Saturday, May 21, 2011
This week, all over the country, many cities had school bond issues on their ballots. In my town, Portland, there were two such measures. Also in my town, like most other cities, these measures went down. That people are feeling the pinch of our stagnant economy is obviously much of the reason that these bonds failed. I'm sure a lot of folks were torn. No doubt many who always vote for school bond measures did not this time. It's certainly understandable. It's also difficult to face for those in the education community.
It underscores the contradictions so rampant in education today. Give us more with less. It's that simple. Educators are under the gun to deliver a perceived notion of what constitutes "achievement" but nothing that truly might make that possible is provided.
We want higher test scores, highly motivated and engaged students, committed teachers, and curriculum that meets these standards. Oh, by the way, we're cutting your wages, your colleagues, and taking away your right to organize and bargain collectively. Any fool will tell you that this won't work. That this is not leadership. But here's the thing: many teachers go to work everyday, spend their own money for basic supplies, create their own curriculum, and spend extra hours grading papers, calling homes, and educating themselves as lifelong learners...anyway.
I've learned to live with these contradictions. Doesn't mean I like it, or condone the status quo, but I've learned to adjust my reaction. (at least I'm trying)
In the novel and now film Water for Elephants, the theme of illusion becomes the overarching metaphor for not only the circus, but life in general. This we know. Things are seldom what they appear to be. Because this is so, it's a constant in explaining the contradictions that are so much a part of how education issues are seen. If any gap exists in achievement in this country it always comes down to socio-economic status. Put simply...poverty. But the poor have always been invisible. We live in a culture that values appearance. Is it any wonder that poverty is the reigning illusion?
That begs the question, do the people in power even see the real issues? We have a Secretary of Education that was never a teacher. Can you imagine a Surgeon General who never went to medical school or a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who was never in the military? Incredible, isn't it?
Recently a high school junior in my town wrote an opinion piece that was printed in the local paper. The title says it all. Struggling Students Need Broad Support, Not Labels. Here she argues that it is the socio-economic disparity in this culture not race or standards or more testing that explains what the reality at play in our schools today. She gets it. But then, she goes there every day.