I understand that my philosophy of education, of what teachers are, of how learning occurs, of what classrooms should look like or not look like, and corollary ideas are somewhat radical and idealistic. When it comes to big life issues, idealism should initiate practical thought, especially as regards our children and youth.
My “Manifesto of a Teacher-learner” forms that idealistic core for me. I am not naive about the implications of my philosophy concerning the bureaucratic, organizational structure called education, district, school, whatever. To me, that has little to do with true education; however, I want to address the bureaucracy a bit, a very little bit.
One aspect of the organization that has produced quite a bit of problems for true education is accountability. I am not sure if I would classify this as irony or synchronicity: I wrote my Morning Pages built around accountability this morning, and this evening, I see articles from newspapers and hear the same story on local news that the former superintendent of a school district has “iffy” expenditures of over $100,000 in just a two year time span. In terms of accountability, this is a joke. Students and teachers are held to certain stupid standards, but these indiscretions that may produce criminal charges could not be questioned by anyone without fear of losing jobs — literally. Witch hunts were initiated seeking out teachers who had any criticisms.
In addition, every administrator in that central office knew exactly what was going on. If they claim they didn’t, then they are too stupid to be paid what they make or to keep their jobs at all. In fact, a number of them are gone, having been forced out along with the former superintendent. The ones left have no more credibility or smarts to be there than the ones that are gone. Accountability is not understood, evidently, by the local folks in that district.
Accountability was evaded because the dependence was on a legal, bureaucratic system that is rigged for authorities to circumvent this artificial form of it, although, ultimately and thankfully, the system was finally used appropriately when ONE man called for a state audit. (I can’t imagine the politics that went on to bring that about). Moral and grassroots accountability was threatened, which brings me to my point.
This whole accountability thrust for public education did not occur until the mid to late 1960’s with the passage of the Elementary and Secondary School Act of 1965 (ESEA-later). This initiated standardized, high stakes testing, although the original Nation Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the only useful standardized test now because it is not associated with any individual student, teacher, district — which is the way it should be.
The rest of these tests, though, derive from this accountability act. Can you guess what the three guiding principles were? Those would be rigorous academic standards, measuring student progress against those standards, and consequences for failure. Do they originate with students? Do they account for individual curiosities? Do they say anything about student-generated curricula? No, they were determined by politicians who neither understood nor valued true learning. It was a nationalistic, ego-driven response to perceived competition from other nations — too much to consider here.
Here is the tie between the two vignettes I have given: How easy is it if you have the power to manufacture the standards, establish the failure concept, and then say WE have a problem! This puts the students and teachers at fault and allows the perpetrators to know how to skirt the issues that their ilk have created.
Consider a few quotes from Diane Ravitch, a lady who understands true education, taken from her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, in which she considers, in part, the effects of ill-conceived accountability.
“Accountability makes no sense when it undermines the larger goals of education.”
“What matters most is for the school, the district, and the state to be able to say that more students have reached ‘proficiency.’ This sort of fraud ignores the students’ interests while promoting the interests of adults who take credit for nonexistent improvements.”
Accountability starts with the manifesto that I wrote yesterday. It works up from the student and not down from ego-driven directives. This means that it will be organic as a result of a grassroots movement initiated by students and teachers in the classroom.
Education’s primary directive should be to draw out of students all of their unique talents and abilities. Skills, concepts, and disciplines are the domain of the educator-learner, who must ensure that students obtain those through their inquisitive searches and that they create new knowledge, useful, relevant knowledge. Accountability starts there, and it should end there. Fortunately, that makes a lot of funding and insensitive “educators” irrelevant.
We are all accountable to our youth. When that accountability is abrogated, I feel absolutely no personal responsibility to any other, and I effectively minimized as much of that destructive bureaucratic responsibility as I could.
After all, that’s what administration taught me to do.
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Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!