"[I]f I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature." --Charles Darwin

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Is there a band or isn't there?

I have too much and too little to write about in my own personal teaching experience -- and I will try soon.  I no longer move from one small success to the next as I did when I started this blog -- there's been too much re-learning, and much of this is not suitable to be shared in a public forum.  (Sorry, if that's a strange remark in these share-it-all era we live in.)

But for the sake of keeping this gasping blog alive, I thought I would share some recently published pieces that may suggest we are beginning to outgrow the cant about school reform which has made our jobs as teachers so difficult and has palpably damaged the education of our children for half a generation.  It was as though you found out that you have asbestos in your house, and you called in a guy who, in order to prevent your children from contracting asbestosis, burned your house down, gave your kids cancer and pocketed a few million from the insurance company.

To begin with, here's a piece written by an education professor and published in my local paper, The Record, (called by most The Bergen Record) remembering a remarkable, life-transforming teacher and observing how unlikely it would be for that teacher to earn a high evaluation using the feckless metrics our public officials have helped put in place.  Think about that.  Remember that great teacher, that one that made you happy to be a student, that person who helped you maybe see a way through towards finding out what truly engaged you and made you happy, maybe even towards your life's work?  Did they prepare you for a standardized test?  Did they execute a perfect, tidy 48-minute lesson in which you had acquired a skill that you never had before?  No, it's ridiculous.  It's a ridiculous paradigm, and people are starting to realize it.

This piece by an actual working teacher and published in the Huffington Post suggests a metric, but one which is unmeasurable:  A teacher is a nurturer.  I do not expect my year-end eval to suggest that I need to do 23% more nurturing.  The fact is, administrators, parents and politicians, you don't understand why I do my job and therefore you have no idea how to incentivize it.  The truth is, that is beyond your powers.  My rewards come principally from my interactions with my students, and only they and I have control over that.  There's nothing you can do, despite your fervid attempts to limit and proscribe those interactions into merely preparing for and conducting endless one-dimensional low-function assessments.

And speaking of low-function assessments, the fact that the Emperors and Empresses of School Reform have no clothes is becoming more readily apparent to more walking-around regular people.  This is the worst hypocrisy.  These people use statistics to prove that our schools are failing, but have no reliable statistics to show that their proposed reforms, the academies filled with inexperienced novices, the pre-fab charter schools, the increasing testing, year after year, cutting into actual instructional time, will work.  They never have yet.  (Check the links in the Salon piece I've linked in this paragraph if you don't believe me.)

I think what America needs is to sit down and watch The Music Man.  That's a super-great musical from The Golden Age in which a slick con-man comes to a small town, invents a problem which is destroying that town's youth.

Then after the gullible villagers have been suitably riled up, he shows up again as if out of nowhere with his pre-packaged canned solution to the "Trouble," no matter what it was. A boys' band is the Magic Thing which will keep the youngsters off the street and busily engaged. Good idea, right?


But there's one problem. He can't do what he says he will do. And he has no intention of doing so. He just wants to collect the money and run? Sound familiar?

And then -- this is where our con, Harold, makes the Big Mistake that our school reformers never make.  He gets to know and care about one damaged and hurt kid and about that kid's family.  And then, all the slick, phony pre-packaged programs and solutions fall apart.  He admits to the boy what he can't admit to anyone else.  He's a liar and a fake.  But then he tells the broken child just how extraordinary he is -- not as a platitude, but from his own personal knowledge.

The boy is not mollified.  "You said there's a band!" he shouts.  Harold looks like he's been hit with a brick.  He shakes his head, "I always think there's a band, kid."

I don't know about our reformers -- I don't know if they think there's a band or if they know perfectly well there isn't.  But I sure do know that there COULD be a band -- if the people who know how to make music were put in charge.

Maybe we could try that.