First, the good news: This past Friday I had the opportunity to volunteer at the annual Atlantic Beach (Florida) Elementary School Dolphin Dash. In my elementary school days this would have been called a “field day.” Specifically for ABE, it is a day when all grade levels (pre-K through 5th grade) participate in a presidential fitness activity–a run around the school track. However, it is so much more. It is a day of community pride and just old fashion fun–with a direct connection to the development of the total child. The day starts with each class marching around the school track holding signs that identify (with pride) their teacher and class. Members of the United States Navy are on hand with not only a color guard, but also young men and women who run with the students throughout the day. Parents and neighbors volunteer their time. The parent-teacher-student organization for the school is the best when it comes to commitment for their children and community. About the only thing this event is missing is a fly over by some Navy planes!
The best part–at least for me–is to watch these students run and have fun. The younger ones run two laps (1/8 mile); the older students circle the track eight times for a mile. As you would expect, some of the boys and girls are real athletes and competitors. (I think the fastest mile this year was around 6:30–by a 5th grader!) And, as you would expect, some huff and puff their way around the track. No matter if a student finishes first or last, the crowd is cheering wildly and appreciatively; friends find friends and run with them, constantly encouraging them along the way. Confidence, collaboration, community, and commitment are evident. This is where the foundation for later education has its beginning. A community comes together to support young people for a heart-healthy and emotionally-satisfying activity. There is so much more to school than the 3Rs. We all have six dimensions to our life (social, occupational, spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional). ABE understands this and nurtures more than the love for textbooks. (By the way, this is an “A” school when it comes to its scores.)
The challenging news: When I observe such events, it is hard to understand the vilification of teachers that has recently been playing out in the public forum. I know that a fun-filled field day of activities does not make Johnny a good reader. That is obvious. God–and anyone who has been paying attention–knows we have some serious educational issues that must be addressed. Everybody seems to have an opinion on what makes for an effective school system. (I wrote two blog posts on the topic of effective teaching. Go to my posts of January 9, 2011 and January 16, 2011 if you are interested.) Unfortunately, the folks who make the laws governing our schools may not have the best seat in the educational house to pass judgment. Let me address just one oft-debated panacea: standardized testing. As I said on January 9:
Somewhere between “We will measure you based on scores and grades” and “There is NO way to measure effectiveness” there lies the truth. Is is difficult? You bet….if it was easy, it would have been done years ago. Unfortunately, we have non-teachers telling us what teaching is. Or people who have long since been removed from classroom teaching and see our
students as data points on an Excel spreadsheet. They miss the fact that our students have whole lives.
There continues to be a huge push for standardized testing. (In Florida, we have the FCAT.) That may address a piece of the overall problems facing us. However, I can tell you from experience that bubble testing will not solve the issues. Take writing for instance. I have witnessed–first-hand–a continual challenge when it comes to applying basic grammatical skills. This is nothing new. In fact, I was inspired back in 2007 by one particularly “challenging” batches of essays to write my song “I Buy Me A Verb?” The writing problem is not getting better. From my perspective college students still mightily struggle with basic writing skills. We can argue all day whose fault it is. But–again from my perspective–this basic communication skill deficit is not being solved by bubble testing.
Problems or Solution: We hear “education politicians” scream their agendas at us. The teachers are blamed for everything but tsunamis and acid rain. The answers seem to involve more prescription and less professional teacher judgment. More bubble testing and less real survival skills. And still, the problems persist. Maybe we are focusing on the wrong things. If all we see are problems–rather than solutions–we might end up with more problems.
Video recommendation for the week:
I will leave with a great video that speaks for itself. (Thanks to a colleague for sharing this. Thanks, Jeff!) Let’s focus on solutions; not bromides and political sound bites. Our kids need it. Our society needs it.
© Steve Piscitelli and Steve Piscitelli’s Blog, 2011.