Stop the No-Win Blame Game

Excerpt from The Crucial Voice: Chapter 5 What Is the Problem? Why Children Get Left Behind

WHAT WE HAVE IS A SYSTEMIC FAILURE

The system has failed to thoroughly educate the public about educational issues. Our inaction on this long-ago identified problem has led us to accept the unacceptable. As Yong Zhao observed in his book Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization, “The American public, short of other easy-to-understand measures, seems to have accepted the notion that test scores are an accurate measure of the quality of their schools” (2009, 33). It is not right.

The takeover of our education policy and practices at the exclusion of “us” in the process has not been a result of the “business-model”; it has been a result of a greed-driven, self-serving society. It has brought more education wars: competition in opposition to cooperation, choice against commonality, rigor versus flexibility. Stop. The collateral damage has been too great.

The system has failed to show understanding of the learning environment that 89dd4de0e80a965b6d93a07100f7af0dneeds to be created in classrooms and in communities to provide what children need to be educated to their fullest potential. We have unknowingly created another “gap”—the wisdom gap. It is reminiscent of the story of the old man picking up starfish on the beach and throwing them back. A young boy thinking it foolish tells the old man, “it doesn’t matter; they’ll wash up again tomorrow.” The old man flings one far into the sea and says, “It mattered to this one.” That story didn’t just demonstrate that we can save one at a time; it also expressed the vision of the elder passing on wisdom to our youth.

Wisdom comes from knowledge, experience, and understanding. It comes with time. And as John Taylor Gatto expressed in Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, “without children and old people mixing in daily life, a community has no future and no past, only a continuous present” (2005, 21). Gatto originally wrote that book in 1992 and used the term “pseudo-community.” In far too many places today, our “present” is no different from our past. Our nation is at risk.

But remember, not all schools are a problem. Schools that fail to properly educate children have a common underlying issue, as expressed by Ratner, “the absence of the key human resources” necessary to be effective (2007, 22). And if “academic proficiency” is our educational goal, current policies incorrectly assume “that schools and districts already know what to do to accomplish this goal and have the capacity to do so. . . . And it incorrectly assumes that if districts cannot turn failing schools around, the state departments of education have the capacity to assist them to do so, or, if necessary, to do it themselves” (49).

Capacity means possessing the knowledge, skills, abilities, motivation, and desire to accomplish a goal. In the case of school improvement, it means being able to take the handbook off the shelf and make things happen. First, we have to stop blaming each other. And then as Philip K. will tell you, “We must put aside our differences.”

We’ve all heard teachers who complained about how “the families of their students simply did not value education” (Noguera, 2003, 47). Yet it turns out that this statement, as Noguera points out in his story, was made by people who in reality didn’t know this to be true. It was and continues to be an assumption. If lawmakers and educators are out there “blaming uncaring parents, lazy students, or a society that does not provide adequately for the needs of poor children” (49), they need to stop playing the no-win blame game so we can get on with meeting our shared responsibility to serve the educational and developmental needs of all children.

When we have underperforming schools anywhere in our country, we have a systemic problem. If you believe there is no way to “reform” the public school system, then it is understandable that you would want to throw in the towel and privatize the whole business. But there is another choice.

We now understand better than ever what needs to happen and where that change needs to occur first—in the boundary waters where teachers, parents, and kids are found floating around searching for solutions to grab onto. ©2012 The Crucial Voice of the People, Past and Present (Note: Boundary Dynamics explains my use of “boundary waters.”)

Will society throw them a strong lifeline?

Will society throw out a strong lifeline?

Gatto, John Taylor. Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, Iceland Gabriola: New Society Publishers, 2005.

Noguera, Pedro A. City Schools and the American Dream: Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education. New York: Columbia University, Teachers College Press, 2003.

Ratner, Gershon (Gary) M. Why the No Child Left Behind Act Needs to be Restructured to Accomplish Its Goals and How to Do It. University of the District of Columbia Law Review, David A. Clark School of Law, Vol.9, Number 1, Winter 2007.

Zhao, Yong. Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization. ASCD, Alexandria, Virginia, 2009.

“AVERAGE”

For a little change of pace, and to re-focus on where our efforts in education reform should be, here is a student-authored, anonymous poem.

I don’t cause teachers trouble,
My grades have been OK.
I listen in my classes,
And I’m in school every day.

My teachers say I’m average,
My parents think so too.
I wish I didn’t know that,
Cause there’s lots I’d like to do.

I’d like to build a rocket,
I’ve a book that tells you how,
And start a stamp collection,
Well, no use in trying now.

Cause since I found I’m average,
I’m just smart enough to see,
It means there’s nothing special,
That I should expect of me.

Nobody ever sees me,
Because I’m in between,
Those two standard deviations,
On each side of the mean.

I’m part of the majority,
That “hump” part of the bell,
Who spends his life unnoticed,
In an “average” kind of hell.

It Is This Simple

We know there are problems. We know there are solutions. And we know that one size does not fit all. We know “Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man.” JFK

So improving education is simple (not easy) when you follow John F. Kennedy’s guidelines:

  • Do an appraisal of the entire range of educational problems (which we have);
  • Apply a selective (not “competitive”) application of Federal aid – aimed at strengthening, the independence of existing school systems AND aimed at meeting our most urgent identified education problems and objectives;
  • Use existing laws more effectively.

We know there are pockets of educationally-deprived children. We know we can do better – all of US.

Parents – President Reagan’s Commission on Excellence in Education spoke to you.

B-P4TBDIEAAVPWv.jpg_largeStudents – “Because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our Nation,” President Kennedy wanted you to be educated to the limits of your potential and understood that it would require smaller class sizes and adequate facilities.

Teachers – JFK felt “our immediate concern should be to afford [you] every possible opportunity to improve [your] professional skills and [your] command of the subjects [you] teach.” He believedteachers would profit from a full year of full-time study in their subject-matter fields.” And he proposed the government fund that effort targeted at the fields of study identified through “the appraisal.”

Communities – You want results but you won’t get them by sitting back and telling others what to do. What will you do? Do you understand your role?

LeadersLead in the right direction, the way defined by the people, or get out of the way!

We must set the right goals and “Let us keep our eye steadily on the whole system.” Thomas Jefferson

It is that simple — for starters. It isn’t the easiest road to travel, but, it is simple to get started because it a road that has been traveled before.

"We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal."

“We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.”

 

 

In a Word – Expectations

Standards are “things” we decide and use in comparative evaluations. Having expectations is not the same as setting standards.

And to make the right decisions about education reform, we must consider the words of reform for the wizards of the written word would have the public once again believing their propaganda. To be clear, it is standards-based education reforms that we have been witness to and victims of for the last two decades.

The use of the word “standards” is being periodically replaced in documents and in talking points by the word “expectations.”

An expectation is a belief that something will happen. It is not a thing. It is a human emotion, an idea with the potential to convey confidence in another person’s ability to succeed.

“High expectations” cannot simply be set down on paper for others to read and follow; they need to be felt. When students feel someone believes in their abilities and capacity to learn, they grow and “reach higher.” High expectations “work” because the student feels supported in their efforts.

Reaching for goals, together.

Reaching for goals, together.

So as the last two decades of “reform” of public schools has dragged on, little real change has been accomplished compared to the 70’s and 80’s — gaps in learning persist and schools in many areas have re-segregated themselves to the point where we must revisit the issue of separate but unequal.

And as we do, we should take more than a little time to consider the ideas of Rhona S. Weinstein in Reaching Higher: The Power of Expectations in Schooling. As she explains, “Change has not been dramatic because we have yet to address the deeply institutionalized roots of expectancy processes in schooling and we have failed to equip teachers and principals with the knowledge, resources, and support to teach all children in ways that help them reach their full potentials.…Suffice it to say that until unbiased instruction is provided to children — resulting in equal exposure to challenging material, equal opportunity to respond and demonstrate knowledge, equally nurturing relationships, and the absence of discriminatory labels and barriers to accomplishment —one cannot fully rule out environmental explanations for the achievement gaps that are documented.

We should use the power of expectations in our classrooms and communities.

This isn’t saying that all children need a set curriculum for “…the danger of a common curriculum and common method is that the individual differences of children (in learning style, pace of learning, and interests) are likely disregarded, ultimately leading to greater rates of school failure.”

This is about developing a school culture — an atmosphere —where the principal, counselors, and teachers have a deep-seated belief that every student is capable of being educated to the limits of his or her talents. And that belief is expressed through words and actions that set the expectations for the student. If they feel they can, they can.