Wednesday, September 23, 2020

designing education with a better outcome in mind

A friend began the arduous process of examining the Arkansas Democratic and Republican platforms for education and found them to be rather meaningless documents, suggesting things like, "We want a world-class education for all our children, regardless of zip code." So what is a world-class education? And which world are they thinking of? Is world-class to be measured by the standardized PISA testing? Lots of work to do there with the US ranking down in the middle of the pack and well behind other developed nations.

Yes, I know party platforms are generally meaningless documents, but it is particularly disturbing to me, that the education upon which our future depends is so poorly adressed. The differences between the parties fall more closely along the lines of certain issues without either considering the needs of our kids except in very vague terms. 

Republicans in general favor charter schools as a way of disrupting public education, and Democrats in general would prefer that public schools be strengthened rather than having their funding siphoned away by for profit charter schools. Republicans in general want everything privatized while Democrats in general favor strong public institutions. We don't learn those particular things from the party platforms but from their performance.

So I've been attempting to address the current problems with education at large.

The apparent purpose of education is to get children out from underfoot and safely corralled so their mothers can work two or three jobs at poverty wages to keep children clothed and fed. The professed purpose is always "to lift every child." But if that were the case, schools would be vastly different from what they are today. The real reforms needed are a very long ways off from current thinking by either party. The dividing line between the parties falls on how enthusiastically they embrace the charter school and privatization of movement as it competes with public education. My daughter got her masters degree in education by a rigorous program in "classroom management," a thing made necessary by schooling that ignores how and why we learn. I say "we" learn because all, whether children or adults, learn for the same reasons and in the same manner. If we think about and recognize how we learn, we know better how to set up situations in which our children learn. As I learned from a student years ago, we all love learning, but have less positive feelings about "being taught."

But how do we reshape a party platform? There is a vast amount of information that links poor educational outcomes (measured by numbers of students failing to graduate from high school or college) to poverty. The more time a child spends in poverty, the less likely he or she will find success in schooling (or should I say, "in being schooled." What we fail to recognize is what Friedrich Froebel pointed out about 180 years ago... Children begin learning from day one, and their mothers and fathers are in fact, their first teachers. Parents in poverty do not have the time or energy to fulfill this vital function. As children enter day care, mothers and fathers in poverty are too busy and stressed out to provide needed and traditional learning support. Then as children reach school age, the parent of the affluent child is able to provide a vast array of enriching experiences that also build support for in-school learning, thus again placing the children of the poor at a disadvantage. We then expect teachers and schools in poor communities to repair the failings of society to provide equitable conditions for student growth.

So, the idea or ideal of having schools that lift each and every child to an equal level of opportunity can only come through serious efforts to reduce poverty and raise a better understanding of the parents' role as teachers. Neither party has a good track record. For example, while Hillary was writing "it takes a village", her hubby was busy sending fathers to prison, and mothers off welfare to work while Republicans are attempting to raise standards by standardized testing schemes and privatization at public expense. I don't think that we could get either party to agree to what needs to be a complete revolution in education. Classroom learning is outmoded and has been outmoded and inefficient since the 1800's. So the platform can only take small steps.
  1. Support high levels of teacher training and teacher autonomy. 
  2. Elevate teacher pay and status within their communities. 
  3. Reduce class sizes (in half). 
  4. Support a corp of teacher aids, enabling a reduction of class size, by utilizing paid teachers in training drawn from university education students.
  5. Arrange for students at all levels to do real things in support of family, community and culture.... Dewey's learn by doing real things.
  6. Shatter the alliance between standardized testing and individual schools and school districts, allowing educational outcomes to be diverse. 
  7. Arrange for manual arts training for all students beginning in elementary school, focused on the integration of hand, eye and mind, allowing thereby to engage students in building an aptitude for scientific exploration, thereby building a respect for all labor and the contributions of others, and also providing a variety of pathways toward student success.

Paralleling this effort. 

  1.  Reduce poverty. 
  2.  Provide for extended maternity and medical leave. 
  3. Raise wage rates for the bottom tier. 
  4. Support programs though local community libraries for mother and early childcare training. 
  5.  Encourage lifelong learning through community colleges and online learning opportunities. 

Think this is an expensive proposal? Not doing these things will be worse.

Make, fix and create... We all learn best lifewise.

1 comment:

  1. I applaud all of this. I would only add a requirement for a return of civics/ government. I say this because I think that for the government to work for the people, the people need to understand how it works... and for whom.

    Until we have that, we’ll have a hard time getting the movement needed to make ANYTHING happen.