Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Can we achieve the "Ideal School?"

I like the process of narrowing a thought to 140 characters. I tend to write long (have you noticed?) and teams of editors follow along behind, chopping up my paragraphs. This morning I worked for awhile on the following tweet:

"Start with passion and build up. How would schools look then? You'd see kids' vision, then the tchrs, then the comm'y. #edchat #meschools"

If you want to get those pesky hashtags in as well, you have to chop it down even further!

In my readings of late, emails exchanged with educators, Facebook groups on opting out of standardized testing, various other sources, I've been noticing that not everyone regards a total model change as what's needed. All we need to do is get rid of X, Y and Z, and the model would work fine!

It might be true. I have never thought about it; the idea of the current model working well enough if we only got rid of high-stakes testing and all its implications: threats from charter schools, pressure on teachers to produce test results, the general dehumanizing of education, the trend from children to numbers.

What I think more than anything else is whatever model of schooling you want to apply -- I think of it as painting a format on school buildings, as if they were empty canvases -- you have to start with the respect and nurture of the passions of children.

It's like a gauge, like measuring tire pressure. Apply to nozzle and press, and see how many children are pursuing their passions in the classroom with zeal. As the numbers go up and up, with adjustments and fine-tunings -- maybe you'll get closer to the model kids most need?

What we need to take note of is where, how, why and when the pressures of high-stakes testing interferes with the development of this ideal school. Make no mistake: it is the demands of testing that prevents passion from prevailing in our schools. Simply having those results drive our decisions is the monkey wrench that gets jammed into the works when we start to envision the passion-driven school. We don't even always realize it. Even veterans of the school-change fight argue that we can still change schools without messing with the test culture.

But the testing culture makes us blind to the real abilities of children. The testing culture is what leads us to the belief that kids won't learn what they need unless we make them. The testing culture makes a pure glass of water turn cloudy with contaminants. We've been drinking it so long, we can't even taste it anymore. Our own (that is adult) fears turn us into monsters, saying to children, "Learn this! Learn this! Learn this!" It's almost as though teaching and dead panic have turned into the same thing.

Education, in its pure form, is just something that happens when children keep doing what the best preschools are doing now: Explore. Learn. Explore. Learn.

But what we adults have been taught is to mistrust the ability of kids to keep our funding stream flowing.

Nevertheless, I really don't condemn teachers, administrators, principals, parents. As ever, I condemn the system that created the culture within which they must work.

Can we have passion-driven schools and the testing culture at the same time? I don't really believe that the two can coexist. We must fight what causes the testing culture.

Think Globally, and Locally, and Act Globally, and Locally. Global: educate and agitate to end the testing culture. Local: if we all bring an awareness of the problem to our daily work with the children in our lives, we can minimize the damage we do them.


  1. Thank you for this! I am a teacher in So Cal and have been trying to voice my opinion about our current state of affairs. You hit the nail on head!!