I am always astonished by the lack of funding for education. I am always frustrated by the lack of funding for arts positions in the schools. I am always flabbergasted by the extreme ignorance our politicians seem to display when cutting willy nilly at our children's and therefore our nation's future. I grow despondent about the whole thing. I don't understand this lack of willingness to educate children, of course, those cutting services do not think they are unwilling to educate our children. They claim to be making education better.
Now, I do understand the argument from the side of the slash and burn folks who think that there is too much waste in education spending. They complain that more money doesn't seem to make better outcomes. They complain that teachers make too much money. They complain that education needs to have more stringent rules. They complain that there need to be measurable outcomes and penalties when those outcomes are not met.
When I hear arguments like this I always want to roll my eyes. Our politicians aren't complaining about how much bankers make and punishing them for crashing our economy and making off with the cash, but they will be punitive to teachers. Our politicians aren't pointing out that there is tons of fraud and waste in the private prison systems so many of them are embracing, yet they want to fire good teachers if they can't force the children to perform at the rate they think they should be performing. They don't require every sixth grader to be able to dunk a ball. They don't require every fifth grader to be able to tap dance. They don't require every third grade to throw a tight spiral on a football pass. They don't require every seventh grader to be able to hit a curve ball. Why do they think every single child will have the same educational outcomes?
The argument that more money doesn't help is patently foolish. You spend more money in impoverished areas to educate children because the parents in those areas aren't able to do as much for their children.
If you added up all the money a middle class or upper class family spends on their children's general education and add it to the amount of money the school has to spend to educate the children, you would discover that the tab far outstrips the educational money spent on children who are in poverty. The playing field is not level. I am not a rich person, and both of my children have taken lessons, played, or been exposed to piano, gymnastics, dance, soccer, basketball, karate, the theatre, symphonies, ballet and museums of all sorts. Both my husband's and my parents have some extra money. My kids have travelled all over this country and up into Canada with their grandparents. They went on a photo Safari in Africa with grandparents. They may very well head to Australia with a set of grandparents in the next couple of years. My kids are competing with the kids who have never been out of their neighborhoods. My kids are also competing with the kids whose parents take them to Europe every summer, Asia over spring break, to South America for the weekend and over to Italy for a pizza. The playing field is not level. Putting more money in communities where the poverty rate is high doesn't begin to address the discrepancies. Cutting funding to a school in an at risk area is like deciding to use a teaspoon to fill up a fifty gallon bucket because the tablespoon wasn't making enough headway.
Which begs the question: What are schools for Anyway?
Are schools supposed to erase the monetary discrepancies in our society and create a level playing field where anyone can get a good education? Some people think so. Others believe that it is not the government's place to do more than the basics. Still, there are others who believe the government has no business educating people at all. The federal government should stay out of it and state governments should be able to abolish the education system if they feel like it.
There are many different things education can, should and does do. How many of them are measurable by a test? Very few.
Here are the measurable ones
Elementary education Pre K - 5 is supposed to teach children the basics of the United States, geography, history and basic governmental structure.
Elementary education Pre K - 5 is supposed to teach children about the state they live in and its history
Elementary education Pre K - 5 is supposed to teach children the basics of reading the English language
Elementary education Pre K - 5 is supposed to teach children the basics of mathematical computation
Elementary education Pre K - 5 is supposed to teach children the basics of rudimentary science
Elementary education Pre K - 5 is supposed to teach children the basics of writing the English language
This is what elementary schools are required to teach children. Nothing more. Somewhere in the fear of falling behind the Chinese or the Russians or whoever, we forgot that these are not the only subjects to teach and these are certainly not the only ones that matter in the life of a person. K - 5 education can do a great deal more than this. It should do a great deal more than this. Well, the testing industry knows this and they know that they will get called on it sooner or later, so some things have been added. Many places are now going to test your arts readiness in the same dry way they test your basic knowledge.
Elementary education Pre K - 5 is supposed to teach children the basics of theatre arts
Elementary education Pre K - 5 is supposed to teach children the basics of visual arts
Elementary education Pre K - 5 is supposed to teach children the basics of dance
Elementary education Pre K - 5 is supposed to teach children the basics of speaking in public
I am certain if they come up with a way to test something else, it will be added to the pantheon of what children are supposed to be taught. The problem, as I see it, is that education is so much more than these tests. It is so much bigger than drawing a pencil mark in a bubble. It is so much more complicated than this. The good, the bad and the ugly of schools is that it they are a microcosm for the places they sit.
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches children how to deal with lots of different personalities
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches children about friends
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches children about competition
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches children about authority
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches children about enemies
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches children about racism - not always in a constructive way
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches children that adults can be very wrong
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches children that things change over time
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches children that not everyone believes the same things
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches children that everyone's culture is not the same
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches children that people's families are not the same
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches children that bugs can be very cool
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches children that even boys dance
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches children that some children are smarter than others in some things and not as smart in others...nobody is perfect
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches children that teacher's pets exist
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches children that people wore funny clothes and men used to wear wigs
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches children that ducks are waterproof
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches children that you won't like all of the people in charge
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches children to work with others
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches children about adventures beyond what they know
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches children learning can be fun...at least it should teach them that
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches kids that not everyone has to be a doctor or a lawyer
Elementary Pre K - 5 teaches kids that girls have gone into space
Elementary Pre K - 5 should inspire kids to dream way beyond their current situation...it should
There are tons of things that happen from Pre K - 5 that nobody ever tests for, but are nevertheless important. Field trips into the world are an amazing way to look at new and different things, but that is not a testable quantity, so schools don't fund them much anymore. What a loss for education and students and teachers. The arts are also defunded at a terrifying rate, though people are finally beginning to see that they have some merit. Of course, instead of funding more arts positions or getting more artists into the schools, they simply require classroom teachers to add it to the various things they have to teach.
Here's a quick shout out to Joe Radner for this link she sent me.
New research bulletin is out from the Arts Education Partnership -- those of us who work in schools or WANT to work in schools might be able to use this:
PREPARING STUDENTS FOR THE NEXT AMERICA: THE BENEFITS OF AN ARTS EDUCATION offers a snapshot of how the arts support achievement in school, bolster skills demanded of a 21st century workforce, and enrich the lives of young people and communities. It draws on the research in AEP's ArtsEdSearch.org, the nation's first clearinghouse of research on the impact of arts education on students and their school communities.
You can download the .pdf free at http://www.aep-arts.org/publications-store/#id=1&cid=720&wid=401
I could make more lists for what middle school students are supposed to learn and high school students, but before we get too crazy here, let us answer the question that we have not yet managed to address:
What is school for anyway?
Is it to make sure you can make lots of money at some point in your life? For some people that is a yes.
Is it to make sure you can be a responsible tax paying adult? For some people that is a yes.
Is it to find your passion? For some people that is a yes.
Is it to expand your horizons and show you what is out there? For some people that is a yes.
Is it to get a job of any kind? For some people that is a yes.
Is it a babysitting service so the parents can be rid of the little darlings? Sadly, for some that is a yes.
Some people only send their kids because it is the law.
This is another endless list. There are as many wants for schools as there are people who send their kids to school.
Education in this country has changed drastically over the years, and what is expected of our children has also changed. What we teach and what we do not teach has changed. How we teach it has changed. What people expect from our society has changed. What people expect from education has changed.
What is school for anyway?
There are some political things that go into this as well.
Are we supposed to be out engineering Germany?
Are we out computer programming Japan?
Are we out researching the Netherlands?
Are we holding our own with the rest of the first world nations?
Do the French know more about genetics?
I haven't even begun to talk about addressing learning styles...visual/aural vs. oral/experiential vs. logic/oral/experiential vs. intuitive/visual/aural vs. oral/visual/experiential/physical and so forth, and how you incorporate activities in the classroom to accommodate all of these various needs.
Oh, I know, let's throw in ideological nonsense, just to make things more interesting!
Children should not be taught about evolution because of religious objections
Children should be taught creationism is science because of religious beliefs
Children should not be taught about the civil rights movement because it makes some states look bad.
Children should be taught about the civil rights movement because it is part of our history.
Okay, let's teach about civil rights, but let's gloss over it.
Children should not be taught about slavery because it is a touchy subject
Children should be taught about slavery, but we'll say it wasn't that bad
Children should not be taught about contraception because it makes some grown ups uncomfortable
Children should only be taught about abstinence even though there are lots of studies that show this is not the most effective way to prevent teen pregnancy
Children should be given age appropriate comprehensive sexual education
Children should not be told homosexuals exist
Children should be able to ask about homosexuality in their sex ed classes
Children should not be told they cannot harass homosexuals
Children should be told that bullying is bullying regardless of the person's sexual orientation
Children should not be taught that Columbus didn't really discover America
Children should be taught Columbus really did discover America
African American children should have their own clubs
Latino children should have their own clubs
LBGT children should have their own clubs
Caucasian children should have their own clubs
African American clubs are racist
Latino clubs are racist
LBGT clubs are wrong
Caucasian clubs are racist
Children should not be taught we are a Christian nation
Children should be taught we are a Christian nation
Homeschooling is wrong
Homeschooling is necessary
Homeschooling is mostly done by Christian loonies
Homeschooling is best for students with difficult learning styles
Homeschooling is the best way to educate everyone
Homeschooling is done because people don't like their public schools
Teachers are greedy
Teachers don't get paid enough
Teachers are lazy
Teachers work very hard
Teachers don't try hard enough
Parents aren't involved
Parents should help with homework
Parents are doing their kid's homework
Parents are more invested than the kids
We need free school breakfasts for these kids
Parents should feed the kids
We need better lunch programs
Parents should feed these kids
We need computers
We need books
We need (Fill in the Blank)
Don't even get me started on the rush to create for profit schools!
What is school for anyway?
Well, it depends entirely on who you ask. For me, school should be about creating well rounded individuals who see possibilities in their future lives. Yeah, I know, it is squishy, philosophical, and completely unmeasurable.
One thing is sure though, school is no longer for kids.