Monday, June 6, 2011

Sarah Palin and Real Education Reform: Put Down that Fork!

TODAY THE REALLY BIG TALK IN EDUCATION is all about “higher standards” or “bench-marking” U. S. standards to standards in countries like Finland, Japan and South Korea, where education is supposedly better. 

I’m not much of a believer in “standards” as a solution to school problems; but clearly we need to do a better job teaching American history.

At a stop in New England, during her recent bus tour, Sarah Palin was asked to comment on Paul Revere’s ride. To say that her answer missed the mark and lacked a certain grammatical polish is an understatement. Palin explained:
He who warned, uh, the…the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh, by ringin’ those bells and um by makin’ sure that as he’s ridin’ his horse through town to send those warnin’ shots and bells that uh we were gonna be secure and we were gonna be free…and we were gonna be armed.

I taught American history for 33 years; so I suppose Palin’s teachers could have done better. Then again, maybe it’s not them. We all bear some responsibility for what we know and what we don’t know. In my case I clowned around in school as a teen and don’t know as much chemistry or biology as I could have.

Sometimes, the schools and teachers are doing their jobs. Sometimes it’s students who aren’t working enough.

Changing “standards” so far has had a minimal effect—or no effect at all when it comes to improving our schools. It’s kind of like the change from a “food pyramid” to a “food circle,” shaped like a plate. I support First Lady Michelle Obama’s efforts to promote better eating. I just don’t believe the pyramid was the problem and I doubt the plate is a solution.

IT’S THE SAME WHEN EXPERTS get loose and start slinging their favorite theories of education.

At best, the “standards movement” sweeping the nation will have minimal effect. We know it’s already expensive. My gravest fear is that it will backfire badly and be even more expensive in the end than it already is.

Take my history class, for example. When we covered the American Revolution my students and I spent an entire day on the story of Lexington and Concord. (The girls thought it was interesting because at least one woman was seen by the British to be firing their way.) I then asked my students to write a 300-word “eyewitness account.” Anyone who ever had me for class could tell you, I graded this kind of assignment like I was an English teacher.

In this case, I was trying to give students more writing practice.

The problem, of course, is that on a standardized test a HISTORY teacher won’t ever be credited with successfully teaching writing.

So, teaching writing would technically be a waste of time.

That struck me as nuts when I was still teaching and still does today. It seems like a strange way to “improve” learning outcomes.

So, no. I don’t believe “standards” will be our salvation.

If you want better schools a major part of the problem can only be fixed when we convince students to work harder or begin demanding that they do. If we want to lose weight we don’t need new diet plans or standards.

We need to exercise a little will power. We need to show a bit of restraint. We need to do our part and lay down our forks.

1 comment:

  1. I still can't use the words, "things and stuff", without a shiver going down my spine.