Friday, January 9, 2015

This is What Education Reform Looks Like

I. Choice

The other day a 9-year old boy reminded why we do not need to provide children with a steady diet of writing prompts we create/pass out in lieu of teaching them how to generate potential topics of interest. The boy generated this point on his life map:

from a boy's life map.
The child selected to write about his remembrance of learning that his mom had breast cancer.  This is a text he is struggling to write. As I worked with him that first day he got teary-eyed, went for a drink of water and returned.  I told him that his work was brave writing and that he should know that he could quit it at will.

If it hurts too much to write this, you can step back from it as you need.
He sighed.

My comment to the child was challenged because 'allowing' a student to not complete the topic does not engender grit. Implied in the statement, I suspect, is a belief grit is somehow more important than kindness, agency, and wisdom.

Let me say here, I'm not sure I even know what grit means as it is so overly (mis)used.  I do understand, even appreciate, the necessity (at times) of persevering and goal setting. I've read Duckworth, know there's a Ted Talk, and well before either of these, I too had read Aristotle. So the idea of grit isn't lost on me. Nonetheless, children ought to maintain the right to choose which costs they bear while persevering and which costs may just be too dear. Is this not an essential life skill? Is this not the bedrock of a democracy?

Before I began this work a colleague at the school told me that an 'expert' from central office was skeptical of the co-teaching work I would be doing. Apparently, writing about the fear you lived with at 7 when you learn your mom might die isn't part of the Common Core.  I kid you not.

I'm told the expert said that there's no need to teach anything other than what is in the CCSS (as she understands it). Teach them to write responses to literature like the people in Vermont do (the only approved model of writing it seems). In her schema there's no need for notebooks, seed ideas, choice, topic creation, art making, technology use (not for testing), or unsanctioned genres. There's no need for expression.  Give the children a prompt a day and a formula they can memorize in order to answer "correctly'.

Correct.
Be correct.

Folks, this is what education reform really looks like, especially in places where the children are economically poor, and the schools toil under central office and/or state control. 

Fortunately for this class, their teacher, assistant principal and principal are brave. Kids need brave adults given the education reform foisted upon them and their communities.


Reservoir in January (M.A. Reilly, 2015)


II. Absence

Choice.

Agency.

The absence of choice for children, teachers, and some administrators, in lieu of others knowing best, may well be what plagues U.S. pubic education the most.




III. Only an Expert

Many of the teachers I work with are routinely subjected to 'unannounced' central office 'expert' visits.  These are often 'education experts' who have never actually taught with the constraints of the curriculum products that school districts procure and insist be used--often as written with no alterations. It doesn't matter if the products make sense or not.  It doesn't matter who the students are, or who the teacher is.

Schools are part of an epic world where the present has no influence for there is faith in products, not in learners or teachers. Physical reality is shunned, not valued.  For the work at hand is not to teach children, but rather to enact 'correctly' the products exactly as they have been rendered by other people who are neither present, nor have they ever even visited. This is what our tax dollars are purchasing.

If these situations weren't so serious one might see a similar absurdity to those old Monty Python skits that began with the high-pitched voice of Cardinal Ximénez (Michael Palin) yelling, "Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition."  But, alas, humor is not the outcome sought by such educational inquisitions. Rather, the goal to these visits is mostly about enacting correctness.  Cardinal Ximénez has nothing on the new ed experts.

IV. This is the New Teaching

Teaching is not a transaction made among people who learn as they create meaning.  Education reform insists upon a preferred and correct way to teach. For example, no lesson seems to be able to be conducted without stated learning targets that all students must repeat.  I can do this... I can do that...  Don't worry if children cannot actually decode the texts used each day from the program. Just "chunk it" and magically they will comprehend. The level of error is so high.

Education reform in the United states is a closed set of materials that are issued to schools for use every day.
There is no room for interpretation.
There is no room for thinking.
There is no room for positive deviance.

This is a colony.
And we are footing the bill.

I wish this was hyperbole, but I have seen this played out repeatedly and we are the worse for it.




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