Why We Say Save Our Schools

copyright © 2011 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

I am but one who will stand strong to ensure an equal education for all.  All who do or plan to, will express themselves in various ways.  Some will March. Others will Rally or gather in Conference.  Several have, do, or expect to act locally.  Countless change what they can for children within the dynamics that define their family.  Nationwide, innumerable Americans join hands and embrace a common cause. Let us Save Our Schools.

Jointly, we wear our hearts on our sleeves so that our children, our communities, this country can see we care.  As our forefathers did before us, Americans invest in a shared future.  We trust that learned little ones, as well as those denied an adequate education must have a solid foundation on which to build.  Our offspring and we will suffer if, indeed, we do not work for the good of our young.  It seems our many decades long shortsighted education “solutions” have already had an adverse affect.  People from every political Party and point of view proclaim the need to teach the children well.  

The Left, “Right,” and middle muse; our education system needs reform. We must Save Our Schools.  The questions are how, which schools; charter, private or public institutions and why?  These queries lead to further reflection.  What might be preserved, reserved, reformed or left for ruin?  Would it be better to transform an arrangement that many agree fails our young?  The answers spur people to act.  It seems with little forethought, the process has already begun.  Indeed, change commenced decades ago.  

Headlines herald the news. Jonathan Mahler wrote in The Deadlocked Debate Over Education Reform. “The modern school-reform movement sprang to life in 1983, with the release of “A Nation at Risk,” an education report commissioned by the Reagan administration that boldly stated…that the United States had embarked upon a “unilateral educational disarmament…The Clinton administration’s emphasis on national standards… President George W. Bush’s declaiming of “the soft bigotry of low expectations”… ”

For some, the history is nothing in comparison to what we witness daily.  Children are being left behind.  The past was but prologue. It is now our present.  Education observer Mahler continues. “On to the current generation of reformers, with their embrace of charter schools and their attacks on the teachers union. The policies and rhetoric changed, often dramatically, but the underlying assumption remained the same: Our nation’s schools are in dire need of systemic reform.”  The debate as to how, why, when and where has become less about the little ones and more about rhetoric.  Messages are “framed” to ensure that a political agenda is maximized.

Today. Public Education has all but Perished.

The Frame; Change arrived in the form of “No Child Left Behind.” This law caused our children to languish further.  The One-Size-Fits-All tools adopted fit very few.  The state and the nation are pursuing policies that have not closed the achievement gap and have aggravated the situation for many students.  “Indeed, No Child Left Behind’s ‘get-tough’ approach to accountability has led to more students being left even further behind, thus feeding the dropout crisis and the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” ~ Bob Valiant. Kennewick School District. Education Matters. March 19, 2011

Political postures are effective, that is, for all but the young and their Moms, Dads, Grandparents and Guardians. These elders see the pain on their little loved ones faces.

Students Struggle to Survive…

Curriculums have been cut to the core.  Classes canceled. Test scores and statistics govern what occurs. “Thousands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind, President Bush’s signature education law, by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it.”  School Districts confronted with possible punishment, or the promise of financial rewards, dependent on student test scores, thought it wise to remove coursework that did not pertain to the subjects tested.  

Reading and math became the sole priorities. All other topics in a school’s curriculum, with the exception of Science, at minimum, were reduced in scope.  Some disciplines, such as the Arts, Social Science, and Literature were as the children, left further behind to the point of being lost.  For persons who care about our progeny, this point alone became the raison d’être for a Save Our Schools March, a Rally, a Conference, and a mass Movement.  The populace observed Students Stifled Will Not Sing or Soar. The pain became more and more palpable.

Students Stifled Will Not Sing or Soar.

Critical Thought, Creativity, and Curiosity are now null and void in our schools.  Public and private institutions wane.  Rather than a shared success among all students, today we have winners and losers.  Parents work to see that their children achieve.  The less financially fortunate will wait in enrollment lines for hours in hopes that by lottery, their young ones will triumph.  

Yet, few truly do.  In contrast to the much-touted claims, children who are accepted into these so-called “exceptional” charter schools are, in actuality, no better off than those who are rejected.  After a lengthy study, Senior Harvard University Lecturer Katherine K. Merseth observed, “No matter how they are measured, there are some amazing charter schools…At the same time, however, we know that there are many charters that are not successful. A further disappointment for me is that essentially given the freedom to create any form or structure of schooling, the vast majority of charter schools look just like the schools we’ve already got. ”

Religious schools fare no better.  Often seen as the savior for less than affluent parents, they also struggle with standards. Hard times push Catholic schools toward crisis.  Enrollment is down and the need to satisfy an insatiable American need for “accountability” is up.  Government sponsored voucher programs contributed to each of these truths.  Popular conventions are also the reason that Standardized Tests Taken by Nine Out of Ten Voucher Schools.

Even private schools have not fully escaped what often holds young learners back.  Standardization, in other words and ways, the testing craze is alive and well in exclusive schools.  These privileged institutions too have seen the errors of this way. Entrance exams are inaccurately evaluated. “Substantially equivalent” educations are as advertised.  Differences, in the end, are not realized,  Hence, as might be expected, most every curriculum in each locale has suffered, just as students have.  Again, as parents pour over test scores and the scours on little ones faces, in harmony, they chant “Please Save Our Schools!”

“Only two subjects [math and reading.] What a sadness,” said Thomas Sobol, an education professor at Columbia Teachers College and a former New York State education commissioner. “That’s like a violin student who’s only permitted to play scales, nothing else, day after day, scales, scales, scales. They’d lose their zest for music.”~ Sam Dillon The New York Times.  March 26, 2006

Students are at risk when punitive policies promote more scales, less music!

“Teach to the Tests.”

Proud Papa Barack Obama understands the problem and spoke to it in March 2011.  As the nation’s Chief Executive stood before students and parents at a town hall hosted by the Univision Spanish-language television network, at Bell Multicultural High School, in Washington, District of Columbia, the Professor turned President said, “Too often what we have been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools.  Yet, Administrations Mandate More Standards, Scores, Statistics, and School Closures.  Today, Performance is Reviewed Rigorously. “Race To The Top Requirements” rule.  Please peruse Race to the Top Program Executive Summary.  Department of Education. November 2009

While intellectually, Mister Obama understands the myriad hazards associated with “common core standards,” he and his Administration adopted these.  “Standardized-test scores can provide useful information about how students are doing  But as soon as the scores are tied to firing staff, giving bonuses, and closing schools, the measures become the goal of education, rather than an indicator.  Race to the Top went even beyond NCLB in its reliance on test scores as the ultimate measure of educational quality.” ~ Diane Ravitch. Historian and author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System.  Newsweek. March 20, 2011

Race To The Top Myths.

  • Teachers are to blame for the education crisis.
  • Business practices build solidly performing students and schools.
  • Rigor is “right.”
  • Teaching is a task anyone can do.

Race To The Top Truths.

“Race to the Top? National standards for math, science, and other school subjects?  The high-powered push to put them in place makes it clear that the politicians, business leaders, and wealthy philanthropists who’ve run America’s education show for the last two decades are as clueless about educating as they’ve always been.” ~ Marion Brady. veteran Teacher, Administrator, Curriculum Designer and Author. Washington Post

Administration after Administration administers standardized exams.  The scores reveal one truth consistently; our children are not standard.  Each is a Whole being, a child who yearns to learn more than memorize.  Indeed, to commit a fact, figure, or formula is not learning at all. Rote and regurgitate; this rhythm does not resonate in a mind, heart, body or soul.  Adults will tell you, in retrospect such an education is not an education at all.

Still policymakers are intent. Reinstatement. Rewrite. When will Legislators learn? The Race Leaves Children Further Behind. Please Save Our Schools!

National Standards. Low Expectations.

Countless concur. Standards and standardization in our schools has not helped advance humanity.  These are the cause of the stagnation we see in our schools.  Indeed, with the restrictions imposed, more students and Teachers dropout of an already diminished system.

More than five years ago, it was calculated that “Every Nine Seconds in America a Student Becomes a Dropout. Then and now we pay the cost for inadequate education structures.  

The number of Teachers who dropout of our schools in the first five years of their careers is far greater than that of students.   Studies show the most qualified Educators leave first.  Little support, poor conditions, and poverty play roles in what occurs.  Innumerable acknowledge; scarcity and the problems this puzzle presents within our society, specifically for our schools, is intolerable.  

Writer Kozol perhaps, speaks for the American people when he says,  “Good God, with all these gifts, useful energy, innocence, curiosity, why don’t we give [our children] everything we have?

This question is one every individual has asked at some time in their lives.  Even the childless are troubled by perceived injustices.  Teachers are troubled.  Parents perturbed.  A Professor ponders and shares her exploration. University of Berkeley Social Scientist Dacher Keltner reminds us of our roots.  Innately, humans hold dear the notion “survival of the kindest.” This truth is our strongest instinct. “Because of our very vulnerable offspring, the fundamental task for human survival and gene replication is to take care of others,” said Keltner.

Dacher Keltner’s research reveals that Political divides and partisanship disappears when compassion, particularly for the children, is the issue.  Possibly, this is the essence that energizes the masses to Rally, to March and to build a Movement.  The people are compelled to call for action.

Finally, as education worsens Moms and Dads put their habits and hubris aside.  Many have decided dollars can no longer dictate deeds as have been true in the past.  Compassion for the children can and must be our guide.  

Perhaps, that is the real reason people from every political Party will join hands. In Washington District of Columbia, in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, California, in every State in the Union the public proclaims, we will not abandon our public schools.  This is why I will March, attend a Rally, Register for a Conference or two, and you? Will you?

References for Real and Rhetorical Education Reform . . .


August To June. Teach Our Children Well

AUGUST TO JUNE Excerpts for “Teach Your Children Well” presentation

August To June, Empathy And Education; The Union

As Presented at Temple Beth El, Boca Raton. Community Forum on Education; “Teach Your Children Well”

I wish to thank Rabbi Brockman, Debbie Block, and each of you, for this opportunity.  May I also offer my sincere gratitude to my mentors, Amy and Tom Valens, the makers of August To June.

You have just seen a lesson the two illustrate so well.  “One Class” plus “One Year” equals more than the sum of these parts.  Through twenty-six eight to ten year olds, and a Teacher, the Whole Child concept is understood.

Other persons who offered this lesson are here among us.  In spirit my very, very, very young cousin, at the age of 93 is with us, as are you.  I will share Alvin’s wisdom as I go on. I experience that yours is ever-present in our travel together this evening.  For now, I will merely say; Alvin does, as I trust you will tonight; teach me.  I have faith that your every word and deed will inform my own.

That is what human interaction does for each of us; it edifies.

Even an encounter with our own thoughts teaches. Thus, I suspect this evening, you will teach yourself.

Let us begin to learn as we look beyond the limits and the labels.

What we saw on the screen only moments ago were the words, “One Class” and “One Year.” We also glimpsed into the lives of an extraordinary Teacher and her exceptional students.  Parents too, while less prominent in this particular clip, are everywhere in the full-length feature film.

There is much that makes up a Whole Child, a Whole Classroom, and a Whole Life. I think of Alvin, his 93 years on this planet.  There is not a day that goes by without Alvin discovering a new fact or fiction.  The same is true for me, and you!  Yet, others wish to reduce each of us to descriptors.

You are a professional person, a parent, a Mom, or Dad. He or she is an “At Risk” Student, a “Highly Qualified Teacher,” or a “High Performing Pupil.” “Dropouts” too abound or did before they were left behind.  Each spends most of their days in a “Failed School.”

That is what people do; we categorize, characterize, and calculate the numbers.

We place labels on all that we see.  Rarely do we ponder as Danish Philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard did near two hundred years ago.

“Once you label me, you negate me.”

Thankfully, my cousin Alvin had thought that notion through.  Alvin taught me decades ago . . .

“No two people, places, experiences or emotions are ever the same.  They are similar, but never the same.”

Let us consider this thought as it equates to education.  If you are not as I, and he is not as she, why would we think any of our children are identical or that they learn in identical ways?  Is it even possible that two students might interpret a test question in the exactly the same manner?  I doubt it.

We see the similarities and differences in children. We heard and felt these while in Amy Valens’ classroom.   I saw vast variances in students I have worked with. You too may have caught a glimpse of this veracity in your own lives.

As we looked and listened, we learned.  Ultimately, as Alvin also frequently articulates, much of what we discern was not taught in a formal lesson.  Alvin says on education . . .

“More is caught than taught.”

I invite you to reflect on your reality as it relates to this thought. Who was or were your best Teachers?

Did you encounter your mentor, your Muse in a classroom between the months of August To June?

Was he or she; were these Teachers, the embodiment of Empathy And Education?

If so, was it an understanding relationship that truly helped advance your knowledge?

Were you as Amy’s students obviously were, happy to have a caring Educator at and on your side?

Please ponder the Instructors you have had, be these classroom Teachers, Moms, Dads, siblings, Grandparents, and or a person you merely encountered in your journeys.

How did each affect your learning?

Did a grade or a test determine how much or how little you learned?

Could any of what you gained be calculated in a single moment or on a particular exam?

Could a supposedly “objective” observer have understood who you are, what wisdom you acquired in school, or in your life?

Perchance, we might assess as our current system does.  The structure that we the adults, Administrators, and policymakers put in place looks only at the labels.

Assumptions are made. Too often your child is viewed as the sum total of test questions. “One Class?” “One Year?”  We define a Whole Child by his or her test scores secured in a single week.  Then, sage as we are, call that a comprehensive assessment.

Statisticians conclude that the results of high-stakes assessment tests taken over the course of a few days, correctly characterize the complexity that is your child.  Someone who has never seen or spoken with your tot, teen, or tween determines the wealth of knowledge he, or she, has acquired.

This person will not consider that perhaps, on the occasion of his or her testing, the young one was ill.  Nor will a group of examiners be made aware of his or her circumstances.

It might be that little John or Jane just discovered plans of an impending divorce, a death in the family, or Juanita and José learned that a friend had moved to parts unknown.  Will these events be reflected in the final test scores?  Absolutely! Labels do not distinguish.

All are created equal, even when they are not.  Indeed, as Alvin expounds . . .

“No two people, places, experiences or emotions are ever the same.  They are similar, but never the same.”

This is why I say to you, what you saw on the screen minutes ago was not “One Class,” “One Year,” or an extraordinary Teacher with her exceptional students.

August To June shows us the many who learn daily in our schools.  It also bears witness to the countless ways in which each discovers new knowledge.  On the screen we observed you and me . . . all learners, unique beings that we each are.

This film is not a prescription for a standardized proposal.

In August To June you heard Amy reflect a more real profundity . . .

I don’t know what will become of the children in my classroom.  I may think I have glimpses of their futures, but there are so many influences that I can’t see, can’t imagine. What I can offer is a solid beginning, giving them tools they can use in many situations, and opportunities to use them.

Just as my cousin Alvin, Amy does not pretend to know which pearls of wisdom thrown will be caught.  Instead, Educator Amy Valens speaks to the similarities that are never the same.  In the vernacular of today she reflects on the reality, we are all “Whole Children,” Teachers, and Students too.  We are more than “One” Score in “One Class” in the course of “One Year.

Every one of us, regardless of our age looks, listens, learns, teaches, and then learns anew.

We are never authentically “One.” We are a collection of emotions, experiences, lessons learned and the effects of these.  We do not discover the wealth of our knowledge in “One Year.” Nay express all that we unearthed in a single examination.  Teacher Amy Valens stated as she strolled through the backyard . . .

There isn’t one right way to teach, but whatever the method, the “whole child” is there, waiting, and needs to be addressed.  If we stay mindful of that, and are not constrained by one size-fits-all solutions, we can create joyful, respectful environments that fit the children we’re teaching.

Let us Bring Life to Schools.  It is time that we more authentically assess and teach.  Rather than repeat the problems as Administrators, policymakers and parents do, let us do other than adopt unsubstantiated solutions or accept statements proven false. Think of your own life and your child’s. Students held accountable do not necessarily succeed.

Teachers paid more for higher students’ test scores fare no better.

Measurements do not move minds Nay Mountains.

Test scores are not the best determinates for future successes.

Failure is not only an option; it is what these practices yield.

It is these narrow approaches, the labels we purposely impose, that have led us to be  “A Nation At Risk!” We never were or will be “One Class,” “One Year,” or achieve “One Standard” that truly serves our students well.  We are more than the sum of these parts.

I offer a thought Malcolm Gladwell articulates in an article titled Teachers and Quarterbacks . . .

You discover that the psychological situation facing gatekeepers…is identical: that confronted with a prediction deficit, the human impulse is to tighten standards, when it fact it should be to loosen standards.

Let us invest in The State of the Union, Empathy and Education. Let us embrace the “Whole Child.”  After all, Education and Empathy affect us all. From August To June, and in the Summer, Winter, Spring and Fall we learn, grow, and can glow greater if we choose.

Let us Bring Love Back to Learning and Life Back To Our Schools.

I thank you my mentors.

Resources . . .