Thanks to E.S. for sending this link along about research related to the long-term wounds schools inflict. It’s not only “guys like him” (last post) that are wounded…so many different people are forever shaped by their painful experiences in schools. Check it out.
Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page
“There are thousands of paths that lead to happiness, but you have accepted only one. You have not considered other paths because you think that yours is the only one that leads to happiness. You have followed this path with all your might, and so the other paths, the thousands of others, have remained closed to you.” Thich Nhat Hanh’s new book, you are here: Discovering the magic of the present moment, is such a delightful treat to read and consider and I am enjoying myself immensely each day when I settle in and drink another paragraph of wisdom.
A thousand paths to happiness has me really thinking though, and I couldn’t resist jumping on the computer and pounding out a few lines (one thing that often makes me happy) about this notion and what it might mean to me – at least in this moment.
If there are, indeed, thousands of paths to happiness, then all of those thousands of paths should be encouraged and valued and celebrated and shared. In other words, diversity wins again, and not only should we encourage and celebrate diversity, but we should do everything possible to prevent any kind of restrictive ideas that limit possibilities and promote standardization of human beings and life in any way.
If there are, indeed, thousands of paths to happiness, then why aren’t we actively teaching children and youth to seek happiness, or better yet to “be free to experience the happiness that just comes to us without our having to seek it” (Thich Nhat Hanh, p. 75). This could move us a long way beyond the false promise of a “good job” so well-advertised throughout every level of education.
If school isn’t about promoting thousands of paths toward happiness, then what is it and why would we want to do something other than teach toward happiness?
Some readers are blowing me off now, huffing and puffing at their screen because they think it’s all fluff to teach happiness – so without going into excessive detail here, I’ll add that working with passion and engaging in intellectual journeys around academic content or in a workplace can be a path to happiness. Don’t worry reader – we’re not going to end up with a society of non- “workers” because everyone is sitting lotus-style in a forest seeking happiness. We might, however, end up with lots of people who refuse to sell their soul and time/life to corporations doing meaningless “work.” Wouldn’t that be interesting?
Has anyone out there ever read a school vision statement that included the words “happy” or “happiness”? I’d love to hear if you have.
And this ‘thousands of paths’ has me thinking of other things regarding “diversity” – we humans are all just different and somehow we keep trying to shove us all into the same-sized box. Just like ecological diversity is imperative to the survival of earth, human diversity is also imperative to the (healthy) survival of the species. While this is not only about the “size” of us humans (it’s also about our lifestyles, family and community structures, livelihoods, homes, interactions, relationships, physical looks, tastes, etc. etc.), diversity in size and shape should also be a consideration. I’m stuck on this a bit because of the recent onslaught of the “Obesity Epidemic” across the country and the fetish we seem to currently have around body measurements, plastic surgery, and the persistent metaphorical and literal chiseling away at natural diversity among bodies.
Just one example -
Body Mass Index (BMI) and the push for schools to include children’s BMI on report cards even though CDC reports there is no evidence that such actions would change anything about childhood health and/or obesity.
Folks have – and will continue – to debate me that “there is a real obesity epidemic – parents need to know their children’s BMI and what those numbers mean and get control over what their children are eating.” Okay – and what role has school and Corporate America played in this heavy-ing of America’s children? Do we slap some numbers onto a child’s report card and insist that parents do something to change those numbers when kids are at school 7-8 hours a day and have to complete 2 hours of homework between 4pm and the 8pm bedtime? I might be exaggerating a bit in some contexts, and underestimating in others – but this is yet another way to tell parents how they are the individuals to blame for a societal problem that is only exacerbated in schools: over-processed foods are served for breakfast and lunch in cafeterias and recess is non-existent for most children above the age 8 and limited to only 10 minutes for children up to 8 in public schools.
Hmmmmm….schools work harder and harder to get kids to sit still and be quiet for 7 hours at a time preparing for tests and covering standards while only breaking to eat over-processed foods that are high in fat and sodium, then expect the kids to sit at home for 2 more hours at night to do homework and schools are going to “report” children’s BMI to parents so the parents can fix it?
I’m against the use of numbers for nearly everything and BMI is included – I always believe a holistic perspective on a person’s health and lifestyle is much more important than a single number that may be used to determine categories that label and blame and shame people. But let’s pretend for a moment that I accept BMI as some good indicator of a child’s health (even though CDC might argue against that). Perhaps we might allow schools to include the BMI on the report card and demand they also include a specific plan the school will take to ensure the child has access to healthy foods and sufficient exercise and physical play during the day. In other words – the BMI becomes a reflection of the way an institution operates rather than good or poor parenting.
So back to a thousand paths to happiness…
Maybe if we taught children to feel happiness, to see the infinite possibilities for happiness, to see happiness in unexpected places, and to cultivate happiness through mindful practice (including mindful practices of eating), we might find ourselves educating the most diverse, happy, healthy children on earth. What if school’s purpose was to cultivate happiness, peacefulness, contentedness, connectedness? Of course some private schools and home schoolers have been doing this for a long time, but what if public schools put these purposes first and foremost in their work? The possibilities make me smile – and happy.
I know a lot of you all are going to D.C. for the July 30th Save Our Schools march – and some of you know that I will be at a dear cousin’s wedding on that day in Ohio (bad timing!!!!). But I’m hoping to get some live video from folks who will be there.
Here is Diane Ravitch’s letter to Deborah Meier (Bridging Differences – Education Week blog) about the upcoming march:
Posted: 21 Jun 2011 06:20 AM PDT
I will be marching with the Save Our Schools coalition of teachers and parents on July 30 in Washington, D.C. I know you will be, too. I hope we are joined by many thousands of concerned citizens who want to save our schools from the bad ideas and bad policies now harming them.
I am marching to protest the status quo of high-stakes testing, attacks on the education profession, and creeping privatization.
I want to protest the federal government’s punitive ideas about school reform, specifically, No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Top. Neither of these programs has any validation in research or practice or evidence. The nation’s teachers and parents know that NCLB has been a policy disaster. Race to the Top incorporates the same failed ideas. Why doesn’t Congress know?
I want to protest the wave of school closings caused by these cruel federal policies. Public schools are a public trust, not shoe stores. If they are struggling, they should be improved, not killed.
I want to protest the way that these federal programs have caused states and districts to waste billions of dollars on testing, test preparation, data collection, and an army of high-priced consultants.
I want to protest reliance on high-stakes testing, which has narrowed the curriculum, encouraged gaming the system, and promoted cheating.
I want to express my concern about the effects of 12 years of multiple-choice, standardized testing on children’s cognitive development, and my fear that this reliance on bubble-testing discourages imagination, creativity, and divergent thinking.
I want to express my opposition to an educational system devoted to constant measurement, ranking, and rating of children, which validates the belief that some of our children are winners, while at least half are losers.
I want to speak out against federal policies that promote privatization of public education.
I want to protest federal efforts to encourage entrepreneurs to make money from education, instead of promoting open-source technology, free to all schools.
I want to protest the federal government’s failure to develop long-term plans to improve the recruitment, preparation, and support of the teaching profession.
I want to protest the ill-founded belief that teachers should be evaluated by their students’ test scores, which is a direct result of the Race to the Top.
I want to express my disgust at the constant barrage of attacks on teachers, principals, and public education.
I want to urge Congress and the Obama administration to recognize that federal funding should support equity and benefit the nation’s neediest students.
That was the rationale for passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and it should be the rationale for federal funding today.
I want to urge Congress and the Obama administration to acknowledge that school reform cannot be imposed by legislative fiat, but must be led by those who are most knowledgeable about the needs of children and schools: educators, parents, and local communities.
I want to urge Congress and the Obama administration to recognize the constraints of the Constitution and federalism and to stop using the relatively small financial contribution of the federal government to micromanage the nation’s schools.
I want to urge Congress and the Obama administration to acknowledge that our nation’s public schools have played an essential role in making our nation great. After many historic struggles, their doors are open to all, regardless of race, economic condition, national origin, disability, or language. We must keep their doors open to all and preserve this democratic institution for future generations.
I want to urge Congress and the Obama administration to recognize that our public schools are succeeding, not declining. Since the beginning of the National Assessment of Educational Progress in the 1970s, our students have made slow but steady gains in reading and mathematics. Improvement has been especially notable for African-American students. Progress was greatest, ironically, before the implementation of NCLB.
I call on Congress and the Obama administration to cease spreading false claims of educational decline. Since the first international test in 1964, we have never led the world in test scores, and we have often been in the bottom quartile on those tests. Yet, as President Obama said in his State of the Union Address in January, we have the world’s greatest economy, the world’s most productive workers, the most inventors, the most patents, the most successful businesses, and the best universities in the world. And all of these great achievements were created by people who are mainly products of our nation’s public schools.
I urge Congress and the Obama administration to support programs that help children arrive in school ready to learn: assuring that every pregnant woman has appropriate medical care and nutrition; that children have high-quality early-childhood education; and that parents know they have the support they need to help their children grow up healthy and ready to learn.
I am marching because I want every child to attend a school where they can learn not only basic skills, but history, geography, civics, the sciences, and world languages, and have ample opportunity to engage in the arts.
I am marching to support the dignity of the education profession and to express my thanks to the millions of teachers, principals, and other educators who are in the schools every day, doing their best to educate our nation’s children.
I hope the march will revive the morale of our nation’s educators. I hope it will remind the American people that the future of our nation depends on our willingness to protect and improve our public schools, the schools attended by nearly 90 percent of our nation’s children.
Are computers replacing teachers already? Read this provocative article and see for yourself.
This is an education issue: the focus on memorization and high-stakes tests aligns nicely with computer-based tasks for kids; but of course most of us hate the focus on low-level “learning” and multiple choice tests that dominate schools today. I don’t want my kid tied to a computer for hours during the day – have you ever watched a kid’s positive energy level and attitude fall to below zero after spending too much time in front of the screen? For all that computer-based technology can offer us in life, it steals much away, including a focus on nature, human contact, creativity in the material world.
Recently a 1st grade teacher told me that her school’s RTI (That’s Response to Intervention) checklist of possibilities for “interventions” for struggling students included a list of 10 possibilities: the first 9 were all computer-based, and what was the 10th possibility? A human-based intervention. ALERT! If your school is naming a teaching/learning interaction as a “human-based intervention” you must know that educational aspirations are not only low, but your job is on the way out the door (and mine’s not far behind).
This is a labor issue: The more number-crunching data-seeking, statistics-acquiring folks get ahold of our education system, the more likely it will be that computers will come to the rescue with standards-based, rigid lessons aligned with tests; multiple-choice tasks to prepare children for test-taking; and repetitive “games” will lure our children into the hypnotic state of screen staring “education.” But guess what? A computer and a few games (and perhaps even the maintenance folks to take care of them…probably housed in India) are cheaper than a knowledgeable, well-educated, creative teacher who can respond individually to each student’s academic, social, and emotional needs. Get a shipment of 1,000 laptops, ipads, or smartphones into a school, set up the children on programs meant to keep them isolated, quiet, and still for hours, and hire a couple folks who don’t know a thing about teaching/learning or the content to walk through rooms filled with hunched over bodies and you’ve got yourself a really cheap way to do school.
But don’t hunch my kid over a high-tech device.
This is a health issue: I know it personally – so those of you who know me have heard this a million times, and you can even an old blog post about it. But here’s the short version – I’m still in physical therapy 2.5 years after experiencing severe pain and depression caused from neck and shoulder injuries caused from hunching over computers writing, reading, sending emails, blogging…well, you get it. For months I couldn’t carry a bag of groceries, wash dishes, or even pick up a skillet. I cried regularly and thought I would even have to find another job. I slept a lot – too much – I couldn’t bear to get out of bed some days. And when I talk to my 20-year-old undergraduates about it, they stare at me with wide eyes and share their stories of stiff fingers, cramped thumbs, numb forearms, aching shoulders, throbbing necks. Our bodies aren’t meant to be hunched over devices such as the one I’m typing on now (doing my best not to hunch, but planning to sign off for the evening very soon). We are ruining our bodies – and I don’t want my kid ruining hers before she is even finished physically growing.
So we need to do the best we can to push the hunching devices and screens (even those over-sized screens hanging in the fronts of many of our classrooms that make kids sit still and stare straight ahead), right back out of the center of education. It’s not only about the centrality of humans interacting in teaching/learning, it’s also about jobs – and thus the economy, and our health.
Listen up Reformers – Parents are looking for something completely different from what you are offeringIn communities, creativity, democracy, Education Policy, family-school relations, high-stakes tests, institutions, NCLB, Standing up for Kids on June 15, 2011 at 9:21 pm
Here’s a great article by a parent in Philadelphia - ideas I completely agree with and I really hope Reformers are listening.
And here’s a little story of my own:
I pulled my daughter out of public school last year.
It was one of the most difficult decisions I have made in recent history; one I dreamt about, talked incessantly about, and did everything possible to not make the decision I ultimately made. And even though Hayden isn’t in public school right now, I continue to fight (and scream, and blog, and cry, and work) for public education.
Hayden now attends the “Freedom to Grow UNschool” (sounds lovely, huh?), and with one year under our belt, I am so relieved that I did make that decision. Her third grade year, which would have otherwise been overshadowed by the mandatory state test, was incredible. She studied a local park, researched the medieval times and questioned economic inequities reflected in housing and fashion, she planned and carried out a fashion show as a result – from start to finish, she experienced what it was like to edit the school newspaper published once a month, she studied the Mississippi floods, accelerated her understanding of foundational and analytical math, she learned about the Children’s March during the Civil Rights and connected it to civil rights issues today and what children can do to make a difference, she learned how to compost, how to track animals, identify trees, and use some basic survival skills in the wilderness. She painted and constructed and read and danced and wrote and pretended and analyzed and experimented and inquired and sang and laughed and learned the messiness of maintaining a community where everyone is valued even when everyone doesn’t agree with one another.
All in one school year.
And in a school where there is a “no homework” policy.
Her achievements in 3rd grade were remarkable – truly impressive even if I wasn’t her mother:) And I know things would have been entirely different for her and us had we left her in the school she was attending – a Title I school under the stresses of NCLB where the 3rd grade test is all that matters, teachers were required to be “on the same page”, the gifted class is focused on state standards, field trips are rare, recess almost non-existent, and homework every night. During her 2nd grade year she cried on a regular basis; begged us not to take her to school; had nightmares in her sleep; accidents in her pants (!); regularly lost her 10 minute recess for having to use the restroom at the wrong time of day; and learned that school was a place she had to go, but she never expected it to be a place of joy, curiosity, creativity, exploration, and building a foundation of lifelong learning and engaged citizenship.
What State legislators and other Educational Reformers don’t understand is that parents, like us – even the hard-nosed-public-education-is-the-backbone-of-democracy parents, are sick of the education we have been stuck with since the NCLB hammer started pounding on local schools.
We are sick of the small-thinking.
We are sick of the stress.
We are sick of the standards.
We are sick of the essential questions.
We are sick of the pre-tests, the post-tests, the practice-tests, the “real” tests, the awards for tests, the pep rallies for tests, the “how-to-parent-during-state-testing-week” newsletters, the computerized tests, the reading tests, the math tests, the “if you can write it down on a piece of paper we’re gonna test it” test.
We are sick of AYP.
We are sick of homework that brings on tears and resistance and family misery every night.
We are sick of every child being in “intervention” – constantly – to improve test scores. (Yes, every child in my daughter’s school went to “intervention” every single day…what in the hell kind of education are we creating called intervention??!!)
We want schools to belong to us and to our children and we want inspired and compassionate and intellectual teachers to lead us.
We want our teachers to be creative, and inspiring, and spontaneous, and curious – not stressed out because they’re not on the same page or lesson as the teacher next door, or that they might lose their job because the school isn’t meeting AYP, or that their evaluation and salary might be positively or negatively impacted by students’ test scores, or that their lesson plans aren’t in the right format, or that they didn’t get all their pre- and pre/pre- and post- and post/post- testing done in time. I mean with all that stress, who can respond calmly and compassionately to a child sitting in front of you? Or who can jump up and decide that third or fourth graders studying literary uses of the weather need to run outside when it’s raining to see for themselves all the different ways rain could be used in literature as symbolism? Or who has the energy to schedule guest speakers and local field trips during an intensive study of the local economy and how a community can build sustainable practices and promote more equality amongst its citizens when they have mountains of paperwork to complete and more tests to give and prepare to give? (Oh – and sustainable communities isn’t a part of the Standards, so it’s a side-project to begin with, strategically hidden from other teachers and supervisors).
We want our children to love to learn, to read, to question, to analyze, to contemplate, to sing, to perform, to draw, to play, to have friends, to feel like school is a happy and meaningful place to be.
We want our children to have recess. (Yes, we actually believe that children and adolescents need unstructured play time during the day – we prefer not to think of our pride and joy heading into a sweatshop every day).
We want our children to smile. To feel valued. To be perceived as possibility and promise – not as a potential test score.
In short – my family specifically, and lots of families across this country have suffered because of Educational Reform. And we’re sick of it – every single bit of it. Even the incredibly condescending and superficial “family engagement plans” schools now have to have parents sign and return to school each year.
Give back our teachers.
Give back our rights for a well-rounded, rich, high-quality education.
Give back our children’s childhoods.
Give back our family’s sanity.
Listen up Reformers – you are driving us mad, and driving us away. We are looking for something completely different from the menu of options you are serving.
Top-Down School Reform has got to go!
Make your plans now to attend the Save Our Schools Rally and March on July 30th in D.C.
And Kudos to SOS for organizing this event!!!