09 September 2009

Shush and Sit Down

President Obama's speech to America's students began in a familiar way. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's first word upon mounting the podium was "shush." The President's first phrase was "sit down."

There we go. "Reform" which looks an awful lot like my classrooms of long ago. School is silent, passive, still, and information is one-directional.

I have heard Barack Obama speak to crowds before. I've seen him speak to attentive crowds of standing people, even standing young people. I've seen him speak to rowdy crowds, crowds who talked back, chanted, laughed, interacted.

But there's something about entering the school building which changes the conversation - "shush" and "sit down."

Changing schools requires something much more than telling kids to "try harder" and "keep trying." Especially since kids aren't that stupid. They actually know what is going on. They see "Zero Tolerance Policies" which tell kids that one mistake is all they get. They see voters choose to fund football stadiums over classrooms. They hear their parents and leaders denigrate teachers almost every day. They see that the only way they can be treated like an "adult" before they are 21 is to commit a crime. They see cutbacks in school funding while any talk of altering funding for senior citizens is met by howls of protest. They see politicians and even religious leaders lying and cheating. Mostly they see their leaders not listening to them. They know it's a game, a game rigged against most of them.

So I really would've like President Obama to converse with America's students. Even if they were standing up, lying on the floor, or walking around. I really would've liked him to tell students that if "you take responsibility, we will too." That we'll stop pretending that testing is education. That we'll stop comparing education to a "race" where we already know who the winners will be. That we'll have "zero tolerance for zero tolerance," or for schools which fail to take advantage of this century's learning technologies.

I'd like him to have promised our students that they'd have the best teachers because those teachers would be paid well, treated with respect, and offered every opportunity to build their own knowledge. That our schools would have fair funding, with the most money going to the schools where needs are greatest. That universities would stop admitting rich kids based on daddy's contributions. That classes and curriculum would have relevance.

But instead I heard him and his Secretary of Education tell kids they weren't trying hard enough, and of course, to sit down and shut up.

Just another day at school in America.

- Ira Socol


msstewart said...

Well said. I was frustrated that we didn't hear Obama as the charasmatic, engaging, funny speaker we know he can be. Do you think any of that had to do with the controversy around the speech? Was he tried too hard not to upset anyone? Because engaging students makes some people feel threatened.

irasocol said...

Absolutely no doubt that the speech was designed to be "offenseless." Unfortunately you can't create change - in health care or education or anything - without being willing to to get some people angry. Consensus leaves us standing still.

- Ira Socol

Paul Bogush said...

To summarize his speech:
Things may be miserable but suck it up and ignore it. If you hate school that's just tough also, just suck it up and deal with it and eventually it will be over.

While you are bored I will try to get some new supplies and place them into the hands of the same teachers who are boring you so that they can do it with new textbooks and in freshly painted rooms.

Something else about writing books about Wizards and attempting 25,000 times to through a ball through a hoop...oh and don't forget kids, if you fail, you will be letting down the entire world.

Did I miss anything?

irasocol said...

Yeah Paul,

Some basketball star from the 1990s got mentioned, right after "don't expect to be a basketball player."

Otherwise, I think you have the summary.

- Ira Socol

msstewart said...

Link to transcript of Obama's convo with 9th graders before the speech


irasocol said...

Yikes, that's worse. It would have been nice if he had talked to these kids about school, if he had asked them questions.

I had hoped he had done something of value there, but I guess not.

- Ira Socol

capndeb said...

Well put, and well written.

HomerTheBrave said...

I'm getting really tired of being disappointed by Obama.

Greg Casperson said...

After last nights speech, its even more clear he has fallen in with the conciliatory practices of past democrats that tries to appease radicals rather than fighting for what is right and why most Americans voted for him.