Thursday, September 21, 2006

Getting Back to Teaching in the Primary and Secondary Schools

I suspect in the language of Education Secretaries, it means we need more bean-counters to count the beans before they opt out, cutting short their twelve-year sentence to crappy schools. Counting, grading, segregating and assorting are all things that make sense on an assembly-line just before the boxes are shipped.



Williambennett

Bill Bennett and Rod Paige just co-authored an editorial in the Washington Post that they titled

“Why We Need a National School Test.”

Bennett was Education Secretary under Reagan and Paige sat in the same chair for George Bush.
Rodpaige
They each have great faith in numbers. Numbers, as in how can we ‘find better and more efficient ways to produce an educated population and close the achievement gaps in our education system.’

Those are their exact words. Efficient ways to produce, instead of creative ways to encourage what is already there—the desire to know. Young Americans spend a minimum of twelve years on Bennett’s and Paige’s production lines. An agonizing percentage break out of that imprisonment before graduating.

While making the comparison to production lines, it’s interesting to note that 57% of those who claim to be involved in education are administrators. Thus, most of the people dis-connected to our children at school are managers, superintendents, commissioners of one sort or another, overseers, bureaucrats, supervisors, officials, executives and directors, but not teachers.

Why is that, Bill? What does it mean, Rod?

I suspect in the language of Education Secretaries, it means we need more bean-counters to count the beans before they opt out, cutting short their twelve-year sentence to crappy schools. Counting, grading, segregating and assorting are all things that make sense on an assembly-line just before the boxes are shipped.

Agreeably, for the educational system we have contrived in this country, the industrial lingo works within the hiring hierarchy as well. The lowest form of industrial worker is out there on the assembly- line. Industry calls them line-workers, we call them teachers. Same low pay, same shitty working conditions. Few benefits and almost no social stature.

It wasn’t always that way. Teachers used to be well paid and respected, both by students and parents. But then we began, in the towns and states and nationally, to throw money at the schools because we thought money would make them better. That’s the American way when we have no real interest and no obvious solution.

And it did make some better. But not many, because school districts, administrators, bureaucracies and boards huffed themselves up and ran off with the money, like third-world dictators. They got bloated and self-important, called meetings and conventions, required assistants and advisors and god-knows-what to deal with god-knows-who  and so administering became a force-field of its own in the educational lexicon.

The Chicago Board of Education and administrative offices out on West Pershing Road looks like the Pentagon and is just about as efficient. If you need a toilet fixed in a Chicago school, the request goes in one end of OZ and may or may not ever come out again. Different subject, but part of the problem.

Classroomkids Anyway, we have devised this industrial model where teachers are line-workers. As in other industries, those who do the cheap and dirty work hope to better themselves. Bettering oneself in education doesn’t mean acquiring an advanced degree, it means getting out of the classroom and into administration.

Better pay. No kids.

Unfortunately, we’re not spitting Ford Escorts off the end of this educational assembly-line, we’re trying to educate children. Bennett’s and Paige’s solution is to tighten the tolerances, when what is needed is to tear down the industrial model. Young people are not widgets.

There is no creature on this earth that so wants to learn as greedily as a human baby. The educational system as devised and practiced, does its worst to bore, clamp down upon, shut off, intimidate, homogenize, ignore, criticize and humiliate the raw material that comes into kindergarten, wide-eyed and willing. I know it’s not like that in Lake Forest and Santa Barbara, but it is in Chicago, Houston, Kansas City and countless gray, pitiless suburban schools across the country.

America’s schools have increasingly failed as we have increasingly separated them from neighborhoods and parents. Bussing had an enormously negative effect in this regard. State and federal boards are the absolute worst enemy of good education. So, for the most part, are academics. Schools work as families work, in a caring environment. They work best as clans and tribes work, looking out for and requiring the best for children on a local, neighborhood model. The most successful model this country ever had was the one-room school.

BandclassWe can’t go back to that, but there are lessons to be learned from smallness, responsibility and caring. None of those thrive on an industrial model.

As we struggle to find the money for (mostly long gone) music, art and theatre in our schools (those uselessly creative pursuits), we might uncover it by purging administrators and getting back to the ordinary and wonderfully creative work of keeping eager minds eager.

It’s called teaching.
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