9/20/10

Can you test inspiration?

8x10 digital collage -Childhood in America

I was in graduate school when the concept of a 'data-driven schools' began to take hold of the entire nation. The basic gist of this movement is that numbers should be a big if not everything in the conversation on education; a basic input-output model. You test before, then after and the results are calculated and voila, we have more numbers that tell us something meaningful about the kids/teachers/schools and then we work from those numbers to move forward...but only based on those numbers.

Right?

yes, BUT (there is a HUGE BUT here)....let's stop a minute. As a mother of two small children in the system I have the right to have a huge say here, and here it goes.

Let's look a minute at why we began this obsession with data to begin with. We wanted to help kids do their best and the right left brain folks in charge thought this was a sure solution, hey it works everywhere else doesn't it...in factories, in wall street' makes total sense. Good intentions, yet the overall move towards testing and placing a number or standard next to each child's experience may have not helped children learn better. Yes, we have more data than you can ever imagine.

But, have we helped children love learning more? Have we inspired them to want to learn on their own? Could this over-focus on numbers change the way we teach? I think for good teachers who follow a certain rhythym and pace, yes, it has changed the way they teach. I think for teachers who want to do more than just teach a set of standards, yes, it has changed the way they teach; and not in a positive way.

I remember the days when professional development days meant we got to learn new creative skills to teach the material. They were a hub of peer inspiration and refreshing all on its own; they were the highlight of teaching. You walked away refreshed, loving what you did for a living, loving your kids. In this obsession with data we have left behind a very important ingredient that has made all the difference to so many before us; the inspiration of the passionate teacher. The passionate teacher is the most dangerous weapon there exists on earth. You can change the course of a child's life with just a few words...and that cannot EVER be measure by some test. Unfortunately, this type of teacher is a lost commodity in the numberzz craze. The amount of control and strict nature required in teaching now makes it unpalleatable to the inspirational teacher.

And now the famous learning standards. I teach them and follow them religiously because it's my job. Yet, let's think about this document for a minute. We all tout the standards as if they have been handed to Moses on a tablet and as a mother who wants my child to experience 'the world' it has a limiting aspect embedded in it that can also deflate the inspirational teacher. You can't just take the kids to the opera anymore without having to doubly justify it with some learning standards. AS IF all that was good and wholesome were encompassed in the learning standards and everything else was complete rubbish. AS IF we taught anything external to it, it would be some horrific error in teaching practice.

As a 37 year old women who has had her life improved and changed many-a-times by things not in the standards, I must say loudly that there are plenty of things in life that can be life-changing, life-improving, life-enhancing that are not encompassed within the learning standards. After all, the learning standards were developed by people, just like you and I, imperfect people as the late Howard Zinn would have you think. So this idea that we MUST contain all school life within the learning standards is a bit comical since we have no way of knowing what will ultimately inspire someone to choose their career path....something as 'silly' as a social justice project might just change the course of history, something as seemingly insignificant as seeing you own work on a wall can also change the course of ones life.

My school experience BEFORE graduate school has always been poor. it was not until I went to graduate school did one professor opened my eyes and allowed me to see that I was a learner. That I was not stupid, but that I just needed to be taught a certain way in order to learn. I waited 28 years to feel like I was smart. Since schools' focus are more and more on the 'bottom line' and grades and scores, we must be ever so careful not to attach a child's worth to their grades. High grades do not always mean monetary success, just as low grades does not translate to monetary success.


But as we turn schools into business-like systems there is less and less room for natural flow of anything. child-led anything has gone the way of the dinosaurs and it's now all serious. ....hence they have the right terminology coined with education such as "race to the top". "tough on education." It's now a war and all involved are super serious; especially non-educators.

On any radio or TV conversation on education you will NOT see a teacher represented, instead a rich person or a business person will be invited instead to express his militaristic views on why education is failing....and of course we all know why that is......, say it with me, bad teachers!! (I'm being sarcastic). Teachers are shut out of any and all conversations on education and rules and regulations are handed down like manna from god. Why is this? Why are we not part of the conversation? is it because it's a woman profession and we can't possibly be trusted to have answers? Notice how the people on the very top resemble a CEO or the head of a bank, lacking all people-skills, warmth or human qualities. I just saw a televised firing of a principal by Michelle Rhee and was sick to my stomach. it's no wonder there are no people like me in education. I have feelings. It's a clash between a woman's way of doing things and a man's way. Teachers need to stand up for themselves and speak up and lead the way on their own battleground. You can't just sit there and be twisted around like a pretzel, complain to each other and do nothing. it is a battle, we were not invited.....but hey, it's happening in our own stomping ground so who cares if you were not invited.

In the end I am a great teacher I know it. I see myself 30 years ago in every one of these children and everyday ask myself what is most important? I teach to inspire others to become brave, thoughtful, thinking and self confident human beings. There is not one aspect of my day that has not been purposefully crafted. Not one word out of place. I look t each child in the eyes and see them, acknowledge them; stop to hear. In the end, the best gift I would have ever given them is how they were made to feel in my classroom.....no left-brain standardized test or evaluation can test the power of life-changing inspiration or words. You feed the spirit with inspiration and that has the potential to change the world.

let's just hope that enough great teachers are left standing once this numberzzz craze has long faded. in the meantime, stand up, and value your own journey enough to speak up too.....

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