"Re - Form"
Perhaps the problem lies in our definitions -
- To put into a new and improved form or condition; to restore to a former good state, or bring from bad to good; to change from worse to better; to amend; to correct; as, to reform a profligate man; to reform corrupt manners or morals.
- To return to a good state; to amend or correct one's own character or habits; as, a person of settled habits of vice will seldom reform.
- (transitive, intransitive) To form again or in a new configuration. Wiktionary
They were, as I wrote last month (over 5 posts), designed from the very start to fail at least 75% of their students. If they are now failing just 60% or 65%, they are remarkably over-achieving. Something I attribute to many great teachers and great public school administrators.
Schools are not "failing" because of teaching quality, or some bizarre concocted view of 'lack of competition,' or even because of insufficient teacher education. They are failing because we are pursuing an absurd concept of education. It was evil when it was constructed originally - designed to keep people down. It is absurd now, because, as nations, though we know better, we continue to maintain a structure which only works to make our nations 'banana republics' where only the offspring of Gates, Duncan, Cameron, Clegg, et al will succeed.
So, we must insist on change. Actual, fundamental change.
Politics: These changes will be difficult, but they are necessary choices. And perhaps they begin with the need for everyone concerned about education to vote, and to vote straight Democratic in the US midterm elections. Now this sounds odd, Obama has been no friend to schools, or teachers, or students. And yet, efforts to "punish" the US Democrats, like the desire to "punish" Labour in the UK or Labor in Australia, will backfire. Unless you are a dedicated Leninist, you really don't want to move your nation "forward" by bringing on right-wing chaos in hopes of sparking a revolution.
Let's face it, we cannot begin to conceive a more fair, more inclusive, more inspired educational structure without building a fairer, more inclusive, more inspired economic structure, as TheJLV pointed out so well recently. Kids who are hungry because of cuts in the social safety net, or sick because even minimal health care reforms are rolled back, or have parents locked up in re-education camps (as New York's Republican gubernatorial candidate suggests), are nowhere. As are teachers with support structures and school construction programs gutted. Nor will we fix anything by giving tax cuts to Goldman-Sachs executives and letting them decide which schools to support.
So, first, as the UK is learning in horrible fashion, as Australia barely averted, first, keep the nation moving left. Then, pressure that left to act in the best interests of children.
And we do that by being much more involved, and much more continually involved. By pressuring candidates, by becoming candidates, by grouping contributions so we cannot be ignored, by doing - for example - exactly what "we" did in the Democratic primaries in DC and New York - tossing out DFER supported and other faux progressives when we're not handing elections to right-wingers or their collaborators (remember, even the most "moderate" US Republican - Maine's Susan Collins, stripped massive amounts of school funding from the stimulus package in 2009 - it was her one "accomplishment" of this congressional term).
Next, where you can, elect your school boards. Do not accept candidates who don't understand the needs for fundamental change.
Teacher Education: We need teacher preparation programs to run fundamentally different laboratory schools, which train new teachers in radical new ways of thinking. These laboratory schools need to truly experiment, but they must start by undoing our 19th Century paradigms. The age-based grades, grading systems, classrooms, subject separations, industrial blocks of time. It is these structures which have failed, these technologies, these visions of what "teaching" is. And so we must train our next generation of teachers in totally new conceptions of education.
We also need history and philosophy as major, inherent parts of our teacher education programs. We need to understand why the systems in which our future teachers succeeded is so horribly wrong. That is difficult to talk about, but there are no shortcuts here.
Each teacher: Each educator, on the ground, must push the envelope as far as possible within their environment. There are no shortage of examples, whether your environment is supportive, or insane. Years ago, I'm thinking early 1970s, my mother, a third-grade teacher, somehow harrassed her principal until he let her knock down walls separating classrooms so she and others could create a vast multi-age classroom. She somehow got the space carpeted and threw out the desks and chairs. The school did not really transform around her, but the kids in that space did fabulously. I still get messages through facebook from former students who want to thank her.
My 'Neil Postman' alternative high school was pushed into existence by one Junior High English teacher (and union leader) who just wouldn't let kids get pushed out of school.
Every day I talk to teachers fighting for their kids - fighting for the freedom to do what is right for their kids.
I know teaching is difficult enough, but this is 'war time,' and we somehow have to do more.
Each parent: You have to fight for the change you need, but you have to understand that the change we need does not look like the schools we have now. I don't care how well you did, or how rosy your recollections. The evidence is clear, this system doesn't work for us - our society - and we have a moral obligation to truly "re-form" it. To start again, to create something which creates opportunities and possibilities for all.
Parents, I know you - first and foremost - want to protect your children. Obviously. But we must be better than that. We must want to protect - and enable - all of our children.
Insist on change. Real change.
And join us for the next day of Blogging for Real Reform on November 22.
- Ira Socol