Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday Paper Sparks Thoughts on Education

The more I read the more fired up I become.  Sitting at the kitchen table I read the Richmond Times Dispatch Sunday Edition, and I can feel my blood pressure rising.  An hour or so later, after great discussion with my Sunday Morning study group”[1] I sit down to write this wondering why my state of Virginia, and my country for that matter, is going backwards in civil rights and common sense thinking.  How will I turn this question into meaningful knowledge and then into power with a positive purpose.  What is my purpose?  That’s a question that’s often hard to answer.  My purpose in reading, watching and discussing the local, national and international news is to educate myself on what is happing in the world around me.  If I educate myself then I can educate others.  This leads to inquiry into how what is happening now is going to effect my way of life, the lives of my children, students, community and the future of our global existence.  The old saying of “what you don’t know won’t hurt you” is a huge piece of dung flung by a child who has yet to be introduced to consequences of someone else’s actions or to expectations not met. 
            So, back to what is my purpose?  My purpose is to understand what I can change or do something about and what I can’t.  What do I, as a lone individual, have the power to change?  Nothing.  Except myself.  I can only change how I act, interact and react to any given individual or circumstance.  However, as my Father always told me,  “Evil prospers when good men do nothing, and if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.” [2]  With that in mind, when one voice becomes two, then grows to 10, 20, 100, 500, 1,000, 10,000, 100, 000, then that single voice of change becomes too powerful a force to ignore.  How do those voices become informed, knowledgeable, responsible and effective leaders of change?  That answer is simple.  Education!  The more you know, the more power tools you have in your toolbox for building a more just world. 
“Knowledge is Power” has been the slogan for educational institutions for generations, but what qualifies as knowledge?  Knowledge is not simply a memorized system of facts and figures.  Knowledge is an understanding of the implications and functionalities of those facts and figures.  It is the recognition and appreciation of cause and effect relationships throughout history and in contemporary times. 
Here’s a question for you.  Is it more important to know the exact date and time of the Bombing of Pearl Harbor or to know the reasons, why, how and under what pretext it happened and how that affected, and continues to affect, our families, country and global community?  I vote for the latter of the two.  Then again, I’m one of those people who thinks the answers to the “what”, “why” and “how” questions are more important than the “when” questions. 
            Today’s Richmond Times Dispatch front page was the catalyst of my frustration this morning.  Some of the major headlines were “Assembly passes pension overhaul: Part of the burden shifts to teachers, local employees”(p.A1), Budget battle goes overtime as assembly session ends”(p,A1,11), and “20 reasons the legislative session mattered” (p. A10).  Then after, numerous paper advertisements and fire starter materials I find the “Commentary” section and am hit with what has really been firing up the state citizens.  In sections titled “Inciting Hysteria” and “Twisted Debate” are more titles designed to grab attention.  Abortion industry pushes blatant misinformation and When did ‘free’ contraception become a basic right?    

Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, presents the conferees' report on the VRS pension reform bill.

I love to read the Commentary articles but I wish the editor would print more than one side (viewpoint) of the same issue.  Why not give the readers something to debate?  In this 3/11/2012 issue of the Richmond Times Dispatch the conservative readership will be boosted by what people may all too often misinterpret as “news”.  I think this calls for a lesson in the difference between reporting the news and reporting the opinion of an individual or special interest group.  “News” and “Opinions” can both be valid statements.  The power they carry is held in the reader’s ability to separate fact from propaganda and opinion.

Ability to compare, contrast, infer, combine, separate, utilize and apply are some of the most critical 21st century skills that need to be taught in any quality k-12 educational program.  Are they being taught?  The answer to that question depends on whom you ask.  As a high school teacher I see so many of my 14-18 year old students who don’t have a clue as to what is going on around them and who are seriously lacking on the afore mentioned skills.  Who’s to blame for this?  All of us!  We (The US Educational System) have taught the way we were taught.  We have tested and retested students expecting better results.  We have payed for more tests and corporate “suggested” remediation resources.  We have penalized difference.  We have marginalized the student who thinks differently and constructs knowledge in ways that standardized test can’t measure.  We have followed outdated mandates made by those so far removed from the contemporary k-12 learner that we have left some children behind.  I once heard that the definition to insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. 
Luckily, there is a light emerging from the long tunnel.  I see it in the discussions I have with my children.  I see it in some of the work they bring home.  I see it in some of the work my high school students create.  There are some teachers utilizing strategies that require students to use high order thinking skills and apply knowledge.  But that light is still very dim.  It is muted by the mandate to indoctrinate children with specific “knowledge” with out any relevance to their own life.  If content of instruction cannot be made relevant to the life of the learner then true understanding of that content can also not be made.  If teachers were allowed to transform the curriculum so that the essential concepts were still the main focus of instruction and learning, but the methods of instruction and evidence of student learning were validated differently then think of the possibilities it would mean for developing more educated and empowered generation. 
I am thankful every day that I teach Art.  In the art room we discover, discuss, relate, compare, contrast, infer, combine, separate, utilize and apply in the process of creating and understanding art.  In actuality, it’s all in the process of constructing our own knowledge on our path of self-empowerment.  I say “our” because I learn everyday from my students.  Good teachers are intrinsically life long learners.  Isn’t that something we all should be?

This is an ongoing topic that I will continue to elaborate on in future postings.

[1] Manolo and Dale are two close friends who also work in the realms of education and commercial business respectively.  Our weekly gatherings generate significant personal and professional topics for discussion.
[2] I was taught through my parents’ actions and our discussions that if you see something that you think is wrong, unjust or hurtful, and you do nothing about it, then you are part of that wrongful force.  I can’t remember when my Father first started talking to me about speaking my voice through voting, but I do remember that it was often wrapped around a student government or community vote of some sort.

1 comment:

  1. Our local rag, the Columbus Dispatch is conservative as well and what usually ends up happening is I cancel the paper when it pisses me off periodically. Then I end up at a local baseball game and someone talks me into subscribing again for a free umbrella or something. ;) When the editors are conservative, then that's what they'll choose to print from the AP authors. And you're right... most of it is opinion. Our Saturday issue is mostly AP "opinion" pieces. There is a section of letters to the editor other days of the week, which helps to balance it out a little bit... but I often wonder how many letters aren't printed as a matter of choice.
    I agree the mandates are "outdated" as you say, but I'd also add politically motivated to the description. And behind the political motivation is often corporate greed. When I hear that the Walton Family pumped $159 million into their education "reform" efforts, it leaves me wondering what a middle class mother of two can do to enact change. How can you combat THAT? I agree it's the voices... all of our voices. If we all band together, someone has to listen. That is how real change will happen.
    Crossposted on fb. :)