Monday, April 18, 2011

Music Monday: Pink Floyd - We Don't Need No Education

Pink Floyd - We Don't Need No Education

The other day, my neighbor and friend, A and I walked the long way to school, to soak up some Vit D and enjoy one of the first very nice spring days. We are both writers and I mentioned my blog and noted I had been writing about a craft project. She mentioned I had been more crafty and less ranty and philosophical, I told her to check back, I was back to ranty of late.

Today is no different.

I will first say I have a t-shirt from the Wall Concert at the Wall, or what was left of it, in Berlin, the summer of 1990. It was an amazing time to be in Europe and Berlin. There was some deep meaning, the concert happening, in a city once divided. The perils of bureaucracy.

Lately I am feeling very vexed about the state of our schools. The No Child Left Behind Act seems like a good idea on its face. I am here to say that it isn't or at least in how it is being enacted.

This Act and the States push to make sure they qualify for all the federal dollars has turn our public schools into a factory. Everyone is focused on these various achievement tests. L is now in a test taking boot camp type class on Mondays. All to boost the schools numbers and the distract standings. None of this is being done to benefit L. Sure, they will force her into a a mold, they will make her a great test taker. All of which would be great if that were her goal in life as an adult, to be a great test taker. It isn't, so how is this process in her best interests. It isn't. If anything it is lately causing her to doubt her abilities and is turning her off from learning.

News flash she is 8 years old.

What we need to be doing is encouraging our children to wonder. To question. To learn how to find the answers to questions, which interest them. They need tools. They do not need to be crammed full of "test knowledge."

When I reach out to her school - I get predictably the party line. "We have to teach the State Standards."

If I hear about the State Standards one more time, I might go postal.

Here is the deal. I was a straight A student. I graduated college cum laude, while working two, sometimes three part time jobs. I did reasonably well on the ACT/SAT or whatever bullshit we had to take to apply to college. I had an A- overall GPA during MBA school.

Currently I am an underemployed writer and a full-time mom.

Wanna know something else... no one and I mean no one ever asked me what my GPA was after I got into college. Not one employer. Not a one. No one wanted to know about my test taking skills. Now that said, I think I passed the GSE - General Securities licensing exam, in part because I had decent test taking skills and I took a study prep course.

What my employers and clients have wanted to know, is can I get the job the done. Can I deliver results. Can I think on my feet. Do I have fire in my belly. (Seriously, I was asked that in a job interview once.)

I am going to say something that will make me unpopular - with most of my friends - on both sides of the aisle. European and Asian children do better in school for some of the following reasons -

1. Teachers are better educated and better paid in many cases. Even the elementary ones. Being a teacher is tough. In Germany, becoming a high school teacher is almost as difficult as it is to become a medical doctor. They have a highly concentrated degree in the subject they teach AND a degree in pedagogy.

2. Children are grouped by ability. This does not mean kids who struggle are labeled. It means kids are grouped by learning style and talent. Some kids have an innate talent in math or science or art. I do not see the harm in allowing kids to focus. By high school, middle school even, I think you need to continue the basics, but allow kids to focus some of their learning on the areas they excel at. Let's face it, unless you want to be scientist, Advanced math or basic Calculus is probably enough. Also college is set up differently.

3. Basics are drilled. There is alot of homework for the kids in Europe and Asia. There is also, more regular time off and there is no time wasted on school based sports. If kids play a sport, it is through a local club. At the German Gymnasium I went to, there was no football team or debate club for that matter. We went to school. We got out at lunch time and sometimes went back. My host sister had tons of homework. Tons. Languages are taught sooner (yes I said languages) and the expectations are high, the classroom is also high on content.

4. Cut admin. I am sorry, there is no need for these Central Offices and over paid administrators. It is sinful that in many cases the administrators make three times what a teacher makes. Sinful and a waste of my money, which should be impacting the kids directly. At my high school there was something like 4 principals. Even today, I am hard pressed to say what any of them did of any value.

5. Teachers should be tested not just the students. Teachers should be required to pass tests in their subject area annually. They should also be paid and promoted based on merit and not seniority. There is a kindergarten teacher at L's school who is not fit to be in the classroom. Everyone knows it. Ask anyone in our area and you are likely to be told a horror story. She keeps her job because she cannot be fired. That is wrong. Most of us in the state are at will employees. Within a certain set of limitations teachers should be no different. A year to year contract for continuity, a peer review board, a chance at additional training. Notice I am not saying they are being paid too much, they aren't. They should be paid more but based on merit. Nothing puts fire in the belly like really being held accountable. I also think they should be paid more, because they do alot of prep on their own time. I certainly don't want to do work and not be paid. As a tax payer, I also do not want to pay for someone who is punching the clock. There has to be a balance.

Just as in this video, I feel that we are grinding our kids into ground beef and for what? These achievement tests are not a measure of what they know. I think a Montessori approach would bring us better results. Let the kids work on units until they get it and it sticks. For some kids in some subjects that might take a week, others a day. Have a content test. Pass the content test, move on. I am also in favor of a National minimum curriculum. Same books, same content tests and same set of basic standards in every school in every State. The fact that L is learning something completely different than her friends in the town over is silly. States rights be damned. One set of clearly defined per grade standards. Schools can supplement, once the National standards have been met.

The reason we don't do this is it would be challenging to implement. Get over it. Clearly what we are doing isn't working. It is not achieving the goals intended. Children who do not test well are getting taught how to take tests and again, if we had a bevy of jobs in this country which required superior test takers that would be great. We don't. We need people who can think and solve problems, who think outside the bubble and who know that sometimes the best solutions are not contained in answers A, B or C but sometimes the answers are somewhere in between.

We Don't Need No(ne) of this kind of education....

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