Lots of press around teaching and learning these days. So, before anyone asks me (nobody ever asks me but that hasn’t stopped me in 221 blogs), I thought I’d give you the real story. Ready, here it is, education is in crisis because kids are in crisis because their parents are in crisis because the world is in crisis. Got your attention yet? Good.
Do we know what to do? Heck yes, forget looping and inflating grades and learning loss and all those buzzwords people use to put problems in little boxes and focus on the one thing that matters, the student. Is it really that simple? Yes, it is but finding the right pathway for that student is where the work comes in because that is where education fails.
I often think my view of education is skewed because of the alternative population I work with. The reality is most students are pretty similar. Last Monday at the VVAL golf tournament I was in charge of one girl from Justin Siena, one from Napa High and one from Petaluma high and after 18 holes of interaction, I had a big revelation. Students are students no matter what color, gender, economic status, or school they attend.
So, what do all students want? Same as you and me, connection, opportunity and maybe a few adults who can help when they have questions or they get off track.
Connection. We are becoming more disconnected while thinking the opposite. Did you read about the meta lawsuit where the Zuck, who’s original intention was to connect the world, is actually doing the opposite? Did you read about this on your news feed on your phone or computer instead of someone telling you in what used to be called “discussions”.
You see where I’m going with this, more virtual means less connection. Want to change it, go put your phone away for the weekend then see how you feel on Monday. If you feel better and are amazed with how productive you were then continue the experiment. If you feel worse then think about why and if you weren’t able to go 48 hours without your phone then you are addicted, “when users continue to seek and use despite the negative impacts of using the substance.”
Opportunity. When people ask me what I teach I don’t answer Art or Science or Math or PE, I answer engagement. Yes, the focus of my alternative school is to get students back on track but I know the best way to do this is to teach about the drama pool then get them thinking about what’s next. The drama pool is simply the giant pool of drama that we all encounter on the daily (social media, arguments with friends/enemies/authority, silly rabbit holes with titles like “16 hilarious fails from the internet this week”).
You can either dive in the pool and swim around or you can simply walk around it and move past it. Some people are good at ignoring all the shiny objects that get them off the path forward but many are not. For students, once they are out of the drama pool it’s time to present opportunities-a job or potential career or hobby or sport or some interest which will provide motivation for the future. And if you know someone who would be perfect working at a place, help them apply. Be the bridge because in a small town like Sonoma it’s all about who you know and there are a lot of people who are willing to hire or help.
Mentors. Does your child have at least one non-parent, positive adult influence in their lives? It matters because there are things parents can’t do that mentors can. Mentors can be bosses, friends, school personnel, coaches or any adult whos influence seems positive. And yes, this can work in the negative as well so screen accordingly. The reason we need non-parents as influences is simply because the more experience a student gets, the more they learn how to deal with different people and in these days of tribal connectedness, it’s important to develop skills to work with people who think differently than you do. Good mentors also expose students to new experiences, meet new people and provide a way of looking at the world which might inspire more engagement.
How do we fix education? Well, that’s pretty simple too, find the holes, fill the holes and plan for the future. Every district should have competency expectations for each grade, students and teachers should know these and know where and why each student is performing and if Johnnie can’t add and subtract fractions by the end of 5th grade then intervention should happen and continue to be provided until Johnnie catches up. The way it works now, Johnnie is passed along and learns to hate math because he feels like an idiot and he learns tricks on how to get by which leads to a path of survival, not thriving. And yes, I blame teachers (myself included) and administrators and school boards because we’re all in this together, full stop.
Also, can someone please address the sociology of education? Sonoma losing its middle class means something, student addiction to phones means something, changing racial makeup means something, trying to learn with climate change, war, hate and the knowledge that one man could push a button and end us all means something.
But let’s be optimistic here because pessimism helps no one. Think about that one teacher who had an impact on you, then ask why? Mine was Mr. Stepanski, Enslen School 6th grade, I remember nothing academically but he made me realize that education was supposed to be fun and life was supposed to be fun, he liked to laugh and hit golf balls in the field and eat fig bars which he’d dip in his coffee. Is it that simple? Maybe.