Tag Archives: school

Fixing Education Part 3: Taking Back Kindergarten

Educators and legislators need to look back at their own education and try to remember what they did in Kindergarten. Once they do, they need to take a long hard look at what Kindergarten has become.

Kindergarten Is The New First Grade

When I was just starting out in school, Kindergarten was fun. As a child I looked forward to finger-painting, playing with blocks and learning all about numbers and the usefulness of the alphabet. I remember learning to print my name and I remember learning to count to 100. I still have crystal clear memories of the accomplishment of reaching 100 for the first time. That number was such a foreign concept to my 4 year-old mind (yes…4 years old) that I had honestly thought that it would take a week to get there.

So we spent the day coloring, tracing letters, learning numbers and understanding what they represented. The teacher read stories to us and I learned to fall in love with Dr. Seuss and, by extension, reading. She showed us how to draw and paint and I learned to love art. She showed us how to carefully craft our letters so that they could form our names and I learned to love writing. We also played with toys and each other and we took naps and ate graham crackers and milk. I checked with my mother. There was never a day when I refused to go to school. Kindergarten was fun. But it was so much more than that.

Learn By Playing?

It took me a long to time to appreciate the depth of the education I received during that first year of school. I thought we were messing with paint. Turns out we were learning about colors and aesthetics and even cleaning up after ourselves. While we thought we were playing house, we were actually learning how to interact with other human beings, all about gender differences and equalities, and about fair-play. While we were playing with blocks and toy cars and stuffed animals, we were also learning how to share, how to resolve our own problems and how to deal with conflict. Everything we did, learned and experienced had one simple outcome. We learned how to learn. The lessons were simple but lifelong. And they are sorely missing in today’s education.

Getting my son to go to school everyday was a chore. Every day was a battle. Every morning was filled with tears and pleading to stay home. It took me a while to figure out why my son was so against school. His school had taken the Kindergarten lessons and tossed them out and replaced them with a 1st grade curriculum. It might have been my fault he wasn’t totally prepared but an hour of homework a day in Kindergarten is just wrong.         ~Georgia Mother

If we refuse to acknowledge the importance of play-based learning, we may never reach all of our students. And instead of figuring out how to learn and to love learning, we set our kids up for failure at a very early age. Putting five year-old behinds into seats to teach them through traditional lectures flies in the face of everything we know about education. Children at that age just don’t work that way. Children learn by doing and through experience. David Elkind, author and psychologist wrote, “Learning teaches us what we know, play makes it possible for new things to be learned. There are many concepts and skills that can only be learned through play.” Social skills are first on the list.

So, instead of well-rounded eager students, many of us are getting frustrated, burned-out students who lack social skills, impulse control and simple conflict resolution skills. Instead of students who read for the sheer joy of it, who write because writing is fun and who can slog their way through Algebra and Trig simply because they can add, subtract, multiply and divide, we get students who can barely read, can’t form a sentence and can’t do simple two digit multiplication without a calculator. It is not the fault of the students. It is not the fault of the teachers. It is because of a system that has been redesigned over the past decade, not at the hands of educators but at the hands of politicians.

Fitting Into The Plan

In order to save our high schools we must start in Kindergarten. In spite of what politicians want us to believe, kids aren’t failing because their teachers are bad. They are not failing because they have failed the system. They are failing because the system has failed them. The system is flawed and it places too much emphasis on quantitative data and not enough on qualitative data. Sure, a kid could be terrible at math but that same child could grow up to be a great author or songwriter or artist. We will never know if that same child learns, in Kindergarten, that he or she just doesn’t measure up. And that would be the real failure of our education system.

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Fixing Education: Part 2

Of course the education system is not easy to fix. Of course simple solutions can’t possibly work. Of course because the world is a modern, technologically driven, globalized community, nothing is simple anymore. But that won’t stop me from offering a simple solution. Now…where was I?

Step One: Write Off The High Schools…For Now.

In certain circles, I can offer this bit of advice and people will look at me like I have grown a second, evil head. I am proposing that any plan that seeks to “fix” the educational system of the United States of America should leave out our high schools. Is it harsh to say that by a time a young person has reached his or her teens, the damage is done? And, for that matter, do they require “fixing”? I would have to say no and yes.

Every generation has its “These kids today” moments. When my parents were young, they couldn’t watch Elvis from the waist down. The holders of morality for that generation were afraid that Rock-and-Roll would destroy a generation. Post Elvis, there was the Beatles and their “long” hair. Along the years we experienced the Rolling Stones, Blondie, Grandmaster Flash, Devo, and about a thousand others. “These kids today” of every generation survived the onslaught of Jazz, Rock-and-Roll, Rhythm and Blues,  New Wave, Hair Bands, Grunge, Alternative, Hip Hop, Rap and everything in between. They survived the movies, television shows, comic books, concerts and Playboy and emerged on the other side as fully formed adults who broke the sound barrier, flew to the moon, and invented everything from microchips to Velcro. They became artists and doctors and rebels and politicians as well as plumbers and masons and electricians. They raised families and watched their kids do better than they did.  And we look at today’s “These kids today” (TKT) and weep for the future. Why? What has changed?

The Blame Game

It is easy to blame the media but it is unfair to blame any one medium for the ruination of this year’s graduating class. But when a child is walking, talking, media showcase, how can his teachers compete for his attention? I have six students in here with me now. They have an assignment and they know what to do and when the deadline is. All six are either on a computer or sharing one. From here I can see two screens are on Facebook and the other two are playing games. (Might sound like bad classroom management but part of the assignment is to meet deadlines and then, if the deadlines aren’t met, to analyze and problem solve the breakdown of the group dynamic.) I see two cell phones out and texting and I can hear another one vibrating in a pocket. All six kids have headphones on and are listening to their MP3 players. It’s not one medium that is making it hard, it’s all of them.

Yes. I understand that my kids are breaking the rules and wasting their time. Yes. I know that I should march up and down and gently reinforce the importance of education and cajole them into getting back on task. I should know each and every one of them by name, understand their home situation, know what each one wants to be when grown and make damned sure they have the tools they need to get there. But I’m tired. I am tired because I know that after the bell rings and I return from a half-hour of bus duty, I have another hour’s worth of work to do, a long commute home, a family of my own to engage, dogs to walk, papers to grade, lesson plans to rework, bills to pay and errands to run. I can’t get my own kid to decide what she wants to be when she grows up and she is already in her first year of college. College that she is only able to attend because of scholarships and grants. All of this and I am still expected to care more about the education of these six kids than they do or their parents do.

But I can’t compete with iPods and TV shows and Facebook and Video Games, all of which are now available in portable form. When I was one of “these kids today”, my music was on 12″ vinyl records or eight-tracks that required a player the size of a cinder block. My phone was attached to the wall with a 12 foot cord. The school’s computer required punch cards and Video Games were as exciting as…uhm…Pong. But they did require more of a commitment because I had to drive to the mall to play them, a quarter at a time.

But I Digress

I am not suggesting that we actually write these kids off. They are, for the most part, good kids who did not get our best collective effort. There were too many boutique math options, too many feel-good moments and too many politicians involved in their education along the way. All of these chefs worked this stew and no one ever questioned if they knew how to cook.  The result is a generation of kids who were sent mixed signals, alternating curricula and tested to the brink of distraction. They were told to succeed by people who no idea what success should look like. They have been trained to memorize but not to think and, as a result, they require their education to come in concise, easy to memorize facts and figures and they become flustered and uncomfortable when asked to reason or infer. It’s not their fault but we have to help them graduate the very best that they can, fill out their FAFSA Scholarship forms and hope that their colleges and universities and employers can sort things out.

But in my solution, the fix begins in Kindergarten. Not high school.


How to Fix The Education System In 4 Easy Steps

Don’t worry. This will be short.

It seems that everywhere I turn, someone is teacher bashing. It is all over the news and the yahoos who post in the Yahoo News comment section love to teacher bash too. It’s fun.  But take a look at just about any school that was failing and taken over by the government. The teachers have all been switched out. The administration has all been switched out. And yet, the school is still “failing.” Why? Because of the one component that can’t be switched out. The student population.

The educational system has been interfered with for years. No Child Left Behind all but gutted any chance teachers had to succeed. So I decided to fix it. Ready?

Step One: Write off the high schools…for now.

Step Two: Put the Kindergarten curriculum back into Kindergarten where it belongs.

Step Three: Teach math.

Step Four: Everyone reads at grade level or no promotion.

OK. That’s pretty simple but every step can be explained and broken down into more detail.

Just ask.


Short Films: Day Two

Another great short film called Ascension. It is an experimental piece using what are basically After Effects Plug-Ins. But it is done so well and so seamlessly that I, at first glance, thought I was looking at something rendered in 3D on Maya or Blender.

Hope you enjoy it.


It’s 2010? Already? Well Let’s Change Teaching Forever.

OK…

It’s 2010. I have no idea what happened to the second half of 2009 and here it is…2010. I’m not sure I like it.

I started this site a while back to make myself do something that involved my brain. I said to my self, “Self…You are required to write something here at least, AT LEAST, once a month.” I haven’t. So it is with the best of intentions, hell’s own cobblestones, that I embark on what I set out to do just over two years ago.

I Planned On Procrastinating But I Think I’ll Wait.

I never really set out to do nothing. I am just easily distracted. I know that I have many, many important items on my agenda. Things that will impact myself and others and make all our lives easier. So I decide to write an entry here. See how that works? And if you do will you tell me?

Paying Teachers Based on Performance.

Sounds great, right? Paying teachers based on how their students do on tests. Standardized tests. In fact, Tennessee is working on a plan to tie teacher pay to the performance of their students. And why not, you may ask. After all, it is a teacher’s job to teach right? And what better way to show how well a student learns than standardized tests? Right? Right?

Actually? No. Standardized tests measure nothing but short term memory. Period. And tying the pay of a group of professionals to the performance of children and their ability to sit for three hours in front of a test booklet and a scan sheet is poorly conceived, wrong-headed and downright mean-spirited. Has anyone given this any thought outside of the usual, “It’s for the children” line of crap? I have asked before and I will ask again: Is there another profession that ties monetary compensation to the performance of their clients? Not the satisfaction of the clients or the viability of the product, but the actual performance of the client.

I used to sell computers in the early days of the home PC. I sold very good computers to people who could barely turn a computer on. I even questioned their need for owning a computer. And, in the end, I sold them exactly what they wanted or thought they needed and they went home and completely and utterly failed to make their computers do anything. My boss thought I was a great salesman and gave me a raise. Under the Merit Pay guidelines, my pay would have  been cut because my clients failed to meet some poorly defined standard of performance.

In my district, we are much like any other district. We have great kids, great teachers and great schools. We also have some bad teachers, some not-so-great schools and some terrible kids. But that is normal and just fine because we get to mix them up and put bad teachers in good schools and great kids in bad schools and terrible kids in great schools and so on and so on. No where do you see a really bad school filled with really terrible kids and being taught by rotten teachers. Just like in real life. And just like in real life, we are afraid to say anything bad about the kids.

You can complain about a school all you want. It’s just a building. Some are better than others. And I guess you can complain about teachers all you want also. But the children? Be careful where you tread. We love our children. Children are our future. Teach your children well with arms wide open. We will even defend other people’s children. Even if those other people are people we hate.

In my district a group of kids were hauled out of school for weapons violations. Guns and knives mostly. Those kids have teachers. Does anyone really believe that the pay of those teachers should be tied to these hoodlums? Kids are being raised by television sets and it is up to a teacher to show that “Take whatever you can” is not a real career path. So why can’t we blame the kids for their own failures? It is easier to blame the teachers and it is way more Politically Correct to blame the teachers. In today’s society, it is impossible to look a 17 year-old in the eye and say, “You are a failure because you are lazy, indifferent and no where near as clever as you think you are. You are a failure because your only role models play professional sports, sing or commit crimes. You are a failure because your parents don’t love you enough to put your needs before their own. You are a failure because you expect everything to be given to you as if you have accomplished something just by showing up. You are a failure because you surround yourself with failures and are too afraid to stand out in a crowd.” But we can’t say these things. So we blame the teachers.

Just Blame The Teachers.

We blame the teachers. It is hard to “get” this very simple statement. We blame the teachers. Teachers. Human beings with families, mortgages, problems and low pay. They get the blame. Real people like Jane. (Obviously not her real name. But very real.) Jane is a teacher who left her profession a decade ago to teach what she knows to others. She has a couple of kids, both in their teens. Her husband is too sick to work but not sick enough for disability. One of her kids is developmentally challenged and the other is gifted but…weird…like a lot of creative teenagers. Both are fantastic kids. She has a car, a house and is trying to get her kids into college. But she makes so little money, after years of teaching, that her kids qualify for the district’s own free lunch program. Jane shows up to work early every day and leaves work late every day. She buys certain supplies out of her own pocket in spite of the fact that her own kids might go without. She loves her students and believes in them but some refuse to learn anything she teaches. And we want to tie Jane’s pay into the testing ability of her students. As if she needs another thing to worry about.

But if we blame Jane for the failures of a few kids that means that we can completely absolve the children, their parents and friends and families, their neighborhoods and communities, the state and the media and the entire nation of any guilt whatsoever. And that is the way we like to live. Guilt-free. So our teachers become sin-eaters and we are pleased.

Sometimes People Just Have Bad Days.

The truth is, even  the best students have bad days. What if that day is testing day? Is there any way that anyone can impress on a child that today, of all days, is the one day that will define you forever? Can we say “You just can’t “Christmas tree” this test today because too many people are depending on you to succeed. I don’t care if your Grandma is dying, you broke up with your boyfriend, you wrecked your car or if your parents don’t love you and are getting divorced or your dog died. You have to do well today.

No other profession allows anyone to be defined by a single, three-hour event. So why should education? A child is in the public school system for 12 years. How do you measure 12 years? Certainly not with a single high stakes test. Not unless you are completely clueless. Or the Governor of Tennessee.


Bring in The Cat and Bar the Door! The President Wants to Talk to Our Kids!

On Tuesday September 8, 2009, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, will address the school children of America. And so far, I have received three different official reminders that some parents will be upset about this. Upset. About listening to the President. The President of the United States. Needless to say, I am stunned. But across the nation parents are keeping their children home rather than letting them become exposed to the words of the President. These are the same parents who will happily send their kids to school with the flu.

I Don’t Get It.

“Gang…You have a system that is wildly out of control. And they are capturing your kids…” Well that is what media mad-man, Glen Beck said on his radio show. He was talking in response to a caller’s shrill opposition to the very idea that the President would speak to her kids without her being there. Wow. That must be some message. Is it on AIDS? Birth control? Is the POTUS going to talk about the New World Order or the conversion of all Americans to the new national religion? It must be a heck of a message for people to get so worked up over it. Right? I mean the conservative whack jobs from the FAR right are calling it an “indoctrination”. Oooo…That sounds scary. So. What are we all worked up over?

Here It Is!

OK, brace yourselves people. Here is the essential question in Barack Obama’s speech. A quote from the actual transcript released from the White House prior to the speech being delivered. You might want to shoo the kids out of the room…

Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.

Gasp! Wait…what? Everyone has a gift and staying in school can help you succeed? That commie!

Radio talker/big-box-of-crazy Michael Savage said, “Hitler had the Hitler Youth, and Obama would like to have the Obama Youth.” Really? The President said that? No, of course not, but the followers of Savage don’t know that. And Savage knows that they don’t but he keeps feeding people this crap so that his fearful audience will remain fearful and turn to him for guidance. And the occasional commercial message. You see, Hitler had an amazing propaganda machine and Michael Savage wants to be the Propaganda Czar for the next American Reich.  (Cool huh? Anybody can do it. You can try it at home too…Just subscribe to my new course “Be a Media Hack in 12 Easy Lessons or 6 Hard Ones.”)

The Great Communicator.

Ronald Reagan spoke to students once in 1988. I don’t remember a lot of weirdness surrounding it, even though he went on about taxes and the need for tax cuts. He also told the children, “I would say that the most important thing you can do is to ground yourself in the ideas and values of the American Revolution.” Can you imagine what would happen on conservative talk radio if Barack Obama said those exact same words?

My Problem With The Speech.

I have a minor problem with the President’s speech. Remember the quote from above? “Everyone has something they are good at?” Very, very true. however, No Child Left Behind won’t really allow that to happen. It is all about math and science. If you are artistic, you are considered “left behind”. How can teachers teach problem solving skills when they are teaching “the test”? How can they teach math when they are teaching “calculator” instead? In his speech, President Obama lists occupations for young people. Innovator, inventor, lawyer, mayor, Senator, soldier, nurse, doctor.

“We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.But where does that leave the poets? The painters, the filmmakers? If a child wants to be an actor or a singer, that child is “quitting on his or her country”? I beg to disagree. Why are the arts the first thing to go in a bad economy in spite of all the research indicating that a grounding in the arts actually makes students achieve at a higher level?

Anyway…

I still don’t get it. If this were a message from the Pope, I would get it. But this is the President of The United States of America. The whole thing strikes me as being a bit unpatriotic.


What the President Said: Merit Pay and Charter Schools.

Libby Quaid, AP Education Writer, opened up an article with the words “President Barack Obama called for tying teachers’ pay to student performance…” Isn’t there anybody in charge of anything who can see the insanity that this simple sentence represents? Exactly how many other professions have a compensation plan that is based on the performance of their clients? And if they did, how would that work? Lawyers are now to be paid only for their innocent clients. Doctor pay will decrease every time a patient returns with another malady. Dentists will have their pay based on the number of cavities the people in their “dental districts” get? The fewer the cavities the higher the pay?

President Barack Obama called for tying teachers’ pay to student performance. Tying teachers’ pay to student performance.  I keep repeating this because I am trying to figure out what it means and why anyone would think this is a good idea. Exactly how much control does a teacher have over a student’s performance? Certainly the teacher has some, based on what is taught, but what about the intangibles? Does the teacher have control over how much television students watch? How much time they spend texting their friends or updating MySpace or Facebook? Can the teacher control a student’s gang activity or how they relate to their parents? Or if they have parents? And what is the definition of merit?

How Do You Measure Merit?

Henry Aubin, a Canadian newspaper writer, wrote an article called, “Teachers’ Merit Pay is a Bad Idea.” In it he says “Merit” is hard to define. If principals decide who’s worthy, there’s a risk of arbitrariness and favoritism. Staff morale will suffer if subservience defines merit.”

So exactly how will merit be defined? Standardized test scores? Then teachers will “teach the test” and students will be denied the opportunity for intellectual exploration. Aubin writes, “The teaching that often ignites students’ intellectual curiosity, however, often deals with material that testing does not cover.” And he is right. There is no art on The Test. There is no marketing or graphic design or auto shop on The Test. There is nothing about work ethic or problem solving or working well in groups on The Test. Why not? Are these things, these intangibles, not important? If you ask employers in your community how to improve the incoming work force, they, with a single voice, will say, “Send me someone who can show up to work, do basic math without a calculator and can solve simple problems. I’ll do the rest.” But since Career and Technical Training isn’t on The Test, it just doesn’t matter. And that is a mistake.

Why Go To School?

I ask students every year, “Why are you here? Why do you go to school?” The answer is, without variation, “To learn.” But to learn what? I am usually told, “You know. Math and stuff.” Math and stuff. So I put a simple problem on the board and out come the calculators. What can calculators teach us? For that matter, what can Beowulf teach us? Where is the relevance for today’s teenager? I am certain that there is relevance, but why isn’t it obvious? Something other than “It’s on The Test.” Wouldn’t high school students be better served learning to read technical manuals? And that brings us to why I think we are in school. We send our young people to school so they can learn to work, get jobs and not be burdens to society. School is basically a 12 year vocational education. And we have forgotten that.

Why do all students have to study Advanced Math and Science when only a select few will need it? Does it take calculus to balance a checkbook? The truth is that the majority of students can do quite well with a comprehensive understanding of Algebra. The kind of understanding that students received before calculators. The kind of understanding that is rooted in basic math and practical applications. The same can be said for science. Advanced science is perfect for anyone who needs advanced science. But at what stage do we ask our students, “What do you want to be for the rest of your life?” At what stage do we take those answers and tailor their educational pathways to make that happen?

What we have become is a nation that strives for success in education without any clear cut definition of success. It was not so long ago that American schools were the envy of the world. We created engineers and scientists who put men on the moon without much more than slide rules and the multiplication table. But they did so because they had a good understanding of concepts and theory and could apply them to practical situations.  Schools in the 40’s were not planning to teach kids how to be astronauts. They had no idea such things were possible. But they taught basics and showed their students how to apply them to any situation. Including situations that hadn’t even been dreamed of yet. How did we get from there to here?

Where in the current curriculum is there room for critical thinking and problem solving? For initiative and leadership? Who decided to teach our kids that there is no room for failure when anyone who has ever accomplished anything great had no fear of failure? How can we teach our kids to be analytical when it isn’t part of The Test? We are failing to send our kids into an increasingly difficult and technological world with the skill set they need to survive. We ask them to memorize and regurgitate and that isn’t learning.

A Modest Proposal.

I humbly submit this plan to fix our schools. It is very simple. Perhaps too simple but here it goes.

  1. Anyone who makes decisions about curriculum, education, merit pay or whatever should spend a minimum of three weeks as a substitute teacher. And not in the highest performing schools. In the lowest performing schools of any given urban environment. Then we can talk about tying teachers’ pay to performance. It will create a common ground and will give all of us a better chance to fix what is broken.
  2. Stop trying to come up with new ways to reach students on their level. It won’t work. They are way ahead of you in terms of what interests them. Go to the basics, stir up some curiosity and initiative, put students back in charge of their progress and sit back and watch the magic happen. Don’t believe me? Then talk to a teacher who uses Layered Curriculum.
  3. Read Rigor Redefined by Tony Wagner. It should be mandatory reading for anyone involved in education.
  4. Stop worrying about peoples’ feelings. There is no shame in going to work. It is important for America to have auto mechanics and bricklayers and carpenters. Where would we be without plumbers and electricians and even that nice young lady who works behind the counter at the gas station? We need these people. What we don’t need is more lawyers and MBA’s and Liberal Arts degrees. An IBEW apprenticeship is worth a dozen Liberal Arts Degrees.
  5. Repeal No Child Left Behind.

There. It’s not much of a plan but it’s a start.


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