Perchance, on this the twenty-second commemoration of a lesson learned, it is time to reflect on our first, foremost, and greatest Teachers. More than a generation has passed. In that time, I have acquired much knowledge. Yet, I am forever reminded that the more I know, the more certain I am. I know nothing with certainty. What I once thought was the greatest treasure, a tradition I could never part with, was other than it appeared. I never imagined what would become my truth. Today, I share the tale with you.
Originally Published December 25, 2009
On this the twenty-first year anniversary of my first holiday season without what are thought to be tangibly traditional gifts, I can truly say that, I, Betsy, remember it well. The occasion changed my life forever.
It was October 12, 1988. Mommy, Berenice Barbara sat across from me at the kitchen table. This was just as it had been all of my days. We chatted cheerfully. Conversation between us was never superficial. Nonetheless, for us, serious contemplations were fun. A pleasure for the profound has not left me. It was and is the reason I revel in the company of my Mom.
On this one extraordinary occasion, Mommy declared my family would no longer celebrate any of the conventional holidays as we had. No presents would be exchanged in the future. Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, the Winter Solstice, whatever we might wish to call the customary holiday, in our family home little or large luxuries given would not appear. None would be purchased or placed under a tree. Trinkets would not sit on a shelf, nor would these be stashed in a closet for a charitable sharing on a December day. The season of gift giving would not be ours.
Once the words entered my ears, I exclaimed in horror. I inquired; why would this be our newly adopted truth.
In her defense, Berenice Barbara offered a dismissive statement that I knew was suspect. Mommy had never thought the notion of age appropriateness a wise or welcome one. She forever spoke of the need to honor individuals for whoever they might be. My Mom often discussed; people need not be constrained by a chronological age. Yet, perchance her experience of my reaction caused her to offer a rapid retort. “You are too old for presents,” she proclaimed. “Too old?” I responded. For minutes, we talked to no obvious avail.
It seemed nothing could be done to change my Mom’s mind, thankfully. Her steadfast stance evoked my evolution.
Days later I learned, her own distress for what had recently occurred in our lives encouraged this unexpected and ultimately, very welcome reflection.
While it is true, on that day, Mommy and I had our first and only significant argument, I am grateful for what emerged. The lesson I learned was a truer value than any bobble or bangle. Occasions are worthwhile when one feels no sense of obligation to give or receive. Gifts are given daily in every exchange.
A word, a touch, a look, the mere presence of a person can mean more to those who bequeath and receive than any material object might. This veracity is one that fills our hearts, our heads, our bodies, and souls.
More than a score has passed since that date. I look back on what, for me, was once an unbearable idea. Today, I cherish what has been my ideal.
To those beings who I experience as beloved, beautiful, inside and out, to individuals familiar to me, and who intentionally interact in a manner that honors reciprocal reverence, you are the gift. Your presence in my life is all that I cherish.
I thank you Mommy! I like and love you more than mere words might ever begin to express. You, just as all beings, are genuinely a gift!
“The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done – men who are creative, inventive and discoverers”
~ Jean Piaget [Swiss Psychologist. Pioneer in the study of child intelligence. 1896-1980]
“The purpose of education is to enable us to develop to the fullest that which is inside us”
~ Norman Cousins [Essayist, Editor associated with Saturday Evening Post 1912-1990]
“America’s noble experiment, universal education for all” may have become but an idealized theory. In practice it long seemed the impossible dream. However, for the hopeful this statement was a reverie, although the veracity was virtually unrecognizable at best. Still the notion lived on. The powerful prose marveled many. That is all but believers in a for-profit privatized educational system. Today, corporate aficionados have conquered. Commerce controls School District Administrators. It shapes decisions made. Countless elementary and secondary school campuses are transformed in accordance. Big business buys and sells city classrooms. Our forefathers would have thought present-day headlines could only appear in fictional accounts. Nonetheless banners blare, “This Class Is Brought to You By. [fill in the corporate enterprise of your choice]”
A formidable future has found novel ways to weave itself into our city schools. In Los Angeles the Unified District Approved Corporate Sponsors in their Schools.
The advantage, or what was posited as such, is shorter summers. “District officials said the plan would benefit students, who will be on a calendar that is more in tune with testing schedules and that mimics the college calendar.” Surely, the public is assured, every pupil prefers to synchronize his or her personal lives with assessment agendas. What child would not wish to coordinate his or her datebook with the desires of school Administrators?
After all, a little learner has nothing better to do than to take a standardized test at the behest of statisticians, test publishers, school staffers, and those policy brokers who sit in stuffy offices. This is the mindset of a society who has forgotten its mission.
Might we consider what occurs when we rely on the rote, the scores, and the easily observable gains? Some social scientists have. Pedagogues comprehend the corporate world’s involvement in our schools has already influenced or impaired our children’s creativity. The effect of our belief in efficiency, as extolled by a free enterprise system, has had a huge taken a huge toll on education. For decades, curriculums have been changed in order to conform to a company culture. Prospectus and pupil guidelines parallel what is evident in an industrialized economy. Every effort is examined, rated, and ranked; even originality is observed as though it too can be accurately calculated.
“Americans’ scores on a commonly used creativity test fell steadily from 1990 to 2008, especially in the kindergarten through sixth-grade age group, says Kyung Hee Kim, an assistant professor of educational psychology at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. The finding is based on a study of 300,000 Americans’ scores from 1966 to 2008 on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, a standardized test that’s considered a benchmark for creative thinking . . .
Might it be true that an increased industrial presence portends further deterioration? Even creativity has become but a measure. Lest we forget as countless adults have; as children many were frustrated by a grade that assessed how we performed on a multiple-choice visual examination. [I know as an abundantly analytical audio-learner, I was. Indeed, I still am.] Nonetheless, as a society we insist that the invisible progression known as learning can be calculated in the details of single appraisal.
In our current educational system, stimulated synapses, or the electrical currents that race through the brain as we process information, are read as if they were currency. Count the change or experience it through an Educator’s personal transition. A Scholar, who studied with Theodore R. Sizer, a prominent education-reformer, Shael Polakow-Suransky once affirmed, “Until we start seeing assessments that ask kids to write research papers, ask them to solve unfamiliar problems, ask them to defend their ideas, ask them to engage with both fiction and nonfiction texts; until those kinds of assessments are our state assessments, all we’re measuring are basic skills.” . . if that. The soon to be second-in-command of New York City Schools in the past understood that what occurs in a young person’s life each day effects his or her performance on a standardized test.
Yet, as The New York Times reports, this same sage now thinks More and “Better” Testing is needed. Journalist Fernanda Santos writes after a lengthy investigation, “In his evolution from an idealist teacher to a data-mining administrator, Mr. Polakow-Suransky, personifies the seismic changes in education that were beginning to take shape just as he was drawing up his first lesson plans.”
Shael Polakow-Suransky had been an advocate for more authentic, observable, classroom performance and portfolio assessments. Today, as Chief Accountability Officer of the New York City Department of Education, Polakow-Suransky prepares for another supremely institutionalized position. As he steps on stage as second-in-command for the New York City School Chancellorship Shael Polakow-Suransky acknowledges that while tests are imperfect, standardized examinations are an essential measurement tool. “To put it very simply,” he said, “how do you know that the kids are learning?”
Perchance, lost in time and space, as is the idea [ideal] of a “universal education for all,” this Administrator, and America, has forgotten how creativity is born and articulated. Thankfully, there are a few who think imagination is invaluable. The construct is invisible. Then mind’s eye cannot be captured and scored, nay measured a stressful testing moment. Nonetheless, these experts fear that what was once considered fiction, corporate control of curriculums, is now the folly experienced as everyday life.
Researchers believe growth in the time kids spend on computers and watching TV, plus a trend in schools toward rote learning and standardized testing, are crowding out the less structured activities that foster creativity. Mark Runco, a professor of creative studies and gifted education at the University of Georgia, says students have as much creative potential as ever, but he would give U.S. elementary, middle and high schools “a ‘D’ at best” on encouraging them. “We’re doing a very poor job, especially before college, with recognizing and supporting creativity,” he says.”
In an earlier era, creativity was what we craved. In America, ingenuity and inventiveness were venerated. Innovations were highly valued. Instruction was intended to inspire. Education was a gift granted by the goodness of our fellow man. Long before we were an established nation, people in this territory thought it vital; government must “fulfill its responsibility to educate citizens.” However, over time, this notion has been altered.
Possibly, what was the worse of our educational practices has become the norm. In truth, equitable access to educational resources has never been veracity in the States. Now, it is not only thought to be other than viable, it is no longer envisioned as essential.
Privatization has become our newfound instructional priority. On every street corner people posit, schools cannot, must not, be “controlled” by the State. Innumerable legal residents of the country claim that only their child’s needs matter. Even these can come at a cost that countless people without children are unwilling to pay. “No new taxes.” “Cut all tariffs;” these are common cries amongst American citizenry. Teach the children?
Others believe the price is worth the rewards. These individuals think if we do not serve our children well, the commonweal will suffer as a whole. Those who endorse a hundreds years legacy feel certain that privatization would be the death of what delivers creativity and breeds curiosity. The destruction or deconstruction is already apparent. It has been verified as well as felt.
Education endorsed and encouraged can nurture the future. Privatization skeptics believe that the more powerful corporations become, the more commerce and calculations will dominate our school system. Indeed, it has. Yet, apparently, the Los Angeles Unified School District worries not. Therefore, Los Angeles Schools Sought Sponsors. Subsides were found.
What has been a common fear since the first settlers landed at Plymouth Rock is the newer truth in Southern California, in Wisconsin too. Indeed, in many ways the drift to corporate sponsorship in schools has been slow, subtle; yet, long present.
Some may recall a time when sports stadiums and arenas were named after a team. Long ago, highways were maintained by government agencies. At present, fields and portions of freeways are sponsored by for-profit businesses. So too are our schools. The times, they have changed.
Much of the public believes this newer reality is better. For them, the government is just too big. We must take the State out of our every endeavor. After all, in the United States, free enterprise is the way. An open market is trusted by most to be wiser than any other system. Businesses, it is said, balance books. The statistics a company gathers guarantee greater productivity and proof of greater success. Numbers rule. That is why people currently trust the federal, state, and local budgetary concerns must be our priority. We, as a nation have no dollars and near nil cents [sense.]
Creativity? Curiosity? Critical thinking? These are trends of the past. Progress? Only you can decide for yourself. We might all wonder; what will the children conclude.
Originally published, Thursday, October 19, 2006 at 13:24:53 PM
Currently, I am writing for an educational organization. In penning my pain for what occurs in our schools today, it occurred to me the same impersonal approach, awareness, or lack thereof, is evident in offices, neighborhoods, and in our broader community. People pretend to or believe they ” know” their fellow workers, their family members, and their friends. Yet, more often than not, I observe that this is not necessarily true. I, we, she, or he only comprehends what is visible on the surface.
Few choose to ask of, address, or answer the deeper concerns that life delivers daily; I offer this narrative and request your reflections. We all have our own tale to tell. I invite you to share yours. Please trust that I care; your secrets are safe with me. I suspect that others will honor you as I choose to do. I believe we all relate to sorrow.
Today the distress I wish to discuss is heartbreak, heartache, and heart felt feelings. In my own life, I am witnessing that many close to me are battling life-threatening illnesses. Their terminal diagnoses affect me deeply. They weigh heavy on those closer to the ” patient” than I. I cannot begin to imagine the pain long-suffering persons feel. Yet, through the quiet trials and tribulations of a teen, who supposedly studied under my tutelage, I learned. What we hide hurts us most.
I feel such sorrow for friends, family, or even the individual that is hurting, struggling to survive. Each time I hear of a person waiting to pass, I wonder. What are they thinking, feeling; how will their own being be altered, and what of their loved ones.
As I listen to many in my life speak of loss, I am aware that even those that lose a loved one to divorce, physical separation, or a break-up are also feeling great pain. There is so much that occurs daily in the lives of each of us. Yet, we rarely discuss our deepest anguish. Students are often satiated; their personal pressures can be overwhelming. Anxiety has an effect on the work of pupils; yet, rarely do Educators address such concerns. I wish to share a personal story, one that illustrates how loss can take a toll on our students.
I recall a time when I was teaching high school students. A young girl, quite bright was struggling to connect in most of her classes. Many of Marsha’s Instructors pondered, ” What were they to do with her?”
Each Educator in Marsha’s life approached her; they wanted to help. Teachers truly believed that Marsha could achieve if she just put her mind to it. She was ” not working to her potential.” Her mentors felt certain if they affirmed their belief in her that would be enough. All else would change. Thus, Instructor after Instructor spoke of this with the young scholar. They discussed her grades, her attention to detail, and her chatty nature. When I arrived at the school, I observed that in respect to Marsha, Teachers focused on what they could see; what they had observed for the last two years.
What they could not envision and did not experience was what occurred in the two years prior. Marsha witnessed a suicide. Her father killed himself in front of her. She shared that after the incident, she and her mother were told by law officers that they had to clean the mess, the splattered blood, brains, and guts that covered the walls of her once tranquil home. Wow. How traumatic!
This young woman shared the tale calmly; it was ” just” part of a conversation. She showed no emotion as she described the details. After all, she had two years to become numb.
Had I not ” been there” sitting with students and discussing daily distresses as they do while they work I would not have learned of this alarming event. In my own teaching, I do not place myself at a distant ” Teacher’s” desk in the front or the back of the room. I casually chat with students while they work. I purposely did not and do not present an imposing influence, in part because that is not my nature.
As a tablemate, I learned what many Teachers had not. Thus, I ask; are we as Instructors attending to success. Are achievements all we strive for or is it the appearance of these? Does the want for verifiable standards neglect a students needs? Does instruction in its current form fill a young mind or are only forms bubbles, and blanks filled in.? How often might we miss knowing our students? Granted, there are truths that Teachers accept.
I too acknowledge that with overcrowded classes and curriculums that must be completed, time and true care for the whole of our students can be left behind. Much escapes our attention when people, pupils are not the mandated priority. In effect, even if we say students are our main concern, if Educators, parents, Principals, and the broader population act on another agenda, genuine empathy and education do not survive.
Perchance, this truth extends far beyond a classroom. Indeed, I observe and experience that it does. As humans we wish to connect; yet, barely and rarely do we really act on our deepest desire..
In cyberspace we chat. On street corners we converse, albeit often superficially. At a party, even with our pals, we discuss with tact. Much is pretense. More is merely as we are taught or told is polite. I wonder what might we do to create what we crave, an authentic association.
Please share your thoughts, experiences, and observations. I, we as Educators, as parents, as persons in a society that stresses ” accountability” in our schools can learn from you!
For those of you that are reading this saga and are not mentors in the conventional sense, please trust that you too are a Teacher. We all are. Simultaneously, we tutor and we learn. We are all students and guides; we each facilitate expansion. I invite you to advance my own. I thank you for offering opportunities for our greater growth.