In September, when the owner shook my hand and gave me a thank-you letter, I thought I had done my last millwork.Today I work in my personal wood shop assembling and arranging the interiors of small cabinets for my book. I'll spend some time writing captions and a bit more getting ready for a weekend show of my work, and hoping that between us, we can make schools more humane and responsive to the real human beings, our children, to whom we trust our futures. Make, fix, create, sow, sew, nurture, grow and thus enjoy a purposefilled life.
Silly me. Many of the current reforms in education aim to turn the schoolhouse into that plastic-products factory. Our machines are not hydraulic, but they are mechanical; textbooks, curricular frameworks, and approved book lists are the same from Swampscott to San Francisco. The machinery heats and molds our children, then stamps, bags, and packages them to a professional uniformity. The SAT and its related bubble tests perform quality control. Once a year, I check the green Scantron sheets and see that our students are missing a few points on pronoun agreement. I adjust the machine accordingly.
For our students, the factory floor is a dangerous place to grow up. As the books and tests we use become more refined and ubiquitous, our students become more reduced and uniform. The textbook they memorize at age 16 is out of date by the time they are 20. The answers they recite in their senior year become trivia questions before they finish college. Our plastic students will be with us for a long time: My swizzle sticks still exist, but they fill a landfill or float in a Texas-sized island of plastic. They don't accomplish anything.
However, for a superintendent or any other politician, the school-as-mill has an attractive whistle to it. They can measure what goes on in a young lady's head, put a number to it, and pronounce it fit or foul. They can control what the kids learn, what the teachers instruct, and how big the "Mission Accomplished" banner will be when the test scores are posted. When the problem is framed in terms of millions of children and billions of dollars, the solution is going to look like the Lawrence, Mass., textile mills. Success will come in one-ton rolls of gray cloth—at a cost.
That's not the job I signed up for. --- Bob Barsanti
Bob Barsanti concludes his article with the following:
Multiple-choice tests and national standards go a long way toward ensuring that every student has the minimum of skills and knowledge. Testing ensures that every student stands on the same floor. But, to reach the sky, students need to be challenged and developed individually. Parents, coaches, and teachers need to work as craftsmen and artisans, not as millworkers on the night shift.