Monday, August 26, 2013

Back in session . . .

We are once again at the beginning of a standard school year.  Today is the first day students return at our local school district.  This new school year brings to our school district a new superintendent; taking over, fresh from scandal, the fifth largest school district in Texas. Fortunately for him there is nowhere to go but up—so I hope.

Some changes I would like to see is unity among teachers and administrators.  For too long it has seemingly been an us v.s. them attitude among teachers and administrators.  However, I don’t believe either is at fault.  I feel that Principals have too much pressure from above to enforce ‘teaching to the test’, and other shady policies even if it means no longer exercising practical wisdom.

Teachers, it seems, want to teach and inspire children but are hindered by politics.  Administrators seemingly push teachers to ‘teach to the test’.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe there is value in repetition and by the numbers, but exclusively drilling students through algorithmic exercises preparing them to only excel at taking standardized multiple choice state exams fails to teach them critical thinking skills. Furthermore, they fail to engage their imagination and creativity.

The pressure our administrators are put through to achieve a certain score on standardized test, or receive compensation based on attendance is diverting them from what is truly important--Our children's education!  I am of course not suggesting that it is ok to not meet basic academic standards or that skipping school is ok.  On the contrary, I believe in the importance of a well rounded education and the expectation that children should attain a minimum level of mastery before they move on, as well as the importance of being in school where they may be guided by their teachers towards mastery.  Our school's leaders are being led, through pressure to crank out results via statistical data that has strayed from what it originally meant to represent, to put too much emphasis on ‘teaching to the test’.  Other predetermined statistical goals have lead to practical wisdom going out the window, e.g., when a child is absent due to serious illness, under pressure to perform at some level on whatever category attendance falls on, administrators encourage parents to home-school their children—even when they are honor roll students.

These are only some of the issues I am counting on our superintendent to tackle.

Though I now slightly digress, let me tell you, I too have experienced the wrath of a principal under pressure to crank out what I believe are now meaningless scores and statistics.  On one occasion a principal tried to throw my son out of his school after a brief hospitalization for an appendectomy—that didn't turn out so bad, but on a separate occasion things became so tense with my daughter’s principal that I was moved to write the letter you see below to the entire school board, E.P.I.S.D. administrators and members of the local media! She just wanted my daughter out of her school although she had straight A’s, because she is a severe asthmatic.  Even though she didn't know me, she even once told me,  “If you listen to me and do exactly what I tell you to do, and how I tell you to do it, your daughter could be the first person in your family to graduate from high school!”  Is my lack of education written on my face?  Do I give away the fact I have a low IQ by the clothes I wear?  Anyhow, if you are curious as to what I wrote in response read the letter below; otherwise just skip it.

To the district’s credit, I received a phone call from the campus director, although on personal leave because of a death in her immediate family, at 7:00 a.m. the next morning with an apology and all the other formalities.  By 10:00 a.m. the assistant superintendent in charge of special education was knocking on my door.  On top of that, my daughter’s principal and I went on to have a wonderful professional relationship and still do to this day.  I found out what a wonderful lady she really is and that deep down she really cares for the children in her school.

Once again, it is only the beginning of the school year and teachers and administrators seem optimistic about the new year and the new superintendent.  What I gather from teachers and administrators I’ve spoken to is he cares about the children—we’ll see.  Most importantly I hope he creates an environment in which teachers and administrators are once  again on the same side. And after that tackles the challenge of educating our children by encouraging critical thinking, imagination, and creativity by letting teachers teach, the administrators once again worry about the children and exercise their  practical wisdom, and finally realizing that mastery of the ideas will lead to mastery of the test not the other way around.

“The most erroneous assumption is to the effect that the aim of public education is to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence, and so make them fit to discharge the duties of citizenship in an enlightened and independent manner. Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else.”
H.L. Mencken, 1924

No comments:

Post a Comment