Are You Willing?
By: Larry Proffitt
Today was a usual snow day for this educator. I visited the General Assembly to discuss education bills proposed and policies in our state. It isn't a hardship; it is my profession. If I am not willing to do everything in my power to secure good public schools, then I don't consider myself vested. It is the charge we take as educators. We prepare for our classrooms daily and teach our students about the curriculum and ideas that will lead them into the future, or do we? I think it is our intent, but policies over an extended period of time have moved the needle of our calibration methods. It has been moved in favor of almost complete dependency on test scores. What does it mean? I'll tell you my opinion. It means a tremendous amount of time is spent RACING to a test instead of delving into curriculum. What is the compromise? How about the next generation? I truly believe that is what is at stake.
I sat with a state representative today and discussed the sacrifice being made by poorly designed and thought out education policy. His question to me, "What is the end result?" It came to me clearly without a moment of thought. The next generation of our citizens will be excellent test takers, but they will fail poorly at solving the problems necessary to carry us into the future in a great democracy. Time spent on test preparation has grown exponentially over the past five years alone. It is a race, a contest or a competition. Who's school has the best scores? Is it a failing school? Are the students failing, or more importantly, in the bottom five percent? Students, teachers and schools are judged upon those scores, so we push and push. Faster paths through curriculum and standards to cover all we can is the task at hand. Creativity is sacrificed and our path ultimately becomes skewed.
How do we correct our path and stave off the test-crazed push for perfect scores? We get involved. One of the most effective teaching strategies is modeling, so we model. We talk to our board members, commission members and legislators. We sit and do not complain, but we state problems and offer solutions. It is what educators do. It is what we must do. "I just want to teach!" Yes, I've heard it more than I can count. I'm sure students, if asked, would say they just want to learn and be children. They, my friends, are depending on us. Our students deserve the opportunity to learn all they can and develop as whole students. Itinerant subjects are being lost to improvement and prep. Is it truly improvement if they are losing the arts and social interaction that helps them learn about co-existing with those that are different than themselves. Every aspect of our schools, good schools, are important. We cannot afford to sacrifice the next generation. Does it mean there does not need to be change? Of course not, but it doesn't mean educators and students are failing. It means society has changed and requires those in charge to supply resources to deal with those changes. We must insure students are the focus.
Students seem to have become pawns in the battle for a different education approach. Corporations and foundations have sold the message of a test-dependent society. What does this do? It creates the lens through which students, teachers and schools are scrutinized. Is this the focus we need? I don't believe so. I believe the focus can be changed and shifted back to the whole child. It can be retrieved from the policies that have led our next generation astray. How? Organizing parents, students, community members and teachers to stand and deliver the message, "We cannot afford the next generation to fall in favor of great test takers. We prefer to fight for a future generation of thinkers. Citizens capable of solving the great problems of the world are what we need. The path to that future generation requires an investment of our time and knowledge of the times and issues. Are you willing to make that investment? Are you willing to help us save the next generation?