Sunday, October 9, 2011

This is Not a Manifesto

I wasn't going to address this at all because, really, it doesn't matter what this one person thinks. However, the accusation deserves reflection, and, after a couple days, I am ready to write about it.

A person I don't know accused me of being anti-public school. The first five words should automatically help that statement roll off my back, but since I am who I am, it doesn't. I fired back that I wasn't, then promptly went back and re-read 106 blog posts to see if there was merit to the accusation. Although I am highly critical of the current state of education (public and private, including college and some forms of homeschooling), I am not anti-public school.

I believe very strongly in a free, democratic education for every citizen of this country. I think the principles of learning upon which John Dewey's work is based are powerful and valuable in the conversation on school reform. I think John Taylor Gattohas a viewpoint which needs to be explored as we try to make our schools better. I think politics and ego have no place in education. I think parents have rights (and responsibilities) that they don't realize. I think students are over-tested and under-engaged, pointedly in public school, but in other schools, too. I think school has lost most of its rigor and relevance. I think it doesn't matter how long the school day or year is if school itself remains the same.

I believed in the promise of public school, even as a high school dropout who didn't really get much out of it past 9th grade (other than Driver's Ed and Michael Bunitsky's AP US history class); I believed in it so much that I am still paying off the student loan for my Master's in education, and I am still educating myself to maintain and improve my teaching certificate. I taught in public school for nine years, one really good one for three, and one really horrendous one for six, but I stayed on in the horrendous one to try to change it and make it better. Six years of emphasis on the wrong thing, six years and five principals, six years and no acknowledgement from administrators other than "satisfactory" (the highest possible rating) on my evaluation (one principal didn't even observe me, and the time he listed for the observation class was in the middle of my planning. Another principal observed me twice because the first time my lesson was "too student-centered"). I worked hard for six years in that school, and the prevailing attitude was that when I was done, someone else would simply step into my place because, and I quote, "Teachers are a dime a dozen."

I don't believe in the current iteration of public education, and I firmly believe that substantial and dramatic changes will have to occur, and soon, or the uneducated masses will revolt (quite literally). I will continue to criticize and offer suggestions to the universe, administrators and whomever else will listen. I no longer expect to be professionally or personally fulfilled as an educator in public school, and I started a private school to get back to teaching, away from the dog-and-pony show and testing atmosphere of public school. I pulled my child out of public school because she was intellectually unchallenged; after one year, she tells me that if she had to go back to public school, she feels more confident in herself and more creative: "I think I would follow the rules still, but I would put my own self into what I do. I think I would work harder and be creative." Really, what more could you want? A creatively motivated strong work ethic, and intellectual curiousity are excellent, if immeasurable, outcomes. To quote: "Not everything measurable is important, and not everything important is measurable." Or something to that effect.

I am not anti-public school. I am pro-student, pro-education, pro-transformative change. I am pro-intellectual curiousity, flexibility and creativity. I am pro-hard-as-hell curriculum with proper support to be really successful. I am pro-letting kids struggle a bit, learning persistence and problem-solving. I am pro-laying on your back, looking at cloud shapes in the middle of the day, pro-art-making for the sake of it, not to fulfill a standard. I am pro-real-life education, and pro-sometimes-you-learn-it-because-that's-what-educated-people-know.

So, person on the internet who I don't actually know? There's my answer. I am sure it doesn't change your opinion, but I don't really care to. Thank you for the opportunity to move on and clarify what I believe in. If you are reading this, and you are interested in being part of something pretty incredible, I invite you to contact me and come visit.

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