Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Real Story

I'm always skeptical of the way certain terms are used in education circles. Two of the biggest offenders, in my view are the words "performance" and "achievement." The former makes me think of training seals and the latter is such a buzz word that it has become almost meaningless. And then there is a phrase like "No child left behind." As we seem to have discovered, it's not so much about leaving behind, it's about where you are headed. Of course no educator with a soul would advocate leaving any child anywhere if it meant no learning, no progress, dare I say no achievement. But sometimes it's not the child that's being left, it's all of us. With the privatization attempts at public education now going on, the data driven drill and kill test culture, and the exploitation and co-opting of everything from engaging curriculum to teacher's unions, it appears that the institution of the democratic public school is the one being left. Even the term rigorous, which is suddenly a favorite when describing curriculum has become misused. As one educator I know has profoundly pointed out, we must not forget that the same rigor in rigorous is present in rigor mortis. Thinking about the past and what can easily and unfortunately be considered the "good old days," I remembered how, as a first year teacher, I was always excited to bring primary source documents into my classroom. While some teachers seemed tied to seriously deficient textbooks, I relished using everything from photographs, music, poetry, letters, diary entries and journal pages, and of course, artifacts of all kinds. The text, limited as it always is, can also serve as a resource.  Sometimes it can serve as a primary source. Enlightened teachers have always used a textbook sparingly. These days, with all the pressures to follow everything from scripted programs to materials designed to raise test scores, the nuts and bolts of history often gets left behind. Even with the worlds that computer technology opens up, the "approved" textbook becomes the focus of a course designed to cram measurable bits of information into the minds of the uninformed. Here's the irony, some of the best resources that can be utilized today come from the previous century. I've been looking at a few school district approved textbooks from the late 19th and early 20th century. One in particular, entitled The Story of Our Country, has quite a story to tell. This text, now 117 years old, glowingly shows us what happens when only one narrative voice is used. To say this classroom text intended for the 1896 classroom is biased an understatement of the worst order. In describing the Battle of the Little Bighorn-you remember, Custer's Last Stand- the text describes the victorious Indians in the aftermath and actually says that they, "returned to their tents to smoke their filthy pipes." Really. It says exactly that. Oh the possible class discussions that could follow. Hopefully they will. To be continued.

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