Laboring in the rocky fields of education, I find myself more and more frustrated. As I’ve noted from time to time, contemporary education is almost entirely fad-based. If the purpose of education is to educate the individual and produce functional, productive citizens, this is a verybad thing. If the purpose of education is to build and maintain education bureaucracies and build resumes for educrats, it’s just what the educrat ordered. I am nearing the point where I would not recommend teaching for any intelligent and capable young person. There may yet be hope, but I’m nearing that conclusion.
What’s that you say? You’re just a burned out old fart that doesn’t appreciate the brilliance of educrats? I’m indeed tired of fighting what passes for education instead of actual teaching and learning. And I am indeed old, and quite near retirement. On the other hand, I love teaching, love my kids, and still have something worthwhile, something more than a computerized curriculum can manage, to impart. I still come to school smiling each morning, looking forward to what we’re going to accomplish, and flatter myself to imagine I’m actually teaching the kids something beyond what others might manage. I think this because that’s what my students tell me, during our time together, and many years thereafter, when they’re in college or out in the real world, relying in part on what I gave them to understand the world around them and to provide for their families.
Thesis: teaching and learning do not change because human nature does not change. We learn today just as we did in the time of Socrates.
By way of example, let us say we are a teacher or administrator that wants to not only be something more–mere teachers are a lower life form and booooring–but wants to make real money. Apart from being a superintendent in a large school district, education is not the way to become wealthy. Such teachers spend a few years in the classroom, but their sights are focused at more exalted targets: administration/educrat euphoria. Once they become assistant superintendents of paper shuffling, etc., they begin to build their resumes to become superintendents.
Some, however, choose an alternate path, where the real money is: consulting. They abandon education, write a program or as is now common an “education system” or similarly vague term, promote and sell it, and make more money than they had ever hoped to see. Such programs are almost always recycled, failed ideas given new acronyms and terms. My favorite is instead of “details” in writing, “golden bricks.” I’m not kidding. See how much better that makes everything? Did you know things like staplers, pencils, pens, rulers and erasers aren’t staplers, pencils, pens, rulers and erasers? No sir. They are “manipulables.” This will cause children to achieve unimaginable heights of education bliss. That educrats and consultants actually say–and perhaps believe–such things is another “I’m not kidding.”
Why is this possible? Because education is fad-based. All those assistants to the assistant superintendents for diverse school lunches—educrats–are scrabbling to get noticed for their brilliance, and are building their resumes. They do that by coming up with brilliant, stunning and grotesquely expensive “systems” that will transform education.
Once such a “system” has sunk its tentacles into a given school district, it is almost impossible to eradicate. It doesn’t matter how much teachers—the people who actually have expertise in, and do with work of, education—complain. It’s doesn’t matter how much time and money the system wastes, or how much damage it does to kid’s educational opportunities, much more important issues are at stake: the reputations and careers of educrats and consultants.What educrat would ever admit they were wrong in buying into such “systems?” They’d be admitting they wasted untold millions of taxpayer dollars, that they were sufficiently credulous to buy such a thing in the first place, and that their eagerness cost innumerable kids years of an educational opportunity that should have been focused on real teaching and learning. They’re above such petty, unenlightened concerns, beyond it. They’re assistant superintendents, making what, for education, is real money, which must mean they’re far more intelligent, capable and evolved than mere teachers. What could they possibly know about education?
This means that even the most feckless, destructive fad, and most are both and more, will persist for 5-10 years or longer. They are displaced in only one of three ways:
1) Taxpayers rise up and demand educrats behave like adults. This is, sadly, relatively rare.
2) The educrats responsible for imposing the disaster become superintendents elsewhere, retire, or leave to become consultants.
3) Educrats find a fad they like better—which might give them a better resume or make them look even more enlightened to people that think themselves enlightened—and replace the first fad.
To be entirely fair, some of the educrats actually believe the “systems” they’re imposing on everyone are helpful, even necessary. Some even do this in what they earnestly believe to be good will. Tragically, gentle readers, as I suspect you’ll see, they’re wrong.
Let us invent a lucrative “education system.” We will call it “Achieving Transformation.” This system will require very specific daily things each teacher must do:
(1) Each teacher must construct a “unified test” for each class for each grading period (at least);
(2) Each teacher must post, in a prominent location in their classroom, daily, the objective of the day’s lesson, and an explanation of how that objective will be accomplished. They must also discuss these objectives, daily with their students and obtain their informed opinions.
(3) Each teacher must post two documents in their classroom: a “Future Goal” that explains what the teacher will accomplish, and a “Accomplishment Statement,” which must be written by the students, which will display what they intend to do.
(4) Each teacher must, regularly, post “data,” which includes student results of unified tests, and other matters. They must regularly discuss it with students and try to make them interested in it.
(5) Each teacher must, regularly, teach students how to lead discussions about the importance of the data and how to interpret it to constantly achieve.
(6) Each teacher must, regularly, hold discussions with the students where they decide what the teacher will teach them next, and critique the teacher’s performance.
(7) Each teacher must, for every assignment and/or lesson, provide the students with lists of the state standards involved, and explain why these are meaningful and what they will thereby learn.
These are only a few of the requirements. I’m including, for the sake of brevity, only a portion of the additional paperwork burdens on teachers, whose actual teaching ability and performance no longer matter. What matters is their rigid adherence to the system, and most importantly, their middle school cheerleader-like praise of the wonders of the system, and the educrats and consultants making it possible. Teaching ability matters not at all because the system is so perfect, so advanced, student exposure to it will overwhelm any possible influence teachers might have.
All system materials are very expensive. If they weren’t, educrats would think the system insufficiently important and wouldn’t buy it, short or long term.
You may think I’m exaggerating about these requirements, gentle readers, but I assure you, this is the state of contemporary education across America. Not everywhere, thank the Lord, but in many, many places. Let’s discuss each of the requirements:
(1) Unified tests. These are tests given by every teacher teaching a given course, such as Senior English or Biology 1. They are given at the end of each grading period, or often, at the end of each unit of instruction. System consultants and allied educrats need these to produce data, which is the primary reason for the existence of public schools.
Educrats actually say, and perhaps believe, it is impossible for a teacher to know what to teach if they do not have a unified test prepared before they begin. This line of “thinking” goes beyond merely teaching to the test. The unified test is the alpha and the omega. It is all things and all-important. They are also upset that there are teachers who teach courses taught by no one else. They cannot demand unified tests–there is no one with who to unify–and these teachers produce no data. This is alarming heresy and a direct threat to the system.
Reality: once they leave the elementary grades, most kids care little about pleasing their teachers. Most will do what they’re asked to do, but could not care less about these tests, or about any data relating to them. Such tests take class time, and tell teachers nothing they did not already know about their student’s abilities. The idea teachers would be helpless to teach without such things is insulting, and frankly, a failure to acknowledge the abilities of teachers.
(2) Daily Objectives: Educrats think these absolutely vital. Otherwise, how will kids know what they are going to learn? Given this information, they will “buy into” the lesson, and “own” it.
Reality: Younger kids don’t understand abstractions, and older students don’t care. They want to know what they have to do, mostly do the assignments, and become more capable when they do. Smarter kids recognize this as bull puckey, but understand their teachers are forced to do it, so they play along. Most importantly, many disciplines just don’t work that way. In English, for example, virtually every aspect of the discipline is used every day. To try to segment days, or even weeks, into narrow boxes is ridiculous and unprofessional.
(3) Long Range Goal and Accomplishment Statement. Teachers know exactly what they must do: teach the material of their discipline as well as their abilities and resources allow. They struggle to fit in as much as possible in the constantly dwindling time allowed them, but they have no doubt their goal is to greet the kids as they find them when they first walk through the classroom doorway, and take them as far as possible.
A few students in each class will take the request to come up with an Accomplishment Statement somewhat seriously, but most greet it with moans and eye rolling. They’ll play along and post a list of general platitudes–we’ll come to school, do our work, try hard, etc.–but thereafter, ignore it completely. If the teacher removes the sign, they won’t notice–or care.
(4) Data. This provides no information teachers don’t already know. They, after all, have to grade every paper and keep constantly updated grade averages. It does take a great deal of a teacher’s time, however. Educrats love this because actually speaking to teachers and checking their work is time consuming and takes actual knowledge, the kind they never developed in their two or three teaching years. It’s so much easier to breeze into a classroom and check a few boxes to note the required signs and data, etc. are being displayed. Teachers hate these requirements, and educrats, because they’re doing nothing to make teaching and learning easier or more effective. Quite the opposite.
Students will glance in the direction of the posted data when teachers call their attention to it. One or two might even make a comment—even high school kids occasionally want to please a well-liked teacher—but most will ignore the displays and the intentions of the data. Should the teacher remove it, the kids won’t notice, or if they do, won’t comment on its absence, likely hoping the teacher just quits doing it.
(5) Data discussions. Educrats think this enormously vital and powerful. It’s useless and painful. Everyone involved knows no one cares. Kids just want to know if they passed a given assignment and are passing the class. High achievers want the same information, but work harder and care about grades. Some will play along, others will sleep. No one will be in any way improved, but teachers will be forced to spend considerable time doing it, participating wholeheartedly in the marvelous, transformative system.
(6) Teacher Critiques. Educrats love this. They constantly whine that teachers must not be a “sage on the stage,” but instead “facilitators,” people who don’t really teach anything, don’t really impart the knowledge and experience their educations and experience make possible, but gently guide the children to release their inner brilliance, which will result in heretofore unimaginable educational achievement, particularly if combined with the “system.”
They actually think this way, and say it, to teachers.
Competent teachers are insulted and horrified by this. They’re trying desperately to get their kids to use punctuation and capitalization. Their kids have miniscule vocabularies, most have little or no common, cultural knowledge, and many are proud of having never read a complete book. They’re going to critique a teacher’s technique and suggest a proper curriculum?
Kids will embrace this because it gives them an opportunity to goof off and even give teachers a bit of attitude. One or two might occasionally know, vaguely, of a piece of literature that might be worthwhile, but virtually none do.
Letting inmates run the asylum never ends well.
(7) Standards. Educrats think this vital. Only by listing specific state standard numbers and sharing them with students and parents, can kids possibly learn. Teachers are, with this one, certain their educrats are idiots. No student or parent will say: “Oh look! They’re going to do standard 18C-2! I love that one! What a good school this is!” Instead, their eyes will glaze over, and they will ignore it. Kids care about what they’re going to be doing, how long it has to be, when it’s due, and how they did—mostly.
My inspiration for this rant was my recent stay in the hospital. While being wheeled down a series of very long hallways, past all manner of hi-tech suites containing advanced diagnostic equipment and the highly-trained people necessary to run them and interpret the results, I thought of the educrats that drank the entire bathtub of Kool-aid of these wasteful, destructive and expensive “systems” and a question every one of them should be made to answer, in public, came to mind:
“This transformative ‘system” is a new invention. If you’re right; if it is absolutely vital to education; if we have to spend millions and can’t do without it, how is it possible generation after generation of unenlightened teachers managed to educate the most technologically advanced society in history before the invention of this system?”
We still learn in exactly the same ways people did in the time of Socrates. Times change, expensive systems rise and fall, but human nature does not change. Knowing that is worth a thousand classroom systems, and enormously less costly, in time, money and wasted educational opportunities.
Kids only have so many hours in school. Twelve years sounds like a long time it’s not. Use those precious hours learning useful things, and building bigger, better brains.
Pre-Posting Update: Paula Bolyard at PJ Media notes English and Math SAT scores are at a new low. You don’t suppose systems like “Achieving Transformation” have anything to do with that, do you, gentle readers?