school, it’s too late for some of them. They have been beat down by a system that tells them that they are not good enough, that they need to conform:

And the notion that the smartest students rise to the top, regardless of family and social circumstances, “sends a message to the majority of students that they are losers,” Hargadon notes, which doesn’t square with a professed belief in the inherent value and capacity of every child.

Our children are suffering because of these irrelevant labels; they begin hearing as early as eight-years-old that they are not part of that “small group of elites” who will be successful adults. Is it any wonder that more and more students are cutting themselves, attempting or committing suicide, bullying or victims of bullying, committing or victims of school shootings? Sadly, this self-harm and directed anger is starting earlier and earlier. Yes. Each case is different, but what do they all have in common? A school system that is failing to meet their individual needs:

The system’s fundamental design also leads to a host of unintended consequences, including bullying. “We’re placing kids in an artificial environment,” he says, “telling most of them they’re not good at things, and then expecting them not to explode at each other? Of course they will. . . . it’s more a reflection of how kids are being treated than a reflection of kids. It’s shocking that we put up with it.”

I find it shocking as well, and here is where Vangelova and Hargadon really opened my eyes:

The reason so many adults find the situation tolerable, he says, may stem from the fact that they experience little control over their own lives. Additionally, they themselves are products of the system and, as such, find it difficult to envision an alternative. “People are almost in this Matrix-like existence,” Hargadon says. “They don’t question schooling. How do you tell a story that opens the door to rethinking what people have believed for decades?”

Hargadon’s article helped me understand that the most important thing I have to do is to educate those American citizens in my circle of influence about their choices and what they have control over:

“The people who benefit from us not being active citizens, from all buying the same things, and being willing to take jobs that demand we leave our personal values at the door—they all benefit from the current schooling system, because it produces a populace that does not feel confident in being critical,” he notes. “At an institutional or personal level, those who benefit don’t have much incentive to promote changes in education that would lead people to question their motives or challenge their practices.”

Hargadon’s point about “not [feeling] confident in being critical” is a little misleading.

Contrary to what he says, we do have a lot of people who are extremely confident in their criticism, but their criticism is based on uneducated opinions, especially about education. The overly critical people are the ones who have never been teachers, who don’t understand children, and who think their opinions are correct because of their limited experiences as students. The majority of our citizens don’t do the research before they spew out their thoughts. It’s shocking how many tax payers believe that their money is best spent on tests and making publishing companies richer, rather than putting money into the classrooms or helping the impoverished areas provide health and nutrition for poor children or into the teaching profession to attract better qualified teachers.

On the other hand, we do have a lot of people who know they have little experience with the right and wrong of education and don’t think they can do the research to find out what is really at stake here. They are not confident enough to support a movement to protest the direction of education. These people are victims of this very institution: They have been taught not to question authority. They have been taught to allow those who are “more intelligent” to do the thinking for them. They have been taught to accept and not to rebel. Vangelova explains:

[Hargadon] sees a need for more people to “stand up and say: ‘This is not the right thing for children—it’s not a healthy childhood.’” But families must also reclaim ownership of learning, rather than viewing it as the responsibility of schools and government, and also resist the tendency to make decisions for others. “In some ways, traditional schools have co-opted a lot of traditional parental responsibilities,” he says. “That’s really unhealthy, and it becomes self-fulfilling. And when society says it knows better than the family, it’s a recipe for disaster. Some family circumstances are not ideal, but it’s a slippery slope. It’s about trusting and respecting the capacity of individuals to make choices.”

Parents have more say and control than they think. Not only do they need to take back some of their parental duties that they have too willingly given to the school systems, but they have to stand up for what they want their children to learn, what they want their money to fund.

“As individuals, families and communities, we need to reclaim the conversation around learning, and to do so in such a way as to recognize the inherent worth and value of every student, with the ultimate goal of helping them become self-directed and agents of their own learning.”

“Living in a democracy means involving people in decision making,” Hargadon says. “You can’t just create a new system to implement top down; you have to provide the opportunity to talk about it and build it constructively.”

Whether you have children in school or not, remember, you are an American citizen, and what our educational system produces is your responsibility and will be your reality, one way or another.

Why are children crying about school?

If you have a child who enjoys school, count your blessings.

I don’t. I have a child who cries almost every night. He cries while we are working on his homework; it is too hard and too much for him. He cries before bedtime; he doesn’t want to go to school because he feels unable to meet the demands of his daily schedule. He begs me to home-school him, so he can learn at his own pace.

As a teacher my son’s hatred of school breaks my heart. Just to be clear, it is the idea of school he hates. What does that mean to him? Let’s see: He loves his teachers. He loves his friends. What he hates is learning the school’s way: “I feel stupid everyday” he tells me.

For a year now I have been seriously considering homeschooling Ian; because of the current educational situation, homeschooling might be my only option. However, this limits my options as a teacher. I will have to give up the profession I love in order to teach my son. Ian is definitely worth it.

But I won’t give up on public education without a fight.

I’m getting ahead of myself; I’ll write more on that in a later post.

For now, I want to share a Washington Post article from a New York State principal Carol Burris. What she states at the end of her post is true: “New York, sadly, has been a canary in the Common Core coal mine, and if we do not heed the danger a generation of students will be lost.” New York is experiencing the educational reforms before the rest of us; so what they are experiencing now, the rest of us will or already are experiencing.

Take the time to look at the links provided, especially the 1st grade test she shares. Also, for those of you who are unaware of exactly where your tax money is going, pay attention to information about the company who makes the tests as well as the practice tests. There is a lot of money to be made in education, and Pearson, as well as other companies like them, has hit the jackpot.

Washington Post Article

What we allow is what will continue. I will not allow this to continue for my son any longer. How about you?

Ben Franklin

New York Principals’ Letter of Concern

One year ago today, over 1500 New York State principals signed a letter that outlined their concerns over the new legislation for the evaluations of teachers and principals. Their three main concerns:

  1. Educational research and researchers strongly caution against teacher evaluation approaches like New York State’s APPR Legislation.
  2. Students will be adversely affected by New York State’s APPR.
  3. Tax dollars are being redirected from schools to testing companies, trainers, and outside vendors.

Read their letter here.

This logical and data-driven plea by professional educators has gone ignored by state and federal policy makers. This letter could have been written by every educator in every state, and I wish it would have been. No matter what state we live in, this type of legislation is affecting us all. As a mother and an educator, I am concerned for the welfare of our children and the profession I love.

With the 2014 state tests on the horizon, please consider taking a stand for your children and the direction of education.

I know I plan on making my voice heard, come hell or high water.

What we allow