Bird Droppings October 1, 2020
Why are we deliberately wrong?
I stopped playing the lottery nearly three years ago. However, I will admit that I was pondering retiring on a previous Saturday night with a Powerball jackpot of only about one hundred fifty million dollars if I bought a ticket and won. I think I would be if I won retiring to devote time to education more positively than what today’s teachers are allowed. Due to so many mandates, edicts, pontifications, justifications, and whatever other impeding education our school, local, state, and the federal government has imposed, it is honestly hard to teach. Generally, over the years each semester, a teacher with a challenging class talks about changing careers or retiring. This year it is an epidemic. Teachers, I consider some of the best are dwindling, and others tired of the constant imposing of near-impossible attainments for students with no curriculum changes or courses they are told to teach. As with so many issues, education has been bastardized and taken over by those seeking to make more money.
“I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises. There has been too much talking by men who have no right to talk. Too many misinterpretations have been made; too many misunderstandings have come between the white men about the Indians.” Chief Joseph, Nez Perce January 14, 1879, addressing representatives of the President of The United States
I am saddened nothing has changed in the over hundred fifty plus years since Chief Joseph surrendered. Today, over three hundred thousand complaints against the Bureau of Indian Affairs are unanswered and in courts throughout the country. The highest suicide rate of teenagers in the nation is on reservations. Around the country, we are arguing about illegal immigrants. In Arizona and New Mexico, many of these people’s ancestors were kicked off their land when we won the Spanish American war. Navahos, Apaches, and many other tribes were dispersed to the Indian Territories in Oklahoma, never allowed to return to the ancestral homes. We are so self-centered that we can argue about illegal immigrants; maybe we are genuinely illegal immigrants. An old Indian was approached by an anthropologist and asked what your people called this land before the white man came. He calmly said, “Ours.”
“If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian, he can live in peace. There need be no trouble. Treat all men alike. Give them all the same law. Give them all an even chance to grow and live.” Chief Joseph
My thoughts often come random after a few hours’ sleep and rising to take the dog out, and a point or idea will stick. Last night about two-thirty, I got off the phone after talking with a good friend from many years ago. We talked for nearly three hours, and in heading to bed, something came to mind. It seems the powers to be back in the day and now always want to mass-produce. In the late 1800s, as far as Native Peoples go, they came up with a blanket policy and no pun intended to cover all tribes. There was no consideration of culture, family, language, and history; this included education using the Carlisle School as an example.
The white Christian way was the best and only way. No exceptions Indians should be farmers like white folk; no more hunting and gathering, no more Sundance ceremonies banned in the late 1800s or rituals that might offend Christian folk. Treaties and promises were made almost with little or no attempt to indeed fund and implement that plan. Does this sound vaguely familiar? Corruption ruled what little funding did find its way to reservations and holding areas. As I thought it was very easy to tie this government outlook to the education of today coincidently.
In 2004 a massive educational bill was passed entitled No Child Left Behind. A key point being that by 2014 all children would be on grade level in math and reading. Sadly, funding was left by the wayside and for states to implement as best they could. However, penalties were still in place for not meeting standards imposed. The idea of all children being to standard includes all socio-economic, cultural, children with disabilities, ethnic groups, and any other sort of subtitle that might be thrown in. Children would be evaluated with standardized tests given in specific grades and to graduate. Dr. William Ayers, that same fellow accused during the previous presidential election of being too friendly with our past president, has a nationally known educator and author.
“The root of the word evaluation is ‘value,’ and authentic assessment includes understanding first what the student’s value and then building from there. An authentic assessment is inside-out rather than outside-in. It is an attempt to get away from sorting a mass of students and closer to the teacher’s question: Given what I know, how should I teach this particular student.” Dr. William Ayers
One of our states’ efforts to get an assessment in line with national standards and accountability has been a new math curriculum and subsequent testing. On the front page of a past Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Only 52% of the students who took the End of Course test for Math II in May 2017 passed.” This was across the state averages in high schools on this particular test. State department of education people say they will get it will take time for students to get used to the new curriculum. In special education, we have been told to start telling parents in IEP’s that kids may be in high school for five or six years due to higher standards for graduation. Interesting by chance, should you take over four years to graduate, you are considered a dropout until recently when the graduation rules were again changed.
I question who is setting the bar up and why? As I read the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it is due to mandated standards set in the No Child Left Behind legislation. What about schools that are so far behind that no matter what bar level is set, it will not happen. Many reservation schools and inner-city schools have never hit AYP to date in nearly ten years of testing. Another low point is that it is common knowledge among administrators and educators that test scores and zip codes have a strong correlation. How is that for a statistic? Borrowing a phrase now that is a Catch 22, yes, most definitely, zip codes and test scores do correlate. I had an idea last night after a brief discussion in a blog over what could be done. I asked for some time to think about solving this dilemma. By chance, I went by Barnes and Noble to get some backup material.
Great educators have known the answer; John Dewey offered suggestions and thoughts well over a hundred years ago. Numerous other authors have expanded on and clarified Dewey’s thoughts. All seem to conclude the solution is not in one test fits all; one curriculum fits all; it is not about leaving children behind, which is currently happening at an alarming rate. So here was walking my dog last night, and a thought came to me. It is about one child at a time.
“Teachers are explorers. As they explore their students’ world and lives, they cast lines to different ways of thinking. Teaching is often bridge-building; beginning on one shore with the knowledge, experience, know-how, and interests of the student, the teacher move toward broader horizons and deeper ways of knowing.” Dr. William Ayers, to teach the journey of a teacher, 2010
You might say, where do we start? Step one, we start asking students. After talking with many students of the Foxfire program who have graduated many years back, I see that there are commonalities in their opinion of what they learned. They learned about community more so than any other topic; this has come up numerous times. It was not a measurable academic lesson or standardized test score it was the interactions with others in a useful and viable manner. It was being allowed to be an individual and to be creative. It was about one child at a time.
“From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuse the work teachers and learners do together.” Foxfire Core Practice One
John Dewey emphasized the democratic classroom and giving students a voice and allowing their past experiences to be utilized, not just those perceptions and experiences of the teacher. One Child’s idea at a Time may sound a bit farfetched, but when you look at how we currently test and evaluate, it is not truly an indicator of what a child knows or even cares about. It is what has been drilled in the past semester. You will often hear the term life long learner and yet is cramming for a standardized test lifelong learning? Is 52% of students taking tests failing lifelong learning? What if we could take a bit more time to learn who the student is to allow students to incorporate their weaknesses and strengths into the learning process. Wouldn’t it be great if we could do an individual IEP for all students instead of a blanket testing policy? Would it not be great if each student had a portfolio that accompanied them in each grade, showing progress and showing their achievements? It is one child at a time that is the key to educational success and or failure. I will wander more another time so please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.
My friends, I do not say this lightly,
(We are all related)