A recent Pilot headline proclaimed, “Norfolk schools among state’s worst-performing.” Everyone seems to agree on that point.
What’s not clear is how to fix this mess. There is always a flurry of new proposals that never seem to work. Unfortunately, these proposals continue a tradition started by John Dewey almost a century ago. Dewey wanted schools and teachers to focus on HOW to teach, not WHAT to teach. As a consequence, very little gets taught.
Meanwhile, the Pilot has run a long series of excuses. It’s almost what military planners call a PSYOPS. Invariably the message is: if your kids aren’t learning anything, it’s not the school’s fault. It’s always somebody else’s fault--usually some force that parents can’t control.
Creating alibis is practically an industry in Tidewater. Let’s consider them in chronological order. The big headline for September 17, 2011, screamed: “DIVERSITY: OUR SCHOOLS’ UNBALANCED EQUATION.” The subhead complained, “Region’s teachers don’t mirror the children in the classroom.” A shameless kind of racism seems to claim that if you’re not taught by a person of the same color as yourself, you won’t learn much.
A column on the editorial page (March 10, 2012) trumpeted: “Nation’s racial disparities are steadily worsening.” A columnist from a Kansas City paper sounded one of the big liberal insights these days, that some schools get more money than others. A lot of statistics try to promote the notion that money equals quality. All of this runs counter to the common observation that children in a tent in the jungles of Brazil (not to mention students at a poor private school in Podunk) will get a good education if the people in charge of the school are actually trying to provide a good education. As opposed to talking about it.
May 21, 2012, the Pilot’s lead editorial proclaimed: “Forcing parents to be grownups.” The excuse here is that fathers and mothers are not doing their job, and maybe the school should take them to court.
July 8, 2012, the Hampton Roads section was headlined, “Stressed over tests.” This article was one more installment in a long-running whine against SOL’s, NCLB, and any other attempt to make sure that kids actually know something. One of the big themes in education these days is that tests are no good, because teachers will teach to the test--you know, like just about every course in college.
Front page headline on January 28, 2013, was: “Newest teachers face tougher tasks.” The idea here is that “less experienced educators more often get students in need of astute instruction.” The Pilot is apparently saying teachers coming out of ed school are incapable of providing “astute instruction.” Overhauling ed schools would seem to be indicated.
Meanwhile, Tidewater schools and almost all other schools in the USA are wandering through a fog of jargon. The latest innovations in “student-centered, 21st-century” techniques are supposed to foster creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, social responsibility, adaptability, initiative, to name a few. It all sounds so wonderful but somehow the kids never get any smarter. Cynics would say this result is part of John Dewey’s intention a century ago when he took the emphasis away from WHAT to teach. Students might get an A in “adaptability” and the rest but still count on their fingers.
Summing up: the pattern is to palaver about the “latest innovations,” then to provide excuses when nothing gets better.
What you do not see among all the excuses is a discussion of whether kids can actually read simple English prose by the third grade. Can they add simple columns of numbers? Do they know where Europe and Canada are on a map? If they don’t know these things, then all the pretentious propaganda is just that.
The Pilot should be testing random groups of third graders. Can they read age-appropriate books? If not, find out what methods the schools have been using and campaign against them. (The big culprit these days is non-phonetic methods.)
We don’t need more empty jargon. We need a return to fundamental skills and foundational knowledge. Barring that, the Pilot will have to come up with ever more excuses.