Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Can I Help You?

Discussions about education seem to be off the radar for the moment in the news cycle although a recent issue of Newsweek featured several articles on "school reform"  Which makes me think "what schools?" and " what kind of reform?"  There are several films floating around communities currently presenting differing views on education, specifically public education.  The merits of charter schools and or standardized testing are the focus on the most popular ones but from what I've seen so far there is a lot missing from the discussion.  Here are a few ideas I have that I think would do well to be added to the overall discussion.
I believe that schools have been assigned the task, and in many cases have made claims that they can serve every student in his or her own learning style.  It's been years since the concept of multiple intelligences has entered the mainstream and schools like to talk about how well they meet the varied needs of students.  Text books often include suggestions for visual learners, kinetic learners etc. but how well are these implemented?  And even if they were, what would the results be?  As I stated in an earlier post schools today don't look all that different from 50 years ago, and yet the world has changed around them in radical fashion.  I believe my grandmother, a teacher in the 1950s could walk into my classroom and recognize the basic set up and even take over teaching for the day if need be.  I've yet to see a school that really seems able to truly meet the needs of every student in his or her own learning style and adapt to their interests.  What we are left with, I think, is a disconnect between a stated (or at least implied) claim and the "facts on the ground"  Most schools still operate with one teacher and twenty to thirty students in a room covering material perscribed by the district curriculum.  So what would a school look like if it was truly adaptable to every student's interest and learning style?
We're still operating on a school schedule that was devised to allow children time off to work on the family farm and why is that still the expectation?  Especially when you look at the "summer brain drain" that occurs (albeit in larger amounts with low income children) across the country.
What about students who come to school with huge disadvantages due to social economic status or lifestyle?  When you have a child who has been watching TV or playing computer games since they were a toddler (and we know from various medical studies that children should not be exposed to TV under the age of two for any length of time) and they're struggling to learn to read and deal with school curriculum it can feel like being a doctor with a patient who comes complaining of chest pains who smokes two packs of cigarettes a day, won't quit and wants to be cured. 
As a teacher I can help a student learn to read better, to think about what they're reading and share it in a more connected, logical way but I can't teach someone to have an interest in learning.  I can't teach a student to have a literate background. 
Too many of the discussions I've heard in the past around school reform (and fear I'll hear in the future) seem to miss many of these vital points.  They speak of teaching and schools as if they were factories that with only the right machines could turn out a quality product.
What do you think?

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