Tin Shop Tartan - Randolph County Alabama's Own Snarky and Surly Scot Gets All Native

Blogging from the suburbs of the Tin Shop community, Captain Plaid brings Progressivism, and a share of Quixotic angst, to the ridges and hollows of Randolph County, Alabama. Hardly a booster yet rooted here enough to fight, Plaidsters can perhaps find like cause in trying to build local solutions to global concerns. Education, environment, economy, entertainment, engagement ... Trust the Tartan!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Good teachers, not bureaucrats, are celebrated!

"Good teachers have lifelong influence" appears in this week's Leader. I knew several of the names that were mentioned. Would that it were that the profession was actually seen as a "noble calling" as Pat Weathers does! I'll submit that this view of educators is becoming rather rare. And that's a damn shame! The fella to the left, Alfie Kohn, could surely help remedy this trend.

I've been reading his "What Does It Mean To Be Well-Educated" and I'm reminded of how much joy there would be working in education if his ideas on schools were implemented. Kids and parents would be sharing that joy as well. Our society would begin shifting toward a love of learning and the ability to ponder and questions and seek and ... Isn't that what being "well educated" is about?

NCLB and conservative education "reforms" of the last twenty plus years have certainly done more harm than good but I'll also suggest they've taken away much of the joy in teaching. Good teachers, and I'll include principals and administrators in that category, are due even more praise for remaining in the field increasingly dominated by bureaucratic business-based ideas of learning that simply aren't applicable to "learning".

The thing is that if you intend to get ahead in the field now you've essentially got to buy into the "accountability" model. Standards with learning mostly measured by high stakes testing is the foundation. So much of what occurs in our classrooms locally is dictated by our politicians and bureaucrats in DC and Montgomery to a lesser extent. Changes will occur at the ballot box only when Americans start understanding the failures in current policies. The other major influence in our schools are the corporations and consultants making huge profits off the "solutions".

I left education for several reasons yet remain motivated to remedy the many failures in our education policy as I care about our world. Sharing Alfie Kohn is a good way to begin. Peace ... or War!

UPDATE - August 14, 2006 - Here's the text of a "Letter to the Editor" that I forwarded to my Randolph Leader. I felt compelled to take the opportunity to say something that I think needed saying. Given that my old computer plus my old noggin and fingers seem to be less than 100% I'll pray for no goofs or that The Leader will catch and remedy before publishing.

Pat Weathers’ "Good teachers have lifelong influence" from The Leader’s August 9th edition was a gem. “The chance to make a positive influence on a young child at a crucial time in their lives is such a blessed opportunity and if used wisely can have an influence that lasts throughout that small person's life.” was wonderfully written. Amen! As an advocate of “Progressivism”, I’d like to add my two cents to the “if used wisely” angle.

An educator presently in voluntary exile, I've been reading Alfie Kohn’s "What Does It Mean To Be Well-Educated" plus several other critics. Ted Sizer and Deborah Meier for instance write on “intellectual habits”. Questioning, seeking, analyzing, imagining, caring, communicating, curiosity, marshalling evidence, critically thinking, considering perpectives, connecting, supposing, and other traits that “lifelong learners” often possess are not easily “measured”. In fact, measureable outcomes may be the least significant result of education. Extrinsic motivations (rewards/punishments) may actually limit the intrinsic ideal. The value of some homework and rigid grading, even “authentic assessment”, is rather uncertain. Michael Apple, Albert Bandura, Paulo Freire, Jonathan Kozol, Peter McLaren, Susan Ohanian, and of course John Dewey provide solid alternatives to conservative ideas of what makes a good school.

Bu$hCo’s “Texas Miracle”, now known to have been partially fraudulent, yielded NCLB, more accurately labeled as “No Data-Obsessed Bureaucrat Left Behind”. This federal mandate was forced on schools in 2001. Some Democrats, attracted to funding and help for the disadvantaged that has often not been delivered, supported NCLB. Some critics claim this “accountability” movement began with a “manufactured crisis” in 1983 when the Reagan White House released their “Nation at Risk” report. The Bu$h the Elder and Clinton administrations, plus other pandering politicians, often accepted or parroted ideas of “raising the bar” and “measuring outcomes” and other “reforms”.

Good teachers, and I'll include administrators here, earn our praise for remaining in a profession increasingly hindered by top-down bureaucratic, business-based ideas that often aren't applicable to "learning". The "accountability" model has been placed on top of a hundred year old “industrial” model. Foundationally flawed “high stakes” testing dominates yet do these “one size fits all” instruments really measure what is important? Focusing on arbitrary goals like “Adequate Yearly Progress” is doing more harm than good. Examining recalled “facts” and demonstrable “skills” can be useful yet few measurement experts deny that developmental and individual factors are the primary indicators of “success” on most standardized tests.

Our local schools are increasingly controlled from DC and Montgomery. A second influence would be those corporations and consultants making money off "solutions” such as “canned curriculums” that are often “an inch deep and a mile wide”. Conservative “think tanks” and “policy shops” that serve up “research” to bolster the claims of the above two groups are a third major influence. Local educators have much less power than many lay people might believe. Our parents, students, media, educators, and the community as a whole should question and challenge the conservative takeover of our schools.