Thursday, September 17, 2009

"... and world peace."

I saw a movie once, where the main character was posing as a beauty pageant contestant.  When asked what her greatest wish was, she emotionally responded that she wanted harsher penalties for criminals, then realizing the occasion, she added, "... and world peace."  Everyone was pleased.

I kind of imagine that if school administrators were asked what they wanted most, they'd begin to describe a set of standardized test scores that would knock the socks off the state legislature, and then the administrator would add sheepishly, "... and children who were capable, independent, and had a realistic image of themselves as learners.

It seems to me that the era of accountability has robbed education of its heart.  At precisely the time in our history when we're finally able to take advantage of research about the brain's development and function, we've been moved backward to a time when it was assumed that every child merely needs to memorize a finite set of facts and procedures.  If the child accomplishes that, the child will be prepared to live the life of a good citizen.  That assumption has powered American education for centuries.

I know so much more than my father.  He barely knew television and computers not at all.  In his day, telephones stayed put and voices were recorded on vinyl or magnetic tape.  I suspect that, in many ways, my boys, now in their thirties, know more than I do.  I'm guessing that this is an accelerating phenomenon.  I find it hard to believe that my students need the same education that I did fifty years ago.

The standards movement, with its emphasis on accountability has made hopeless paranoids of  administrators.  The paranoia filters down immediately to teachers.  On one level, we're asked to get to know each child and tailor that child's education to that child's needs.  And at the very same time, we're told what that child, at that chronological age, should learn.  They two are not necessarily compatible.

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