Friday, April 9, 2010

We Don't Need Better Teachers

There is a myth out there shared by almost everyone that what public education needs is better teachers. Either pay more money to attract better teachers or break the union to get rid of bad teachers. We don't need better teachers. We need a better public education system.

There was a recent announcement that Minnesota was not among the states chosen to receive Federal grants for education reform. Minnesota's application for the funding failed because of the state's lack of good policies supporting teachers, its inability to dump bad teachers, failure to place the best teachers where they're needed most, and the inability to find faster ways to get teachers into the classroom. They also cited the state's inability to narrow the achievement gap between white students and students of color, and questioned whether Minnesota has the political fortitude to implement changes.

The Governor of Minnesota said he will ask the Legislature to act on a bill that would make it easier for people to find "alternative pathways" into teaching, something he said would give the state "the ability to get the most highly effective teachers" in the classroom, while labeling Minnesota’s education system “a relic of the 1940s.”

If only it were so.

If you believe our world is screwed up, and if you ever wonder what the hell is matter with this country, then you need look no further than our education system. Our education system does not need reform. It certainly does not need better teachers. Our education system needs to be completely dismantled. Public education is not just broken, it is seriously diseased. It is a cancer that is affecting the minds of all of us.

What the hell am I saying, here?

Let me back up a bit. I am a product of public education. There is nothing inherently wrong with the idea of public education. But, we no longer have any idea of what public education is supposed to accomplish. There is not a unified vision for what Public Education should do and who it should benefit.

There is a belief out there, which many of us share, that Public Education is responsible for our Country’s successes, our innovations and our failures. We believe that when we fall behind other countries in certain economic indicators, we can make up this loss of ground by improving our education system and hiring better teachers. This belief is at the core of the repeated mantra by self-serving politicians, both democrats and republican, that we need to improve our public education so the US can compete with other developed and developing nations. We need to improve math and science scores so we can compete. Reading has to improve so we can compete. We need better technology introduced into the class room so we can compete. Our schools are failing to prepare our children to compete in the global marketplace. So, I ask, how did we get so screwed up? How did our priorities become so twisted?

Math and Science is fine. There has never been a shortage of individuals who are good at math and science. The same goes for reading, history, geography, spelling, auto mechanics, theatre, philosophy, chess playing, knitting, athletics, carpentry, farming, steel work, painting, sculpturing, musicianship, etc. Human beings come in a wide variety of aptitudes and skills.

Why are we so fixated on math and science? I love math and science. I was always good at math and science. I am neither an engineer, doctor, information systems tech, nor a physicist. Math and science have been good to me simply as a pursuit of interest. I know other people who love building things, or history or painting. Public education should not be an institution devoted to one skill over any other. Public education should be devoted to developing citizenship and for it to succeed it has to be developed locally and not through federal initiatives.

There might be a small component of Public Education that emphasizes the federal or national citizenry over the state or local components of education. US citizens share some thing in common that could be addressed through public education. For that matter, Global citizens also have things in common that should be addressed in public education, too. But, by far the greatest emphasis should be on the local community and providing education for students that helps sustain the community and doesn’t rip it apart. What are the economic opportunities within the immediate area of the Public School? What can a student do for work or a living, which will help sustain the community after he or she graduates? We should not be teaching self-interest in schools and focusing on where the student can go to earn the largest wage. Often this means providing the only means for making a living available to most students in the United States upon graduation from our public schools, and that is the through the participation in the US military. This does not sustain the community, but rather tears it apart as it attempts to mend the few who do return to the community, which suffer psychological scars inflicted through wars fought abroad.

This is the reason for the emphasis upon better teachers at the expense of better schools controlled by members of communities. Look, I’d like to be able to dump bad teachers too. But, what is a bad teacher? A teacher whose kids score poorly on math and reading tests? A teacher that falls asleep in front of the class while kids are doing homework? A teacher who is physically or verbally abusive to students? A bad teacher can be anyone of these things depending on the standards. My point is, in most respects, communities should set these standards. I don’t want state or federal governments stepping in and demanding a teacher be removed for failing to meet the state or federal standard if this teacher is considered by the community to be meeting its own standards. Community standards should come first.

If Public Education is going to work it needs to break the bonds of state control and return control to the local communities. Public Education does not need better teachers. It needs better citizens and examples. It does not need teachers who have received accreditations through Public institutions, but rather teachers that are valued members of the community to provide mentorship and examples of citizenship that give back to the community. Public Education does not need federal dollars as much as it needs community support.

People don’t want there tax dollars paying for Public education, because they don’t look at the occupants in the local schools as assets to the community. Rather, the students and teachers are thought of as liabilities. They are drains on the economy and the community would be better off without them. Public schools are thought less of than Public Correctional facilities, as far as their economic worth to local economy.

For this to change Public schools have to be returned to the community and local people have to see how young people and children can benefit the community now and in the future. There has to be a history of local graduates becoming valued members of the community for communities to embrace their Public schools. Public Schools cannot be tools for generating individuals who can compete in the global marketplace. Public Schools need to switch emphasis from developing individuals who can compete in the global market place to developing citizens who are responsible for sustaining their communities.

This is a simple concept that should be easily embraced by all, yet it is assured to be thought of as radical. Damn, it is freaking conservative to the core, and I’m a freaking liberal. But, it’s right. We do need a network of sustainable communities in this country. These communities need to work together. Communities do not need to be antagonistic to state or federal interests. But, the individual community should still come first; otherwise there is no need for the community school. We might as well send all of our children away to boarding school to be prepared to live outside the community, while we watch our neighborhoods, towns, cities, counties, etc. crumble around us.

I will be so pleased if I never hear the call for better teachers again. There is nothing wrong with the teachers. It’s the schools - the Public schools. Take them back. Tell Obama and anyone else that wants to throw their two cents in that the school is your school and you, the community, will decide how best to run it. Those kids in the school are your assets for the community, not someone else’s; least which cannon fodder for our nation’s militaries. Don’t let them take your kids away or brainwash them into believing they have no responsibilities to their families and communities.


Richard said...

As you well know, peaches, I'm a teacher, so this post has special singificanse for me. And I hear ya. The last thing teachers want to see is better teachers. We could do without the competition. What do people think teaching is supposed to be like, any other industry?

I also agree about these "alternatvie pathways" to becoming a teacher. I got into teaching that way myself, and it was great, but let me tell you, now that I'm in, i don't want anyone else coming thru that way. I mean, I'm not even a high school graduate. That should give you an idea of how screwed up the education system is with the "alternative pathways" thing.

All this testing they do to find out who the good and bad teachers are is a waste of time. There are good students, average students, and bad students, and it's congenital. There is precious little that a teacher can do to change any of 'em.

You say, "Math and science is fine". True. Grammar is the problem.

You say we should educate kids to fit in well with the local community once they graduate. That's great if there's a auto plant or coal mine in town, but what if the local community is in suburbia and all the jobs are 50 miles away by train, bus, and car? The only local businesses are hoagie shops, Walmart, and gas stations. The kids might as well drop out at 16 and start stocking shelves, unless, of course, one of them wants to teach in the local schools. For that she has to graduate and go to college and major in Education.

I didn't think Minnesota had any people of color.

Andy B said...

Hell, RIchard, upon rereading this post I really do sound pathetic, I admit.

I don't have the answers.

All I know is that I did attempt to get my education degree and all I heard was better training and we have to have better teachers. Ane I think it is phooey.

THe Public school system is too fucused on individual achievement. I would put more emphasis on the achievement of the school's football team than on SAT scores. I'm serious. I think school pride is more important. And, I also know that school pride can only go so far, and I would have been one of the students at the pep rally thinking this is all a bunch of shit. IT is!! But, there is a larger point, and I'm not sure what it is.

No, the point is that teachers aren't that important to what we are or who we become. WHat they need to be, teachers I mean, are decent individuals and not experts in their field or at teaching. THey need to be caring and the school needs to care about them. That's my point. DId I say that? Yeah, but its worth repeating.

WHat I also think is that teachers are wait....

Let me just post another thread. Read above.