Schools and Class Wars

That’s what it’s coming down to… class wars in our schools.

With the budget cuts at the federal, state, and local levels, politicians are creating class wars in education. Our ‘illustrious’ Secretary of Education states that we in public education will have to learn to do more with less funding. This is tagged as “The New Normal.” But what happens when budget cuts are so severe and un-funded mandates regarding test scores, AYP, etc. continue to pile on?

This is what happens:

The wealthy pull their kids out of public schools, if they haven’t done so already, and pay to have them educated in a school of their choosing. Those parents find the schools that provide the programs they want for their children. These schools are not necessarily subject to federal mandates, usually have significantly less standardized testing, and often have much of the school day devoted to enrichment studies beyond math and language arts.

Children living in poverty do not have those options. They continue to attend schools with less funding. These are the schools which are forced to cut libraries, teacher librarians, music, art, drama, theater, physical education, recess… all those teachers, classes and programs that research says are best for kids to grow, develop, and learn.

For those kids in more affluent families, even if they have no private choices for school, parents still find and pay for programs outside the school day- club sports, private music instruction, etc. – to fill the void that is missing in the public schools. Kids in less affluent families are left to their own devices.

If, as Horace Mann stated:

Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of man, – the balance-wheel of the social machinery.

… it seems as if our politicians are out to upset that “balance-wheel. ” Without a strong public education available for ALL students, we cannot have democracy, or even our representative democracy. We will have separate classes of education and an ever-growing divide between the have’s and the have-not’s.

I would argue, Mr. Duncan, that this is NOT the new normal. This is a disgrace to the children of the country you purport to serve.

What I Want for Reform

reformAs I sit and ponder what to write about education reform for National Blogging for Real Education Reform, I think back to the numerous posts I’ve written the last few years… and I don’t want to rehash the same things over and over again.  Here’s what I do want:

  • I want parents, children, and actual educators to have voices in Washington that are heard, appreciated, and heeded. If the politicians were really listening to us, we wouldn’t need this concerted effort to blog for “real” reform.
  • I want schools where children can be free to learn, explore, discover, and be happy and safe.
  • I want adults to understand that children have the ability to make choices about their education, and that they don’t require adults to make ALL the decisions ALL the time.
  • I want children to be allowed to develop their strengths and interests beyond reading and writing. Science, Math, Social Studies, Music, Art, Physical Education, Family and Consumer Sciences, Civic Studies… these are all essential for children.
  • I want people to know that, even though I have over 430 students, I can tell you at any given moment who is meeting objectives in my classroom, who is excelling in my classroom, and who is struggling. I can also tell you how much each child has progressed in the last two years, which is how long I’ve been in this particular school. And guess what? They’ve never taken one standardized test in my classroom. They show me what they know and are able to do by DOING.
  • I want adults who make policies and laws to remember that every child is different. If my job is to ensure that they learn through those differences, perhaps the measures by which we ‘assess’ should also be different.
  • I want to be trusted as a professional to do my best every day. The amount of money you pay me will make no difference in how diligently I work. Please do not insult me or my colleagues by assuming that I will work harder for more pay. The kids deserve better than that, and so do educators.

Want to know more about how I feel about education? I’ve written a lot. Start with these:

A Lesson On Accountability – Part I

A Lesson On Accountability- Part II

I Am A Teacher

This is a LEARNING Class

The Art of the Opus

It’s My Pleasure

[Hit the archives links in the sidebar for more.]

There you have it… my wishes for education. I’m passionate about working with children, and I’m passionate about a free public education. Without it, there is no real chance at a democratic society. But without leaders who listen, there is no democratic society at all.

Ed Leaders: Do the right thing. Open your eyes, your ears, your minds, and your hearts. Find compassion. Somewhere, in the middle of all that, the answers are staring right at you.

It’s My Pleasure

My parents brought me up to say “please” and “thank you” all the time. I insist on this with my own children as well as with my students. I also prefer to say “You’re welcome,” instead of “No problem.” But I really I love the French response, “avec plaisir,” which means “with pleasure.”

Have you ever been to Chick-Fil-A? When you thank any of their employees, they say, “It’s my pleasure.” Apparently at Chick-Fil-A University (or whatever they name their training program), all employees are instructed to respond in that manner. The first time I ever went to Chick-Fil-A, it was almost a shock to hear, because most people in customer service roles usually mumble “no problem,” if anything at all.

In a previous post, I Am A Teacher, I wrote about how happy teaching makes me, and how no other career opportunity has filled me with such satisfaction. This morning, while on front door duty, I held the door for all my students as they walked through. While saying good morning as they entered, one student thanked me for holding the door. I responded with, “It’s my pleasure.”

And then I thought… my whole job is “my pleasure!” I love teaching kids. I love watching their faces light up when they are excited about learning. Some days are just phenomenal. Some days are downright exhausting. But I wouldn’t teach if I didn’t love it… and because I love it, I want to be the best teacher I can be.

  • I don’t teach for summers off. My summers are filled with workshops, classes, and conferences… more learning to be a better teacher.
  • I don’t teach to show off how much I know. It’s not a power trip. I’m not the sage on the stage in my classroom. Every day, my kids teach me something new. We are learning together!
  • I teach because I love to learn and love to help others learn!

As we listen to the pundits rail on and on about bad teachers and burnt-out teachers, I think it’s important that we stand up and make a case for all the amazing teachers out there. My kids have had some truly incredible teachers. I have had inspirational teachers… those that have forced me to crawl out of my comfort level and really stretch myself… and I still have those teachers in the workshops and classes I continue to take.

So, are you listening Oprah? Bill Gates? Michelle Rhee? I believe there are more of us who are dedicated to our students than not. I believe there are circumstances in children’s lives that can’t be solved by threatening teachers to raise test scores. I believe that test scores show a microscopic view of what a child knows and is able to do ON THAT DAY AND THAT SPECIFIC TIME.

Want to improve education in the United States? Stop the incessant testing of our children. Who would want to go to school to be tested and tested? Empower teachers to help students learn and be creative… and think critically… and solve problems.

If you agree with anything in this post… and even if you don’t… please add a comment about a great teacher who is teaching right now. We need to fight the bad press with some good press.

Thanks for reading. To those parents who trust me with their children: thank you for your brilliant, creative, funny, and wonderful kids! It’s my pleasure to be their teacher.

Edit: P.S. My next post will list all the names from the comments, as well as your accolades!