Thursday, June 23, 2005

No Child Left Behind . . .

. . . even if we have to drag him, fake her statistics or jam their futures down everyone’s throat.  Which confirms the universal truth that figures don’t lie, but liars figure.


Ostensibly, everyone is in the education game for the benefit of children.  But increasingly the players polarize, shrinking back to protect their turf, be they boards of education, state and federal education committees, layers upon layers of administrative staff, teachers’ unions, vendors of everything from school busses to backpacks and school meals and, finally . . . exhaustedly . . . bitterly and in extremes of frustration and despair . . . the parents of schoolchildren.


George Will says in his column---Anyone who thinks parents hunger for greater academic rigor should try to get parents to pay the price -- more dollars for more school days and, even less tolerated, decreased vacation time for little Tommy and Sue and their parents -- of increasing America's approximately 180-day school year, which is 40 to 60 days shorter than in much of the rest of the industrial world. George is right.


David Broder takes his own view on the same editorial page---But parents are much more likely than teachers to believe that expectations and standards are set too low and that students are not sufficiently challenged. An earlier survey by Achieve Inc., a private business group, reported that only 24 percent of recent high school graduates said they faced challenging standards. David is right as well


Those who are not right are the fiddlers with the process who believe that education can be reformed and improved from the top down.  Advocates of top-down management have us in our present condition; paralyzed by administrators, fractured by mandated bussing, strangled by boards, commissions and committees . . . in short, at an angry impasse.


Individually, each prejudiced piece of the pie feels attacked and every point of view either out-shouts its opponent or sets its jaw and dares progress to happen.  The industrial metaphor for what’s happened in education is our long-gone heavy industries, toppled by intransigence and the inability to innovate.  Sadly, we are off-shoring our educational responsibilities as well and the evidence is the increase in private school education, the last best place to equip a bright mind for college. 


And they are, in huge and unarguable numbers, all bright minds.  The drop-outs and underachievers (how I hate that word) are bright as stars in the night, but we can’t see them through the low-lying clouds of administration.  We don’t need to administrate, we need to innovate.  We require invention instead of intervention.  We need small victories in the place of massive defeats


Classroom by classroom, teacher by teacher, student by student, family by family we need to bring ourselves into contact and make agreements.  Contact is what has been missing in the mandates from higher up.  Agreements begin with students rather than committees and generate the force of achievement only with the blessing and approval and active participation of the families involved.  Small victories.  Little improvements that can be improved-upon further and perhaps (but only perhaps) provide models for further inclusion into broader curricula.


Children are bursting with the need-to-know and by system and analysis, by argument and compromise, by law and decree, from above . . . always above, we have stamped out and turned off and manipulated that need-to-know until it turns defiantly into a need to get out. Our student-children have been stamped, spindled and mutilated.


Pray God we humble ourselves sufficiently to see the shine in our neighbor's children’s eyes.


There are lots more things that make me nuts, all of them on my personal web site.