Seven Degrees from the Children

Here’s an article questioning the misguided efforts to create school reform with a view from the top, instead of a view from the trenches.

The piece concludes with this unsurprising remark:

Teacher attitudes about testing and the evaluations must be judged as important for they are mirrored in the test results.
Teachers need to be heard more often.
When they are heard, taxpayers gain a deeper insight into what is going on in the classrooms.

This seems like common sense. But part of the problem with this point of view, is that NCLB targets teachers as the problem of why schools aren’t teaching children properly. So, any opinion of the individual teachers is written off as a “complaint” that they have to do their job.

The policy makers are pushing for credentials, test performance and other indications that a teacher is doing their job. In essence, teachers are there to create a product, not have an opinion. If they create the product they are “supposed to”, they get kudos. If not, they get blamed.

I’m going to take this one step further, and say that yes, teachers need to be taken seriously when making policy. Not only that, but parents do too. The parents who use the local schools, they are the ones who know what’s working and what isn’t. They are the ones who really know which teachers are good, and which teachers aren’t. Parents are completely ignored in the making of education policy, when they are the customers. They are the ones who are receiving the product that the teachers are supposed to provide.

But the whole problem with how we see our schools is that the students are the product. And because they are the thing that is supposed to be created and which need to perform by a certain standard (or they don’t receive the quality assurance stamp of approval), the students are not seen as a valid source of information on what school needs to accomplish. Our culture sees school as a factory, a business, a place to send our children to be molded into what they are supposed to be.

So I’m going to take this one step further and say that the performance and quality of our schools not only should be directed by our teachers and parents, but also by our children. The children should have an integral part in the decision making process of how to create a more appropriate education.

The students are the real consumers here, not the parents. But they are looked at as a product, not a consumer, and are seen as something that is supposed to live up to a certain standard (FDA grade AA?), instead of a customer that needs to be satisfied. The EDUCATION should be the product, not the children. Instead, education has been turned into a process in product creation, rather than be the end product itself.

When the education is itself the product, the satisfaction of our children becomes the most important thing, not their performance. If a child doesn’t perform up to “grade level”, we shouldn’t be asking “who is to blame for this?” We should be asking, “how can we better serve this child so he can be satisfied with the education that he is being offered, no matter what level he’s at?”

We need to drop the blame, and start asking the people who really matter what they can use. We need to offer more variety, more choice and less mandates. Let the parents, teachers and students demand what they need, not have our government, policy makers and legislators (influenced heavily by special interest groups) decide what the little people are going to do.

But, I know, our culture isn’t ready for such a radical idea – serve the children by giving them a voice. This is a bigger issue than educational reform. This is based on how we view our children and how we view the concept of what learning is for. It’s also about control and money. Until we change the point of view that education is provided by the big-bad government and education is there to create a specific end result, any educational reform won’t amount to much; it’ll merely be putting different color paint on a collapsing wall instead of knocking it down and building one that actually holds the house up.

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