By Edith Morgan
September is here! That means shorter days in the sun, leaves starting to turn, tomatoes ripening, and all the preparations for fall that nature and man engage in around here. And many parents welcome September with a sigh of relief as their offspring head back to school.
So this is a good time to examine some of our favorite assumptions about education:
1. For many years we have been assuming that you need “self-esteem” to achieve or succeed. In my time, we had to achieve first, then we would acquire “self esteem,” as a result of having done something or achieved something worthy of recognition. It has been my experience that those who strive the hardest often feel they are NOT doing well enough and feel they are not meeting their own high goals. It has also been my experience that when asked how they had done on a test, the lower achievers were smugly confident, while those who achieved near-perfect scores felt they should have done better. Too often, gang leaders exhibit enormous self-satisfaction, while real achievers (inventors, artists, writers, and other successful and hardworking persons) are beset with doubts, continually work to reach higher goals. So, there is an inverse relationship between self- esteem and real achievement.
2. Paper and pencil tests created by commercial concerns are believed to give us legitimate information about the level of skill or the amount of knowledge our children have. But by their very nature, they are extremely limited in what they can test, and in HOW they test it.
The ubiquitous SAT, originally designed to predict success in the first year of college, never did it as well as each student’s high school transcript. Which source of information do YOU think would be most reliable in finding out what a given student will do: a one-shot, multiple choice set of questions of esoteric vocabulary, or the cumulative record of student’s life day to day, as recorded by attendance (being there to learn), classes taken and passed, teacher comments and recommendations, extra-curricular activities, etc.
Why are we so taken with a spurious number, and why do we ignore the testimony of professionals and the exact numbers represented by school records?
3. I went to elementary school for six years in France: even at the height of the Nazi invasion, there was no real interruption in my education. From Paris to LePuy in south-central France, there was continuity in my basic learning because, as in all modern Western nations (except the U.S.), there is a set of national curriculum standards, and from the poorest to the richest child are exposed to those basic learnings. Each teacher and each section of the country adds whatever is needed (for example, in LePuy we also learned lace-making in school, as that was a major skill handed down there).
In America, we have to reinvent the wheel not only in 50 states, but often also in hundreds of cities and towns – leading to a very uneven and hard to share result.
4. The overwhelming majority of our students live in urban environments; so why are we still following the old farming calendar, making sure our kids are home to help bring in the crops?
We waste great amounts of time reviewing what they have forgotten in the long summer, giving us so much less time to learn this year’s stuff. Surely there is a better, more efficient, less boring way to do this?
5. The power structure is upside down: those who must assume the most responsibility for the education of our children, the teachers, are nearly powerless.
Does that make any sense?
Clearly, we have much to think about, as we elect another school committee, and begin the school year again.