Thursday, February 19, 2009

Another "Raising the Bar" ceremony

"All kids are born with the ability to do it."
Lucille Davy, NJ Education Commissioner
February 18, 2009

I really wish the newspaper had modified the "it" better, but in context, I think she meant passing the newer, better, shinier, higher standards given preliminary approval by the state Board of Ed yesterday.

I was once a pediatrician. New Jersey has a lot of kids in nice buildings with modern machines breathing for them, buildings they will never leave alive.

Not every child is born with the ability to do it--a few children born do not even have the ability to live past a few hours.

I am tired of the rhetoric.

"This is about opportunity for all kids, for every child to have opportunities to go to college or not be forced to take a job that is low-level because he or she wasn't prepared properly."

Ms. Davy again, same day.

By low-level, I think she means low-paying, but I'm really not sure. By low-level, maybe she means a job that does not require a degree. I really don't know because some very bright powerful folks have learned to say nothing well.

I do know this--just about all our children not on public assistance during adulthood will be "forced" to take some kind of job unless they have a decent plot of land with clean water, and unless they know how to grow, sow, slaughter, can, knead, knit, and all those other quaint activities now seen as too "low-level" to bother learning to do anymore.


John Spencer said...

Someone tried to push our team into doing more "college prep" with the argument that reading Aristotle wasn't college prep, but preparing to teach to a test was. She started talking about how India would graduate half a million engineers and so our students would have to compete with that.

I ask her afterward, "If the jobs of the future aren't created yet, why are we teaching them to do something that is pretend right now? If India is graduating so many engineers, won't engineers be the car mechanics of the future? After all, there was a time when mechanics were one of the highest paying jobs. What if I taught students how to acquire wisdom and let them figure out the journey on their own?"

Sean Nash said...

While running around on the floor of Mizzou Arena these past two days at the MO State Wrestling Championships, I am also managing to slide in some reading of a very interesting book by Carol Dweck, called Mindset.

Early on is a bit of talk about how Alfred Binet, yes- the inventor of the IQ test- was a champion of the notion that IQ is not, in fact, a fixed commodity in the human brain. I learned that his initial mission for his assessment was meant to identify the children of Paris in the early 20th Century who were not profiting from the public school system.

The ultimate goal was to design new educational programs that could get them on track. The book goes on to say that, "without denying individual differences in children's intellects, he believed that education and practice could bring about fundamental changes in intelligence."

Along these words, my personal outlook also aligns with the notion that all kids can move forward on a learning continuum. Therefore, I have never in the past been freaked out at all by the "all children can succeed" messages we are now so inundated with.

However, -and this is a big however- as you well state, the current meaning of this idea lines up with "success" on high stakes accountability tools. That is what kills me about the current glut of such public statements.

I absolutely hate saying aloud that I disagree with them... because that flies in the face of my now deep-held beliefs about learning and growth. The problem is that the current line of rhetoric by political types sets this argument up against these standardized testing efforts, of which I see little worth.

It is a tough position. I do believe that all kids can succeed. It is just that success looks different for different individuals. Saying that I disagree with the rhetoric sounds awful when you only listen to 20 seconds of the rebuttal at best. I lament at the level of patience we now seem to have for rich dialogue and debate... where you really have to listen to an argument to see that it may indeed be well-constructed, and not just a reflex-arc.

Good post here, and as I'm finding... an interesting book as well.

Bonnie said...

"What if I taught students how to acquire wisdom and let them figure out the journey on their own?"

Yes! What if...

Imagine if schools were places where teachers and students worked together toward the ultimate goal of student self-motivation. It would begin in elementary school with teaching and reinforcing the basics, but more importantly include a healthy dose of character education and civic responsibility. "NCLB" would ensure that teachers guide students in discovering their individual strengths and weaknesses, cultivating their interests, and developing their own unique learning styles, rather than scoring proficient on a standardized test.

No-Child-Would-Be-Left-Behind from being given the tools and encouragement to make their own educational decisions and chart their own course for the future.

What if we could make the changes necessary to create an education system like this?

doyle said...

Dear John,

I'm not sure which part is more disturbing, denying that reading Aristotle is college prep, or that prepping to take a test is.

People in positions of power (both locally and nationally) do not (usually) get there by accident. I know there's a game to be played, right words to be said, careers to be advanced, and for years I figured, well, let them say the right words, advance their careers, and then do the administrative things we need done in any system.

Until recently it didn't occur to me that we have a generation of leaders where magical thinking gets credence.

Not all, and maybe not even most, people in power--pols, bosses, admins--use magical thinking. I am blessed to be working for a bright, kind, hard-working thinker. Still, we're all under the same constraints caused by the magical belief that all children can attain a specific level of some magical minimal ability that can be tested.

(And the magical thinkers will say--heretic! He does not love children! He wants to keep the slower children down! He is the reason the Indians keep "stealing" our jobs!)

To say that not all children can learn as much as other children is not the same as saying a child cannot learn. The frightening thing is that now our slowest children need to devote huge chunks of time to passing a test--time that might be better spent learning how to learn.

Dear Sean,

I may need to take this discussion up as a post. Too many people do not know how Binet's work has been distorted. (The GDP in economics has a parallel life to the IQ test--it was not intended to become the measuring stick of economic health--it was a tool developed in the 1930's to measure the effects of the New Deal.)

You draw the critical distinction between "all kids can succeed" and "'success' on high stakes accountability tools." It's a distinction critically thinking adults should be able to make.

That we even need to explain the distinction belies the level of discourse on educational standards today.

(My brain's been stirring about another interesting book--I need to get back to you.)

Dear Bonnie,

"What if we could make the changes necessary to create an education system like this?"

Great question, and I believe we can. Not sure we will, but if I didn't think it was possible, I would not be a teacher.

Charlie Roy said...

@ John
This fear of India having more engineers comes up quite a bit. Can't we just say "Good for India" and leave it at that. Fighting over who has a bigger pile of plastic things at the end of the day seems rather pointless. England was once the world's super power and the last time I checked people in England still think, live, love, and pursue their dreams on a daily basis. Maybe their GDP is a little less impressive but then again measuring economies by the amount of things produced might be short sighted.

doyle said...

Dear Charlie,

You're an administrator and you're conceding our manifest destiny to produce the mostest the quickest?

Huh--well ARE YOU??


(It's enough to make me start moderating the comments.)

-J. Swift