What do teachers really know?

Bird Droppings August 20, 2022
What do teachers really know?

“Teachers are one of the most important resources a nation has for providing the skills, values, and knowledge that prepare young people for productive citizenship – but more than this, to give sanctuary to their dreams and aspirations for a future of hope, dignity, and justice. It is indeed ironic, in the unfolding nightmare in Newtown, that only in the midst of such a shocking tragedy are teachers celebrated in ways that justly acknowledge – albeit briefly and inadequately – the vital role they play every day in both protecting and educating our children.” Henry Giroux, The War against teachers as public intellectuals in dark times

Over the past year, I have read many articles and blogs glorifying concealed weapons and toting how a single armed teacher could have saved the day in Newton Ct. I find it so remarkably interesting that the largest lobby for guns and gun ownership is silent and avoids coming up with a solution. I read an article or post where someone compared making a bomb at home. Perhaps the conspiracies unraveling around the ammonium nitrate explosion in Beirut got that started. Sadly, it was done on a massive scale with easily purchased fertilizer and diesel fuel not enough years ago in Oklahoma City, or have we forgotten the children who died there? A concealed weapon would not have mattered in that situation. With a psychology background and having spent several years working with severely disturbed students in years gone by, I continue to look towards more support for mental health where funding has been stripped to the bone. Many situations are now in private corporations’ hands that while taking care of their needs for those who need help, they do very little caring. So many issues and so many answers flying about that seldom get addressed.

. “The world cares very little about what a man or woman knows; it is what a man or woman is able to do that counts.” Booker T. Washington

Yesterday I received an email containing a letter from a well-known professor of education at the University of Georgia. The letter emphasized testing “what we know” and how this is not a reflection of education, simply teaching students to take a test or borrowing from Sydney J. Harris “stuffing sausages.” The issue then becomes how we measure what a person does learn. One of the best methods of measuring learning is a portfolio system. Most elected officials want data on their stay in office, not a portfolio twenty years in the making which makes this method a hard sell.

“I believe that much of present education fails because it neglects this fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life. It conceives the school as a place where certain information is to be given, where certain lessons are to be learned, or where certain habits are to be formed. The value of these is conceived as lying largely in the remote future; the child must do these things for the sake of something else he is to do; they are mere preparation. As a result, they do not become a part of the life experience of the child and so are not truly educative.” John Dewey

I just reread UGA professor Dr. Glickman’s letter and have formatted it and saved it on my computer. John Dewey knew cramming knowledge was not the answer. As I mentioned several days ago, modern educators argue that we cannot simply fill a bottle with knowledge. In life, not just in education, we want to determine our successes and failures. Over my years, many of which have been in industry, indirectly developing materials for training. Specifically, in industry, we developed and used an acronym, ISMEC.

In industry, there is a goal, a relatively simple one: profit. To increase profit, you have to decrease losses. ISMEC was a tool to do this. There were underlying humanitarian issues in heavy industry, where loss also means loss of life. But loss time is the amount of time without a loss, and in some industries, this is measured between deaths or injuries. For example, deep rock mining is one of those industries where how many man hours between deaths is calculated. The equation becomes how many deaths per million-man hours of work. ISMEC came to industry in the early 1960s and revolutionized the industry. A simple acronym is Identify, Set standards, Measure, Evaluate, Correct, and/or Commend.

In industry, to find and identify, you look at the maintenance department, find where issues are, and build from there. In a community currently, we use test scores. What if we looked at the maintenance department, the jails, rehab facilities, counseling services, doctors, and such to see where we needed support and modifications rather than standardized test scores? It might cost too much, or confidentiality could be an issue, and we would have a difficult time accomplishing within elected officials’ time in office is crucial. What if we went closer to home and checked on in-school and out-of-school suspensions and detentions as a marker for problems?

“Our students are tested to an extent that is unprecedented in American history and unparalleled anywhere in the world. Politicians and businesspeople, determined to get tough with students and teachers, have increased the pressure to raise standardized test scores. Unfortunately, the effort to do so typically comes at the expense of more meaningful forms of learning” Alfie Kohn

For the first time in twenty years back in teaching, I can say we will not be involved in end-of-course tests across this country. As I think about this, previously, four teachers I know had four distinctly differing percentages of pass rates. County, State, and Federal officials look at pass rates only. My first question is, are these classes the same in makeup? How many included special education students since new state laws allow up to ten and more if approved? How many have at-risk and remedial students not tested well in previous grades? After looking at specifics, say in the biology test. The highest pass rate was in an advanced biology class with a one hundred percent pass rate. As we went through the scoring, the numbers of special education students and at risk increased to a teacher whose class had a seventy-seven percent pass rate with sixty-three percent either special ed or at risk. What was also impressive was looking at the top scores. A higher percentage of non-special ed and non-at-risk students exceeded ninety percent than in advanced class.

So, what do we do as parents, teachers, friends, and families? How do we change the directions and aspirations of those who set a precedent? We live in a democracy, and we hold that power in voting. Many Presidents of the United States have argued the merits of removing or not removing various taxes, wars, health care reform, and our economy, yet I have heard little about education. I sat at my computer a few weeks back at the local Honda dealer while my car was serviced. As I read various Facebook posts and other social media, I can’t help thinking people are buying this dribble, yet whoever is elected seems to do whatever is needed to stay elected and not about what should or could turn our country into the world around. We have stabilized gas prices recently, and panic from the general population is sedated versus running around just a few short months ago trying to save twenty cents a gallon at a cheaper store. We seem to forget that our children are the future, and how they view the world will impact that future. How they understand their world will impact their future.

As I close this dropping, we gain knowledge, and we learn and try, and through our voting during elections, we can hopefully change society; borrowing from a recent election, yes, we can. So many years ago, a movie ended with an elderly man offering a bit of wisdom, “use it wisely,” as the old knight in the Indiana Jones movie says. Today use it wisely, and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your heart and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)

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