The two party system has its flaws, not the least of which is the tendency to polarize. During this time, during any time, if we are going to stand as a nation, North and South, right and left, self and other, we must recognize the need for the opposing point of view. We need to respect the fact that there is a source for the differences, and insist on a reasonable exchange. We cannot win over the “other side” if we threaten them. Name calling- nope. Reason. Tell me why you think that, and let me tell you why I think the way I do. Keep the calm in the storm. Value each other. There are no expendables. Democracy is the ends and the means, and includes all voices. Each of us must insist on all of us.
In my undergraduate work from 1984 to 1988 at NMSU, I had the privilege of working for the PBS station there, KRWG, doing some video work and editing. I was neither here nor there about politics. I had worked with Jim Laukes, who had done a series of oral interviews, largely focusing on the relationship of the National Labs and NMSU.
In editing some of the “teasers” for the episodes, there was one with Major General Hugh Milton that I remember. There is a statue of General Milton outside of the Journalism building which also carried his name, when I went to school there. This was the Reagan era, and I predicted that General Milton would be all about military might. This was the Cold War, and I was young.
He said, “In a 100 years there has never been such change. Do we understand it? The answer is ‘no’.” In the course of the interview, General Milton put his arm out on the table. In talking about the Cold War build-up he continued…”Our country is hiding its greatest virtue under a bushel. The might of The United States is not in strength of its weapons, but in the promise of freedom”.
It was a moment when my prejudices were exposed, and proven wrong, and I was humbled when I realized it. I think of that now. The great virtue of the promise of freedom.
After all the millions spent on testing, as a state we are educationally and economically worse off than when we began to replace instruction with measurement. The best correlation to a test score remains socioeconomic status, a test score has no correlation to student success, and yet we perseverate knowing that there are significant variables that cannot be captured on a test. The premise of the reform was that having just three good teachers during the course of schooling is a boost to student outcomes, so we went to work evaluating teachers instead of improving their training. If we apply resources at the beginning of the pipeline, rather than the end, we can change things. Rather than pursue this until we are utterly spent, let’s go with what we know works.
- We know that the better educated teachers are, the better the outcomes for students, which is true even before a student begins school. If we improve requirements for teacher education, we improve student outcomes. (1,2)
- We know that if those teachers are paid well enough, they are more likely to stay, and we know that teacher experience increases student performance and attendance. (1, 2)
- We know that professional control of a classroom matters, that micromanagement by policy makers or site administrator is destructive to professional creativity and performance. (Citation pending)
We can end the soft bigotry and hypocrisy of moving resources further and further away from our diverse students while we expect them to test better. We can stop pouring millions out of our state on a course we have shown year after year to be a dead end.
It’s been a couple of years now, since my dad died, and I learned things from him, good and bad, as is done by all people everywhere in all relations- but he would say, in either case, its a “learning experience”, which would turn even the bad into something useful. That’s exactly the kind of platitude that would drive me crazy, but now resonates with me as a mantra in my role as a teacher, parent, spouse, and yet the offspring of someone in this place.
Mom was talking last night with one of my colleagues who just recently completed her PhD, about how she helped dad by typing his many hundreds of pages dissertation. It’s a story like many that I’ve heard many times, which becomes more valuable with each telling, stories like a favorite tune that plays on the last radio station that will play it, that I know I am inexorably getting farther and farther away from.
Today I remembered when one of my father’s professors from Northwestern visited us at my folks’ place. He was into his 90’s, and had been the sole reason my father got his PhD in geology, dad had told me that it was this man’s passion for the subject that gave him his passion for his choice. It was amazing to me that this guy came to visit, so many years later.
I think of this in my own teaching, that beyond the curricula there is the passing of the desire to learn. The modern age of “learning to pass the test” forgets this, in fact betrays this. I think of this quote from Einstein: “It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To the contrary, I believe it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness, if it were possible, with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously, even when not hungry.”.
The passion for living isn’t found in the filling of roles, but in the adventure of life, and the excitement of learning. Learning is not the passing of information, the connections that come together create something new, in each person who makes those discoveries. For me, teaching is about this: the free thinking of people who live in a free society. The passing of that flame is the joy of life, that each person holds infinite possibilities of limitless direction, their own direction, not the learning of skills to fill a spot that was left empty by the cog that wore out before them.
I would like to be as my dad was for me, for my own daughters and students, to encourage their questions as adventures to explore. Life has not been done. It is this, it is happening, and I hope to feel its pulse and pass that connection. A new year’s toast, then, to the dead, and then to drink from life in their honor.
What can we do? New Mexico is now circling the drain in education, according to this August 2nd Albuquerque Journal article titled “New survey ranks NM’s education system almost last in the nation”. Let’s first learn from what we have done, which education is all about. Six years ago, New Mexico education was ranked around 35th by some measures, which people will contest, but certainly not near 50th by any measures. There certainly is room for improvement as 35th, but what happened that we are now almost dead last? We collapsed our elected state education board to a single “education secretary” position, designated by the governor. This was to bring us swiftly into compliance with the federal law, remnants of the “No Child Left Behind” which evolved into “Race to the Top”, with packaged deals from publishers and test companies. Hannah Skandera, our Education Secretary, is the chairperson for the PARCC organization, whose test is the statewide tool.
The implementation of these reforms were rushed and feedback about their effects on the classroom was assumed to be whining from stationed individuals that needed turning. The reforms were put in knowing that there would be “collateral damage”- casualties in with the old guard in teaching, etc., that would be well worth the trade if we could just hold to the long view.
Six years later, with end-to-end years of hundreds of teaching vacancies, budget cuts, and sinking morale, Skandera reports that it is the educator’s attitude that is the actual problem, and it will take decades more to fix, according to the Journal article dated January 13, 2016, titled “Skandera blames NM education troubles on low expectations”.
More than pointing fingers, and saying to wait “decades”, we should go ahead with a plan to improve things NOW. Let’s stop spending millions of dollars on out-of-state student tests and textbooks, and teacher evaluation companies whose products clearly have not improved anything in our state. Many of those things are available RIGHT NOW for free online. Ask me how, I know how to do this. So do many of us. This is not military protocol, for us to “do as we are told”. It’s what the military fight for: our democracy. Hear our voice, and we can teach.
Monte Vista Elementary
Educators, help build: OpenSourceEd.org.
When you become a teacher, you know you aren’t going to end up in Forbes, and that’s okay. The trade you make is the gratification that at the end of the day you’ve done an honest day’s work, you’ve helped others, and are a part of the promise of a free society; the continued implicit promise by the state which sponsors you, that we are still working toward the starry-eyed ideals which you signed on to: that we still believe in liberty and justice for all, that no matter what situation you were born into, our society agrees to level the playing field for awhile, to allow any child access to know what others know, and a chance that with that knowledge a person may elevate their own status and condition. Public Education is the place where we yet try to suspend marketplace forces, and truly, for a time, attempt a foundation of liberty and justice for all, the cradle of our civilization, the hope of free people.
When you unleash the hounds of marketplace forces, you unleash again the forces of inequity, and people are held responsible for the circumstance into which they were born. Social strata are reinforced in this, and a caste-system is created with no holding out of hope for the ideals which we started out with. Teachers who once took up that yoke because they believed in what they were doing, like soldiers who find out their cause is not just, lose the benefit of the strength of belief in their cause, become mercenaries instead, and may work to contract, or if it is just another job solely for the purpose of making money, without ideals, then teachers may choose a job that makes more money.
There is a teacher shortage in America.
Instead of working toward improving the education and training of teachers, paying teachers more money, or improving infrastructure, the country is opting for simple minded solutions such as Teach For America, and other band-aids, which actually reduce the training and qualifications of teachers, as well as reducing the numbers of those who want to become teachers. See these articles about Georgia, Utah,Wisconsin, New Mexico, California, and really, the whole country. I was at a meeting last night where it was reported that some districts in Illinois are traveling to Europe to recruit teachers. They are now paying third parties to guarantee some of their own graduates go into teaching for a minimum of five years, rather than simply raise the salary of teachers directly.
Last week, while working on our OpenSourceEd.org development camp, a teacher told me that the definition of public schools in New York is that you now apply for a public school, the “good schools” get first dibs, and students who don’t make the cut, go to the schools which get “the leftovers”. We are no longer working toward our ideals, the great melting pot, the opportunity to rise. In these incarnations we are reinforcing socioeconomic disparity.
Sound the alarm. Lines have been crossed, public schools are shutting down. When charter schools, and private schools, coexist with properly funded, professionally staffed neighborhood schools, then all is well, but service is now denied to children because money and advocacy have been siphoned into exclusionary settings. With this we make a lesser promise to future generations. Remember your pledge, remember the ideals of liberty and justice for all. With all of the problems and drudgery that Public Education has, it still is hope to fulfill that pledge. Public Education is still worth fighting for.
Do you have lessons, tests, resources, and ideas that you would like to give away, and make sure they don’t get sold back to you? Do you think that knowledge is power and the distribution of it is democracy? Would you like to get professional development while developing your profession?
Come to the OpenSourceEd.Org development camp, Monday June 13 through Thursday the 16th from 9 am to 1 pm at Monte Vista Elementary’s Library! Come for all! Come for part! Drop off your ideas if you can’t stay! Come and change the profession if you can! Snacks will be provided! Bring a laptop if you can! It’s free! Exclamation mark!