1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Friday, March 26, 2010

NAEP 2009 - A Personal Reflection

The March 25 edition of The Denver Post tells us that "Students' reading scores show little progress" (3A). I couldn't help but think, "No surprise, that." It seems that often overlooked by the media of the dominant mentality are the roles of parents and culture in education.

Here is a typical quotation from one invested in the status quo:

"I really think that there are tremendous implications for the quality of teaching and the development of school leadership to make sure we have high performing schools across the country," said Steven Paine, superindendent of West Virginia schools and a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the tests" (Ibid.).
God bless him, but, really? I'm grasping for a metaphor here that might convey my exasperation with the assumption that pathetic test results can be changed by tweaking the current system or that it is the exclusive domain of teachers and schools to "fix" these students. Here's a possible metaphor:

Suppose you're the captain of The Titanic and you realize there's this huge gash in your ship. Instead of dealing with that problem, you decide to retrain your observation personnel. You tell yourself that the gaping hole in your ship is really beyond your capacity, but getting everyone up to speed on the latest techniques for effective use of bincoulars is something you can control.
Naturally, the ship sinks.
Silly, right? Well, the dominant ideas surrounding education are not far from this outlandish and absurdist scenario. The "huge gash" is the students who don't read because they are in households where computers, televisions and ipods have replaced books, magazines and conversation; the ship's captain stands for those "professionals" who always have the answers but remain blissfully unaware of the questions; the training in observation and binocular use represents the pathetic attempts to overcome overriding cultural indifference among the general population by teaching teachers new techniques and strategies of dubious value.

Yesterday I was made aware of the barbarizing effect of technology on good students. We're reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road in one of my English classes. I'm blessed with this small cohort of students who have superior reading abilities. I started the class by asking the group if they had been keeping up on the reading. The majority have and it shows in their penetrating observations about the text.

After class a student approached me and said, "I have a confession to make. I haven't done the reading." (This really surprised me because he had advocated strongly for this book at the beginning of the trimester.) He continued, "This weekend we got Netflicks and I've been watching all of these killer movies. I've got to stop." I said, "Yeah, you only have so much time and space in your life and if you do one thing, it means you can't do another."

This student is in a great place: he has sufficient self-awareness to recognize that if he follows the logic of entertainment, it will displace reading.

How is that this high school student can see it but the educrats can't?

No, Virginia, you can't have it all. If you want an education, you'll simply have to unplug.