The education battle as I see it, as we go into a budget process that looks very grim, is to get perspective on two issues.
1. Do we really need to kids learn stuff they don't care about?
2. How do we make kids care?
OK, the two questions are important, but the order in which they are presented is also critical. I put them in that way because I think it's important to grapple with the outdated idea that all kids need to learn this list of facts, concepts, skills. What people generally think is that I don't think we should teach kids to read if they don't want to, and that I don't care if they learn the times tables. (Why does it always come down to the times tables? I don't know my times tables! I function!)
But the second question can address the first. I do care whether kids can read and do math. I do think it's important--I'm traditional in that sense and the misuse of the good old apostrophe makes me absolutely crazy. But forcing kids to learn is what we do now, and forcing doesn't work. It may look like it works, it may be "good enough for government work," but good enough is not good enough.
It is so critical that kids learn to read and do math that it is absolutely out of the question that we force them to learn it in such a way that they react against it. (Which is what's happening now, wholesale.)
I used to say, we need to help kids find the on-ramp to learning, let them follow their passions until they love to learn and each new thing opens doors to a whole beautiful world.
I don't say that anymore. We don't need to help them find the on-ramp; we need to make sure our schools are not an off-ramp. Read, write,do math, yes, these are all things that go with the normal course of the pursuit of interests. But do all kids have to know chemistry? Do all kids have to know the battlefields of the Civil War?
Do we even have to teach facts at all? Information is plentiful and free; working with information, determining why something is important or unimportant, being able to figure stuff out for yourself, that's a lot more important, but still, here we are, teaching kids how a bill becomes law before they ever figure out why they should care about it...except that we told them they should care.
How does this relate to our budget? We are still "delivering" education based on what we have decided kids need to learn, without reference to who these kids are. What we need to fight for is an education system that puts as a first priority to discover the identity of each of these kids, and fashion an education program that will keep kids on the learning highway that started at birth.
I call it "the identity imperative."
I have to have these two questions on my mind at all times. This is the frustration. I can see myself letting yet another budget go forward without addressing the off-ramp. The institution is unmovable. Kinda like an elephant. It doesn't move unless it wants to move. But I did see this great, upsetting footage of a pack of lionesses bringing down an elephant the size of a small dump truck. It took every one of those cats to bring that animal down. But in the end, the elephant was lunch.
So we need to gather as a crowd, attack, bring down, and eat this idea. The institution of school makes the decisions about what kids should learn, and when, and how, and why, leaving the identity of kids out of the picture entirely.