Friday, May 20, 2011

What Would I Do?

A reader wrote me recently and asked what would I do if I had my druthers in today's education system.  I have given this assignment over the years to many of my graduate courses--the day dream assignment.  I think most professors of education have done that in the past at one time or another.  And I think it is a good assignment--John Dewey wrote a whole book on the subject.  What fascinates me is that Professor Dewey's thoughts apply today just as well as when he wrote the book many years ago.  I would dearly like to talk to John about "change" that he so much espoused in the curriculum that would be proper in today's educational world.  

But let me first answer my young writer.  We need to educate ALL the children of our society, not just the rich but those that are struggling as well.  Perhaps we need to work harder on those children that have a difficult environment.  At the moment I am reading on my Kindle (which I still like) a sailing/cruising/introspective book, entitled "The Motion of the Ocean," by Janna Cawrse Esarey.  A very funny book and very well written.  But there is an aside in the book by Janna that she started teaching for "Teach for America" in New Orleans and would go to work each morning full of expectations to save the world and go home that evening entirely lost.  She admits you can't teach the child without attacking the environment in which the children live.  Janna goes on to become a high school English teacher and if her style of writing is any indication of her teaching skills, I wish I had been in her class.  So with Janna's cautions before my eyes, I still think we have to in some way teach ALL the children of society, not just the rich.

And I remember what an assistant superintendent of the Seattle Schools once told me as we toured one the elementary schools in her charge.....A disadvantage child is one who learns something at home that is not reinforced at school and learns at school something that is not reinforced at home.  The school and the home have to be in sync in what they want the child to learn.

So let me generalize some thoughts here.  I would like to see education in the United States upgrade their public school buildings.  I have been in so many public schools that need serious remodeling, upgrading, or even removal.  We need classrooms with adequate heat and light and sound control.  I was in one classroom where the teacher had bought several rugs (at a flea market) where she used them for sound control.  I WANT Smart boards, while boards, computers or iPad devices, storage areas, television for viewing and tons and tons of learning devices and materials.  You get the picture--I want good designed classrooms suitable for learning for students of appropriate ages.  I know I've written this before but Winston Churchill once said, "We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us."  I want to shape students for life-long learning.  AND I WANT THOSE SCHOOLS AND CLASSROOMS TO BE ATTRACTIVE.  The top rated school district in this state and the only one to be selected for the top high schools in America has also the best looking schools.  Come on now, all you architects, help me out here!

Once we have the buildings we need TEACHERS, certified College of Education graduates who know their subject matter.  Which means I want people who have an English degree to teach English, those with history degrees to teach history, and so on.  I don't want to take Political Science majors  (who haven't had education classes) and have them teach biology.  My kids deserve better then that.  And I want NEW teachers, OLD teachers, EXPERIENCED teachers, MALE and FEMALE teachers and RETIRED teachers.  I don't want people being brought in off the street to teach my kids.  I want trained professionals.  This blog has always been in defense of the professional teacher.  They are the salt of the earth as far as I am concerned.  That is who I want in my classrooms.  And then get out of their way and let them teach.

The third item that good schools need is an up-to-date curriculum.  What do we want our children to learn?  Getting new school buildings and getting trained teachers is easy--this is the tough one to obtain.  What do we want the kids to learn?  Part of the problem is that we (i.e., society) loves tradition so that what was good in my day should be good for my kids....right?  And we (the people) love our special subjects, like patriotism, reading of the classics, honesty (honestly can we teach that?), frugality, history of American Wars.  "Kids ought to be able to shape pen quill feathers."  Believe it or not that was written by a parent when the Boston schools introduced metal (OMG) quills.  We love tradition.

So what should our kids learn?  How to Read. Check.  How to Speak correctly. Check. How to write a sentence.  Check.   How to do their numbers.  Chec......well hold on now.  How much math should they be able to do?  Algebra?  Geometry?  Quantum Physics?  How about Health?  Check.  wait, wait now, no Sex Education.  That should be taught at home.  Right?  Geography, yeah, we need that since so many countries have changed their names and borders in recent times.  Science?  Of course we need all the sciences except in certain parts of the country where it get in way of religion.  In other parts of the country, we need biology, chemistry, astronomy, botany,  Social Science....another hold on now.  You mean psychology?  You want kids to learn about themselves?  Well, I have some reservations here.  And you want Sociology too?  Oh my.  Isn't that how we behave in small or large groups?  Okay, we need some social sciences.  I almost forgot History, the study of American Wars.  

Then we need to teach keyboarding (penmanship?), web searching (Google in most states but Bing in Washington State), Powerpoint development, spelling (even with spell checkers?) and television production (you got to be kidding).
Don't forget computer programming. they say. 

No, I haven't forgotten Physical Education, Music or the Arts.  Each of these subjects could be a blog of their own.  In fact, I've left out many subjects that adults want their children to learn.  Indeed, some business round tables have contributed to the discussion about what to teach so they could have cheap labor that they wouldn't have to train.  

There are so many subjects that could be useful in a curriculum that I would not want to be on a curriculum committee for a school district.  Plato said it well, "What knowledge is of most worth?"  Well, maybe it wasn't Plato.  Maybe Churchill.  I think in todays world one of the major problems facing society is what to teach our children.  If I were president of this counry, I would set up a commission to explore what subjects would be helpful to our kids.  That commission would be made up of teachers and parents, no administrators.  I suspect it would take a number of years to come to some conclusions.  And as soon as it was completed it probably be out of date.  Thanks, John Dewey, for your comments on change.  You were right all along.

Do I have more on what I think our schools should resemble?  Yes, but I have to go thank some teachers at the moment.   I'll get back to you on this.

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