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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Failing Schools, Failing Teachers?

What to do when a school is by many standards failing?  Fire the teachers and start anew, so goes the story in a Rhode Island school (click HERE to read more).  The details of any similar story are difficult to get, since most reporting is slim at best.  I have heard from teachers that a school has its own history, its own reputation.  Some schools are known to be less academically successful and the culture of this knowledge is repeated again and again.  I have also read reports where students are put into two groups, one where they are told that they are gifted and another where they are told they are inferior.  In which group do you think they were more successful (no matter what their socioeconomic background)?

Factors that can alter a students chances of success, among several, are:
1. A teacher's subject content knowledge.  This knowledge must include a depth of knowledge that can allow for creative ways to connect subject content to other areas of interest.  They must know enough to be able to ask questions that lead to students piecing together knowledge into an overall understanding of reality.
2. A teacher's pedagogical content knowledge.  Knowing when and how to weave a tapestry of content and processes together for students is key to reaching all students of various interests and skill levels.
3. A teacher's expectations. Having high expectations for all students and the patience and leadership to empower students to have high expectations for themselves.

I am not claiming that the move to fire the teachers was right or wrong, there are too many questions I need answered to settle my mind.  The utmost importance of education, as supported by all in the community (teachers, parents, administrators, businesses, etc.), is given as a platitude more often than a sincere statement.  Politicians include it as a campaign slogan (always reinforcing the idea that schools are in need of drastic repair regardless of their status).  The general populace wants a good education for all, but the current system of funding typically tilts the support towards affluent communities.  There is even the idea that more funding for schools would be useless, since the system is claimed to be beyond repair and taxes in the US never make people spring into a joyful dance.  Of course, taxes for more jails might be considered and even wanted so as to be tough on crime.

No matter what the decisions we make to 'correct' a failing school, I'd hope that our individual and collective actions would align with the following sentiments...

"The education and training of children is among the most meritorious acts of humankind and draweth down the grace and favour of the All-Merciful, for education is the indispensable foundation of all human excellence and alloweth man to work his way to the heights of abiding glory. If a child be trained from his infancy, he will, through the loving care of the Holy Gardener, drink in the crystal waters of the spirit and of knowledge, like a young tree amid the rilling brooks. And certainly he will gather to himself the bright rays of the Sun of Truth, and through its light and heat will grow ever fresh and fair in the garden of life."

"Every child is potentially the light of the world--and at the same time its darkness; wherefore must the question of education be accounted as of primary importance. From his infancy, the child must be nursed at the breast of God's love, and nurtured in the embrace of His knowledge, that he may radiate light, grow in spirituality, be filled with wisdom and learning, and take on the characteristics of the angelic host."

We are not training children for employment.  We are not training them to be merely law-abiding citizens.  We are unleashing a potential for progressive change unmatched by all the generations before us.  At this momentous time, we choose to lower our expectations for education at a great price OR we choose to higher them for unimaginable glory.

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