Monday, October 18, 2010

Parents Must Lead

I've been thinking a lot lately about how we're going to get from here to there.

Everyone knows, I think, that schooling in America isn't working the way it should. It's gotten so bad that even our politicians know it. The Republican Bush administration took a crack at reform with "No Child Left Behind." The Democratic Obama administration's reform ideas are called "Race To The Top." For the life of me, I can't tell the difference between the two: high stakes testing, then punishing schools and teachers if the kids don't meet some arbitrary standard.

There are a lot of business people who are attempting to bring their special expertise to the problem. Their hearts may be in the right place, but their bottom line is that education ought to be about vocational training, which is a kind of education, I guess. But honestly, as a parent, is that really all you want your child to get out of 12-16 years of schooling? A job? And is that all we want for our democracy? Well-trained worker bees?

Yet it's our politicians, lead by these business people, who are taking the initiative in the drive to what they are calling "education reform." Last I heard Obama was calling for longer school days and shorter summer vacations. Sheesh.

The enemy it seems are teachers. We're just a bunch of union goons and lazy louts hoping to avoid accountability while collecting our fat government paychecks. Why else would we be objecting? Why else would teachers, almost without exception, be standing in opposition to reform? It couldn't be that teachers, those of us in the classrooms every day, are appalled by the ignorance and arrogance of the reformers whose proposals fly in the face of everything we know, everything data and research prove, about education. No, we are lazy union goons, looking out for number one. My friend Roman, a retired technology guy, actually said to me the other day in the heat of debate, "What do teachers know about education?"

What teachers know that our politicians and business leaders don't understand is that reform isn't enough. Nothing short of an education revolution is needed. Here's Ken Robinson for those of you who haven't seen his second TED talk:

As Sir Ken points out, our current school system is based upon the ideas people had about the future during the Industrial Revolution, when it seemed likely that most people would spend their lives working in factories. They therefore set about creating schools that emphasized conformity, rote learning, following instructions, and long hours of sitting in one place doing the same thing over and over. Things like individuality and creativity would only be burdens in a future that belonged to sufficiently numb minds. This is essentially the same model of schooling we use today, while Newsweek bemoans our "Creativty Crisis" and business executives identify "creativity" as the number one "leadership competency" of the future.

Everyone from teachers, to business leaders, to politicians, to the media agree that we are failing to teach creativity, that creativity is essential, that our very survival is at stake. And yet we're trying to solve it within the context of a factory model of education, one that will ultimately fail no matter how much we "reform" it, especially if that reform is in the direction of yet more more testing, more standardization, more time spent in classrooms listening to lectures. And I will repeat this until I'm blue in the face, those advocating for this kind of "reform" cannot produce a single scrap of data, research or evidence that their ideas will result in more creative citizens. There has never been a study done that proves their assertions. Never. Never. Never. Yet they push forward. I don't know why, but I suspect it has a lot to do with the attitude Roman expressed when he said, "I had to do it, we all had to do it. It was good enough for me, why not for our kids?"

By the same token, there is a mountain of evidence that progressive schools operating on the principles of community, an integrated curriculum, experiential learning (what we in preschool called play-based learning), problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration and cooperation, and democracy produce highly creative, highly motivated, and well socialized citizens.

Like I said, I've been thinking a lot lately about how to get from here to there.

Change is not going to come from our politicians. There is no margin in it for them. We're asking for nothing less than a revolution and there has never been a revolution in history lead by politicians.

Change is not going to come from our business leaders. Their main concern is vocational training. We're asking for nothing less than a revolution and if business wants anything in order to maximize profits it's stability and predictability.

Change is not going to come from our teachers. While most of us see the flaws in our educational system, we have been made the scapegoats. People, even our friends, will say to our faces, "What do teachers know about education?"

But we are teachers and if we are going to bring about an educational revolution, we are going to have to start teaching.

The revolution, if it is to come, must come from parents. Every parent wants what is best for her child, passionately, yet most of the time when I'm speaking with non-Woodland Park parents about education, they know something is wrong, but they tend to throw up their hands, laying blame most often on individual "bad teachers." They might complain, but most of them feel like there isn't anything they can do about it.

They feel this way because they don't know what we know. It's time progressive educators started teaching, one parent at a time. We need to show them in our classrooms, at our parent-teacher conferences, and on our blogs. They should need no other evidence of the "goodness" of progressive education than their own child. We need to arm them with the words, the paradigms and arguments they'll need as they move forward in the world without us. Parents must lead, but we must educate.

That is the only way that meaningful change will come.

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Cindy said...

Absolutely! That's why we've started our own learning center. Not as cool as your preschool, but at least we've started with NO investment. And there are other learning centers popping up around the area. We don't want to make our children fit into the current school system, so we're allowing parents to pick and choose the educational opportunities their children will take. Officially, we are homeschoolers, but we're also creating something new.

Abbie said...

Couldn't agree with you more! You would think that all those politicians and business leaders were not or had never been parents. I am doing the best that I can to give my girls the right start but will be counting on the school sytem to teach them how to learn. But you better believe that this momma will not stand idly by, I will be involved with the teachers and schools that my daughters attend. I will be the change that I need for my girls!
BTW, had a set of tree blocks and tree part construction set built for my daughters! They love it and we blogged about it, linking back to you of course.
Thanks for always inspiring me to strive for better!

Eternal Lizdom said...

I agree and disagree at the same time. I'm not any kind of expert on the subject so this is just a casual observation, I suppose. For many years, the education system has been a hot topic. We've blamed administrators, the system, the government- from local to federal, the parents, the kids themselves. I think it's natural to be at a point where we now blame teachers.

I don't think the problem has any one solution because it isn't just one problem. In some cases, the school and how it's run is the problem. In some, it's the parents and their lack of involvement. In some, it's the local government cutting funding. In some, it's teachers who truly aren't passionate about learning.

I think we won't find a solution until we figure out that we have to all work together as a cross-functional team. You can't stitch up one side of a deep gash or set half of a broken bone and expect it to heal. It has to be a full, across the board, everyone on the same page kind of project. And I don't know how to make that happen.

There are involved parents with kids who have had great school experiences who then hit a year with a bad teacher and things start to slide downhill. There are kids who have uninvolved parents and no family support who struggle for years in school until they get that great teacher who notices them and helps them. Until we can get the parents, teachers, admins, and government on the same page, we're kinda screwed.

Saya said...

I agree! When parents start speaking up, that's when schools/governments start moving. They can suppress teachers because they are employer, not that I'm saying it's right, but it is what it is, right? But parents start speaking up more and more, that give us educators power to push for progressive education... then admin, government will eventually get on the same page as a result, I believe.

We must inform, We must educate, one parent at the time... knowledge is the key, after all!

jenny said...

I've been thinking a lot about this too Tom. At a progressive education conference earlier this year we posed a question to a politician (who sent his kids to progressive schools and homeschooled them) how we can best get politicians to here our voice, given we are such a small part of the education community. His answer was to encourage and support the parents to speak up, because they are the ones that will be listened too.

Our parents have currently taken matters into their own hands and have formed a working party to get a progressive high school up and running by 2012, so that when our kids get to the end of their primary schooling they don't have to enter the mainstream if they choose not to. There is one teacher on the committee, but the rest are passionate and dedicated parents who believe in a better education for their children. Go parents!

Jessica Dalgart said...

You said it!

kiri8 said...

I'd be interested to know your opinion on what kind of education (and education in creativity) we should offer children who are living in poverty, without parents who know how to give them the experiences most college-educated parents give their children.

This is where I struggle -- I used to be very creative, hands-on, and child-centered, and my students (95% poverty, all African American or Hmong) went from my kindergarten to first grade almost totally unprepared for the curriculum. Now I try not to make assumptions about what preschoolers SHOULD know, (or most preschoolers do know), and I teach them everything, down to the very smallest, most basic steps. I try also, while teaching them what they need to know for kindergarten success, to be creative and allow for free exploration and play.

But it's hard.

Anonymous said...

I beleive that parents are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way!!

(Sorry Whitney Houston moment =)

I really agree that as a EC teacher it is key responsibility to be educating the parents as well on how their child is learning and how what they are doing is a benefit to them.

Really enjoyed this post!

P.S. I saw an article recently on preschool readiness "Is your child ready for preschool?" It really upset me to think that these arbitrary standards are stretching all the way down to Pre-preschool. It's bad enough we have to talk about kindergarten readiness!

Kimberly N said...

I do agree with you, but I don't know what to do about it. I know I won't send my son to the local public school: they're one of those "failing" schools, and as far as I can tell, their answer is to focus like crazy on getting better at taking standardized tests. Obviously that's not what I want, but how do I find a school that's not like that? What kinds of questions do I ask? How do I tell if they're creative or following the trendy progressive flavor of the month?

Anonymous said...

But how do we speak up? And to whom? And what is the best way to make my concerns about my public schooled kids' educations known without using nebulous phrases like "something's wrong here"? I know in my gut that my kids could be doing more, enjoying their schooling more, getting more out of it, but without any sort of data to back that up, I'm not taken seriously.


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