Several events or conversations recently have contributed to a growing sense of personal discouragement regarding the future of public education. It’s made me uncomfortable. On the one hand I hope this discomfort passes soon, but on the other, I’m wondering if it should propel me toward some sort of action. The question is “What action?”
First, I read an inspiring and insightful book by Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. Palmer insists that the only authentic way to teach is from the identity and integrity of the individual teacher. No two “good” teachers necessarily look the same. Quality teaching, according to Palmer, arises from deeply integrated values and cannot be imposed through external standards.
Then I spent last Monday in a training session hosted by Pearson to instruct intervention specialists in our district about how to administer several Pearson assessments for literacy and math in K-8. While I found the training informative, nothing was said about actual interventions, only about universal screenings, and more frequent (sometimes weekly) assessments based on poor performance. It left me questioning whether assessment is now considered intervention. What happens between those weekly assessments?
On Wednesday, I joined about 35 other educators at the Eighth Floor technology consortium for an all-day workshop on “Questioning 101.” I’m a naturally curious person, so spending a day “pondering and wondering” about questions of import with Jamie McKenzie was refreshing. I agree with Dr. McKenzie that teachers and students don’t spend enough time asking significant questions, and the current standards- and test-data-driven philosophy in education is largely responsible. If the only thing that matters is the ability to memorize disconnected facts long enough to supply them on test day, what use is there for questions that matter? Wondering how, why, and what if no longer have value. Dr. McKenzie was an outspoken critic of NCLB from its inception and inspired me with his accounts of the tension he works within to ask probing questions that hold institutions accountable while also supporting educators in generating their own questions.
Saturday evening, my husband and I attended the wedding of a good friend who lost her husband in a plane crash three years ago. It was a beautiful celebration of hope, even when all hope of finding joy in life had been lost. In the midst of this wonderful celebration, I had a brief conversation with another friend. She is a retired educator who now supervises teacher interns for a local university’s teacher education program. The students she supervises are genuinely concerned for their futures in education, and she shares with them her honest misgivings. “I tell them I’m worried, too,” she told me. “I can’t tell any of them that things will be okay. I wish I could.”
I’m left wondering how long public education can withstand the current onslaught of underfunding, privatization, and data-driven values. I take my responsibility as an educator seriously and pour my energy into providing my students with authentic opportunities to understand ideas as well as to learn facts. I’m far from perfect, but I strive daily to activate deeper learning. At least I have fair control over the environment of my own classroom. This is what I wonder: Can one educator step outside her classroom and have any hope of impacting an institution?
I’m just asking.