By: Dr. Yohuru Williams
This week some of the worst offenders, in terms of detrimental educational policies, have been full of platitudes for teachers. Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy for instance, whom education blogger Jonathan Pelto ranks along with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo as one of the most “anti-teacher, anti-public education” Governors in the country, issued a press release holding a sign reading “Thank a Teacher,” even as his administration worked to effectively silence parent and teacher voices. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s remarks, for better or worse, more accurately reflect the agenda of the corporate education deformers working to hijack education. "It is more important than ever,” Brewer noted in a message ostensibly celebrating teachers,” that our students graduate high school with the knowledge, critical thinking, motivation and work ethic necessary to contribute to our increasingly demanding workforce and competitive economy.” Brewer, Malloy, Cuomo and other politicians wooed by corporate education reform, limit the scope of education to job readiness with little consideration of its impact on building civic values and the critical thinking skills necessary to contribute in a participatory democracy.
It might be too much to ask that any of these so-called leaders actually inform themselves on the issue, say perhaps by reading Diane Ravitch’s compelling book Reign of Error. However there is abundant evidence even outside the world of education that their model of reform is both dated and broken. In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink compellingly makes the case that we need to move beyond the old assembly line model of education and testing with schools as learning factories where children were drilled with information and their intelligence measured by test bubbles filled in by number two pencils. Pink notes that this model no longer meets the dictates of what he calls the Conceptual Age where issues can no longer be boiled down to one approved answer. Adopting his argument, high stakes testing and Common Core belong to a bygone era which is quickly fading despite its proponents best efforts to revive it. Teachers, of course, know this. This is why they have pushed for smaller class sizes and instructional flexibility that will allow students to deal with the nuances and complexities of a rapidly changing world. SAT and other standardized test scores only reveal how well students perform on such tests and not how they will respond to the demands of Pink’s Conceptual Age. We live in an era that will require them to be much more resourceful, imaginative, and creative in the ways they approach problems. Over the past decade however, we have watched as the education deformers stripped away the very programs of inquiry and instruction, including music and the arts that help students develop their creativity, thus enhancing their abilities in other areas. “The future,” Pink explains, “belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind—creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people—artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers—will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.” The leaders Pink describes will start as learners who require teachers to think outside the box or more appropriately outside the bubble. Teachers who value the range of senses, he posits, are essential to the future. They understand the importance of “empathy” and “play” that can only be realized when student creativity is unleashed rather than bottled.
Longtime CBS News Anchor Dan Rather perhaps best expressed these humanistic values of teaching - values that high stakes testing and a national curriculum could never encapsulate. They find expression in the bond between teachers and students working together in the fertile field of human inquiry where exposure to critical issues and real problems, mathematical, historical, artistic or linguistic, awaken the desire for self-expression and ignite the flames of imagination and the passions of the heart. In this space, critical thinkers are born and directed through the combined study of science and the liberal arts to tackle the great issues of our time. In the broad wasteland of poverty, indifference, disease, and human suffering, it is an intellectual oasis, or better yet, an academic field of dreams where dedicated teachers stand ready as coaches to help students see past what is to what might be. “The dream,” Rather explained, “begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'.”
Heartfelt notes of appreciation to all of my teacher colleagues who help students pursue such truth daily.Yohuru Williams is a professor of History and a proud CT/NJ BAT