Saturday, February 6, 2010

Schools That Work

As the re-haul of the tragically misguided No Child Left Behind fiasco begins -- or begins, at least, in theory -- I increasingly hear the words "Our educational system IS NOT WORKING" being bandied about by politicians and theorists across the country. This has given me pause for thought. Since first being tossed into the public school educational ring at the vulnerable age of five-years-old, I have been pondering this question in one form or another. What am I doing here? Why am I doing this? What does this all mean? I still don't know the answer, but it seems like if we are going to make bold statements like "It's not working" we had better have a pretty good idea what "working" means exactly.

Does "working" mean that all students, regardless of economic level, are doing well on multiple choice exams? Does "working" mean every single high school graduate is qualified to get into a university, regardless of whether or not they can afford it? Does "working" mean every graduating 12th grader can perform algebraic equations? Can read and understand Shakespeare? Can fill in a map of the world -- countries and capitals -- with no errors? What would our public K-12 school system look like exactly, if it was "working"?

I can already predict the academic papers, the grant funded studies, and the government mandated trainings and re-trainings -- all of which will claim to have found the answer to our educational woes. National Standards will be created, standardized tests will be re-evaluated and enforced, teachers will be put through increasingly rigorous, yet meaningless hoops in order to meet state requirements, without seeing any increase in salary -- and yet none of these things will create any fundamental change.

I can also predict that none of these re-trainings, and new standards -- which will doubtlessly come with new standards aligned text books, and new formulaic, yet supposedly "creative", curriculum -- will make our K-12 education any better. In order to create positive learning environments schools need an abundance of creative, inspiring programs -- culinary arts, music, sports, book-filled libraries, jewelry making, wood shop, photography, technology studies, environmental studies, field trips. Whenever possible, core curriculum -- math, science, English, foreign language, history, government -- should be integrated into abundant enrichment programs.

Class sizes must be small -- no class should be more than 20 students. In order to learn, students need to feel safe when they are at school,which means, again, smaller class size, smaller schools, more teachers, healthy food, gardens, plenty of supplies, well kept grounds, more counselors, and a wide variety of student support. In short, all of the things that are eliminated first due to lack of funding, are the most critical components to creating life-long learners who are passionate about educating themselves.

But maybe this isn't what we are really looking for. Maybe a K-12 school system that helps to create healthy, well-informed, well-rounded, intelligent citizens is not what "working" means. I have a sinking feeling that it is not.

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