The Luxury of Learning is Lost



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copyright © 2004, 2012 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

This treatise was written in 2004, only two years after the 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  The No Child Left Behind Act, requires annual assessment of students in grades 3 through 8. It further requires states and schools to meet “adequate yearly progress” by increasing test scores (NASP, 2002).  Labels, based solely on the results of high-stakes assessments, began a history of hurts.

The words said were, “We do not have that luxury anymore.”  The speaker stated that she loved the bliss. The extravagance that she was speaking of is that of teaching in a manner that enlivens learning, engages, and ensures that students internalize information. She was referring to her joy for teaching in a style that creates wisdom, the learning that lasts for a lifetime. Is it true that teaching in this way is an indulgence; and that she is no longer able to partake in this possibility?  If this is true, it is sadness.  The greater sorrow is that this Educator’s testimony is not an anomaly.  

To believe that teaching in this fashion is a “luxury” and that it is lost, never to return is a concept that I cannot, or more accurately, wish not to consider. Yet, I cannot help but wonder; why does she feel that she no longer has this?  When, why, or how, did she lose what was once the objective in education?  How could this Instructor consider taking the time to guide learning, to give students an opportunity to truly acquire knowledge as a lavish pursuit?  As much as I wondered; I knew.

Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.

~  Jacques Barzun

Days have past and the words still haunt me. I can no longer ignore what occurs in many, if not most classrooms.  Regardless of the how I might teach or experience students and their studies, my truth is not universal. I must acknowledge, the painful reality, that exists each and everyday. I read of it in the newspapers, in editorials, in professional journals, and in books. I hear of it from friends, from family, from any, and many that have even the smallest sense of what is going on in our nation’s schools. I speak with instructors, and others who are familiar with the current crush in “education.”  There are reasons for the angst, for apprehension.

Indeed, the policies and practices in our schools, throughout this Nation, cause much trepidation. Teachers are told, “Teach to the tests!”  Even when the words are not articulated aloud, it is well known “achievement is the one and only agenda” that matters. Policymakers, Principals, and even the public-at-large have placed America’s Teachers on trial.  Perform or punishments will follow.  Students too stand before judges and juries. The young, just as their schools, are rewarded for excellence.  Dollars are delivered for good grades. Moms, Dads, and the Federal Government come bearing gifts when children succeed, chastised when they fail. Each presumes that the Teacher is the catalyst.  She or he makes great things happen. If an Instructor does not . . . damn and hell fire will be their just reward.  Please may I share the story that forced me to face a stark veracity . . .

I begin with a bit of background.  Currently, I am employed as a substitute teacher, what some so sweetly call a “Guest Teacher.”  I have a Master of Arts degree in Education, with a focus on Instructional Systems. I am credentialed in Psychology, Social Science, English, Art, Computer Concepts, and Computer Applications. I taught at the University level, instructing in the Teacher Credentialing programs. While I received my degrees, my own formal education continues. Therefore, you might guess that education is important to me. It is!

As an Educator, one who has had her own classroom, created her own curriculums, taught those who were training to become Teachers, and who recently “visits” classrooms that are not hers, I recognize what might be characterized as an “uncommon core standard,” be sensitive to authentic learning,

Young children long to learn.  Tweens and teens crave abiding knowledge.  Those just broaching adulthood are bursting at the seams; “Teach me” is the tune frequently hummed. Wisdom is the want.  We each wish to reach higher intellectual heights and pass on what we have learned.  More so than “scholastic success,” a love of learning is what I wish to facilitate.  True love remains alive through eternity. A fondness for the act of acquiring knowledge becomes habit easily retained.  

Today, and I mean that literally, education is governed by rigid regulations. There are ample frustrations throughout learning and teaching. It seems that for many, it is just as Einstein expressed, “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”

It is for this reason that I am sharing an account of a day in the life of an Educator. I wish to advance awareness and to open a discussion for what many experience daily. I ask each of us to consider what occurs when we concentrate on the concrete. I believe that when we do, we all lose. The luxury of learning, teaching, and being is lost.  Students no longer have the opportunity to truly understand what teachers are attempting to teach.  Nor do our offspring love their growth. We have also lessened the opportunities for instructors to connect with the students and for students to connect to a subject.

From my own life history, I believe that if we do not love learning, then we do not choose to develop the habits that create a deep desire to investigate, innovate, or imagine, especially on our own. I believe that if we focus on creating a devotion for erudition, a curriculum that demonstrates care for the student, for the subject, and one that is sensitive to the nuances of the process of progression, then and only then will true success will be guaranteed.

If you think this but an unproven theory, please consider the analogy.  You did not exit the warmth of the womb walking and talking.  Indeed, the shock of your entrance into an Earthly existence likely caused you to cry.  Someone might have stroked your head before you felt calm.  Days, weeks, and months went by before what adults would label an intelligible peep was heard from your mouth.  It may have been longer before you stood up and took your first step.  

The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson [American Lecturer, Poet, leading exponent of New England Transcendentalism]

It is with this thought in mind I say, adults must trust that change in a brain and a being comes from within.  Evolution, edification, is slow and subtle.  Transition arrives without fanfare.   Teachers teach. Students, just as sponges absorb lessons.  The two talk with each other.  All are challenged to learn anew, or at least that is what I thought would occur in schools.  On occasion, it did, does, and will; however, from my experience the likelihood lessens each day.

The other day I was teaching in a Social Science classroom. I was working with students who I have worked with often over the last two years. Frequently, their teacher requests that I assist in her absences. She has shared that she values my desire and ability to facilitate understanding. Jennifer Mellon has had many an occasion to observe me teach. Often, she is involved with Committee work and therefore, is on campus running in and out of the classroom when I am there.  Actually, her daughter was once a student of mine.  Hence, Jenn also knows of my pedagogy from a parent’s perspective.  Our familiarity is vast and all good.

On this day, Mrs Mellon asked that I have the class read and discuss seven to ten pages. I was told not to go farther for she, the contracted teacher, would prefer to save the next lesson for another day.

As we read and discussed, I asked the students to reference a portion and then share, in their own words, the meaning of what they just read. I know for myself and I have verified that this is true for others, many can read aloud and then not know what was read. Therefore, I always invite students to take the time to breathe and begin to internalize the words that they recite aloud.

Many in prosperous and professional communities, such as the one in which I work, can and do this well or so it seems. I realize that appearances can be deceiving. Often, when asked if they comprehend the ideas and the concepts, the meaning behind the words, students repeatedly admit that they do not understand these. They cannot offer similar concepts; they are unable to relate the material to their own life experiences, nor do they truly grasp the greater significance. Many, most, and often all confess that they can recite and regurgitate as expected or as needed to appear knowledgeable, yet they do not truly understand or internalize the information.

Therefore, I discuss the readings further, present parallels, share stories that suggest similarities between the lives of the students and the lives of those that they, or we, are studying. These enliven the essence of the lesson. As I do, and did on this day, as I ask questions that assist them in sensing the similarities between themselves and the text, I discovered a captive audience, one that cares to learn, asks questions, offers comments, and is engaged. I discover students no longer feel lost. Learning looms large when I take the time to stimulate the student’s thinking and reflecting.

Today, as on many others, each of us, the students and I, feel enriched and enlightened. These exchanges are educational; they create a joy in learning. Students often tell me that these discussions, the drawing of parallels, are not only memorable, they help them to truly learn.

Then it happened, and I learned again, what I would rather forget. In reviewing the day, I mentioned to the students’ teacher, Jennifer, that we as a class were energized, the text was meaningful, and the discussion exhilarating. However, we did not finish all of the pages she assigned. She sighed deeply. She expressed her dread for falling behind; the need to complete the curriculum as the calendar dictates, and then she said it, teaching in a manner that stimulates students so that they truly understand, well, “We do not have that luxury anymore.”

Sadly, the lesson learned is that what I do, what I did, what many educators do, and would prefer to do again, evoking authentic learning through deeper discussions, facilitating learning that lasts a lifetime, creating curriculums that are energizing and enjoyable for all, is a luxury, one that is lost. I wonder what have we created.

Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember; but directly involve me, and I’ll make it my own.

– Confucian text


I do not wonder why this Teacher, or why so many Educators throughout this nation no longer have, or feel that they have, the opportunity to truly teach. I do reflect on why it is that now, capital and careers are more important than learning. I contemplate and I inquire of those who profess, propose, and then impose policies that stress schedules, simplistic, narrow and naive standards.  Please explain this to me.  Why are our loves, learning and inspirational instruction lost?  What of our offspring, their education, and their Teachers? What will the future bring?

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The Good School; Principals or Principles



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

A few organizations have attempted to answer The Good School Question.  Each asks, “What epitomizes a great learning center?”  “How might we, as a society, give birth to quality institutions?” The solutions are many.   All of  the associations speak of guiding principles. A few also strongly favor Principal or Teacher Leadership.  The various alliances advance the premise; our first and foremost priority must be our children.  In prose, beautifully composed, mission statements submit, adult wants cannot come before the needs of our offspring. Yet, after careful examination it is difficult to discern this truth.  Many aspirations. Many a mirage.  How might we know which is which? Once reviewed, every one of us will decide what works well in education and how might we execute a plan. Will principles, Principals, or pedagogy lead learners to salvation.

Some associations are familiar to most Americans.  Several, such as Michelle Rhee’s Students First, have recently come into being. For most of these prominent groups, the goal is to shape legislation.  The guise or what guides these alliances is an intense interest in our children.  Missions are eloquently composed.   However, a constant thread transcends each mission statement.  Cash Counts!

There is money to be made in Charter Schools.  Testing too is a gold mine industry.  Even lobbying for education policy has become a big business.

Backers such as the Broad Foundation bring big bucks to the charge.  “Transforming K-12 urban public education through better Governance, Management, Labor Relations, and Competition” is the banner headline displayed boldly in Broad Education literature.  The developer ‘s investment firm, cleverly characterized as an “entrepreneurial philanthropy,” stresses the need to “dramatically” change “urban education.”  The implication might be that suburban and rural children can and do help themselves. Possibly, this philosophy might be associated with an acknowledged truth stated in the original adopted Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965). Poverty is a significant problem. Except the profoundly poor are frequently enrolled in rural schools.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson understood this veracity; he lived it.  The father of the nation’s “War On Poverty” spoke of his own reality as he signed the education Bill into law, “As a son of a tenant farmer, I know that education is the only valid passport from poverty.”  President Johnson also put forth a plan.  He said…

“It (ESEA) represents a major new commitment of the federal government, to quality and equality in the schooling that we offer our young people. By passing this bill, we bridge the gap between helplessness and hope for more than five million educationally deprived children. We put into the hands of our youth more than 30 million new books, and into many of our schools their first libraries.

We reduce the terrible lag in bringing new teaching techniques into the nation’s classrooms. We strengthen state and local agencies, which bear the burden and the challenge of better education, and we rekindle the revolution — the revolution of the spirit against the tyranny of ignorance.”

The President did not say, as a nation, we need place the onus on our Teachers.  Mister Johnson did not claim to be the bearer of corporate gifts.  Quite succinctly, the Head of State spoke of the need to strengthen civil services within our State and Local communities.   Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed a deep desire to connect our children, not corporations and the dots these industries print on innumerable test sheets.

The Good School; Principals or Principles



A few organizations have attempted to answer The Good School Question.  Each asks, “What epitomizes a great learning center?”  “How might we, as a society, give birth to quality institutions?” The solutions are many.   All of  the associations speak of guiding principles. A few also strongly favor Principal or Teacher Leadership.  The various alliances advance the premise; our first and foremost priority must be our children.  In prose, beautifully composed, mission statements submit, adult wants cannot come before the needs of our offspring. Yet, after careful examination it is difficult to discern this truth.  Many aspirations. Many a mirage.  How might we know which is which? Once reviewed, every one of us will decide what works well in education and how might we execute a plan. Will principles, Principals, or pedagogy lead learners to salvation.

Some associations are familiar to most Americans.  Several, such as Michelle Rhee’s Students First, have recently come into being. For most of these prominent groups, the goal is to shape legislation.  The guise or what guides these alliances is an intense interest in our children.  Missions are eloquently composed.   However, a constant thread transcends each mission statement.  Cash Counts!

There is money to be made in Charter Schools.  Testing too is a gold mine industry.  Even lobbying for education policy has become a big business.

Backers such as the Broad Foundation bring big bucks to the charge.  “Transforming K-12 urban public education through better Governance, Management, Labor Relations, and Competition” is the banner headline displayed boldly in Broad Education literature.  The developer ‘s investment firm, cleverly characterized as an “entrepreneurial philanthropy,” stresses the need to “dramatically” change “urban education.”  The implication might be that suburban and rural children can and do help themselves. Possibly, this philosophy might be associated with an acknowledged truth stated in the original adopted Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965). Poverty is a significant problem. Except the profoundly poor are frequently enrolled in rural schools.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson understood this veracity; he lived it.  The father of the nation’s “War On Poverty” spoke of his own reality as he signed the education Bill into law, “As a son of a tenant farmer, I know that education is the only valid passport from poverty.”  President Johnson also put forth a plan.  He said…

“It (ESEA) represents a major new commitment of the federal government, to quality and equality in the schooling that we offer our young people. By passing this bill, we bridge the gap between helplessness and hope for more than five million educationally deprived children. We put into the hands of our youth more than 30 million new books, and into many of our schools their first libraries.

We reduce the terrible lag in bringing new teaching techniques into the nation’s classrooms. We strengthen state and local agencies, which bear the burden and the challenge of better education, and we rekindle the revolution — the revolution of the spirit against the tyranny of ignorance.”

The President did not say, as a nation, we need place the onus on our Teachers.  Mister Johnson did not claim to be the bearer of corporate gifts.  Quite succinctly, the Head of State spoke of the need to strengthen civil services within our State and Local communities.   Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed a deep desire to connect our children, not corporations and the dots these industries print on innumerable test sheets.

However, over time, the essential element expressed in the original legislation evolved.  While the progression was slow at first, with the 2001 Reauthorization of the Elementary Secondary Education Act, the language and the leaning changed.  No longer was equality for pupils and people at-large the issue of import. Instead private firms and their financial gains became the subject and the ones served.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) explicit “purpose is to raise achievement for all students and to close the achievement gap. This is done through accountability, research-based instruction, flexibility and options for parents, so that no child is left behind.”

In other words, our nation’s youth will be assessed relentlessly and repeatedly.  Scores gathered will be used to validate and generate further well-financed studies. Versatility for Moms and Dads was defined as a choice; lift your child out from the ruins of schools (selectively) deemed “failures” and place that little learner into a crisp and clean Charter School.

No one mentions that students who do not meet a set “standard” need not apply.  Attendance will be refused to those who might stain a record of exemplary performance.  Nor will anyone give voice to a disturbing statistic. “By the end of the 2004-05 school year, national K-12 education spending will have increased an estimated 105 percent since 1991-92; 58 percent since 1996-97; and 40 percent since 1998-99.”  The thought loudly articulate and promoted is, “Importantly, the increase in funds has been linked to accountability for results, ensuring taxpayers get their money’s worth.”

Actually the massive infusion of money into the school system ensured that, education could be bought and paid for.  The delivery of dollars, Entrepreneurs saw as an endowment to their cause. Philanthropy for profit.

The Broad charitable fund, just as Students First and its subsidiary Teach For America informs us that adults are both the nemesis of the young and the saviors our offspring need.  You might wish to evaluate the message of each fraternity.  It would seem from the rhetoric, there is a consensus; Teachers or adult Leaders are the salvation or the bane  of struggling students.  Circumstances such as poverty, hunger, and the lack of reading resources within a home matter not to those who profess a Teacher can provide all a child needs to learn. A parent’s education and socio-economic status are of little consequences when, as is posited by these “Foundations,” an excellent “tested” Teacher is available to lift a young learner up from the weight of Earthly concerns.

Let us examine the messages.  Perhaps, you too might see a trend.

  • Students First Mission…While there are many factors that influence a student’s ability to learn, a great teacher can help any student overcome those barriers and realize their full potential.
  • Teach For America is growing the movement of leaders who work to ensure that kids growing up in poverty get an excellent education.
  • About Broad Education…To become effective, efficient organizations that serve students well, American school districts and schools need strong, talented leadership.  

    Many more “coalitions” clamor for controlled corporate education change.  Stand for Children sees “Empowering” education as an “entrepreneurial” enterprise.  Trained “Leaders” will reshape our schools and policies that pertain to our progeny, our pupils.  

    Parents Across America may be the antithesis to the “No Excuses” clamor of corporate command.  The message “Our Children. Our Schools. Our Voices” speaks to actual students in a way that the aforementioned and much acclaimed associations do not.  In their own words . .

    What Works:
  • Proven Reforms: We support the expansion of sensible, research-based reforms, such as pre-K programs, full-day Kindergarten, small classes, parent involvement, strong, experienced teachers, a well-rounded curriculum and evaluation systems that go beyond test scores.
  • Sufficient and Equitable Funding: Resources do matter, especially when invested in programs that have been proven to work.
  • Diversity: We support creating diverse, inclusive schools and classrooms whenever possible.
  • Meaningful Parent Involvement: Parents must have a significant voice in policies at the school, district, state and national levels. We are not just “consumers” or “customers” but knowledgeable, necessary partners in any effective reform effort.

  • The Moms and Dads who make up this collective reap no financial rewards for their work.  Cash does not count, children do!  Green backs do not grow Good Schools. These organizers do not have the dollars to lobby legislators; nor do the persons involved have easy access.  For these committed caregivers educated children are their just compensation. Parents Across America is not alone in their charge.  

    “Save Our Schools” the March and National Call to Action too, was born out of a need to respond to the corporate reform cry.  The creed this council promotes are much like those of the former.

    For the future of our children, we demand:
  • Equitable funding for all public school communities;
  • An end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation;
  • Teacher, family and community leadership in forming public education policies;
  • Curriculum developed for and by local school communities.

  • However, neither may present as profound a principle as one adopted by an organization, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) that has worked for more than one hundred years in the interest of equal education for all children.  Please ponder what might best define the dynamics necessary for The Good School.  

    Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn through Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

    Today there is nothing short of a state of emergency in the delivery of education to our nation’s communities of color. As our communities quickly grow on pace to become a numerical majority, it is clear that confronting the issues we face is not just our challenge alone but all of America’s challenge. As a nation, we are failing to provide the high-quality educational opportunities that are critical for all students to succeed, thereby jeopardizing our nation’s ability to continue to be a world leader.

    As a community of civil rights organizations, we believe that access to a high-quality education is a fundamental civil right. The federal government’s role is to protect and promote that civil right by creating and supporting a fair and substantive opportunity to learn for all students, regardless of where and to whom they were born. This objective is advanced by many components of the proposed FY 2011 education budget and the Blueprint for Reform setting forth the Administration’s priorities for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). For instance, we applaud the Administration’s goal for the United States to become a global leader in post-secondary education attainment by 2020 and its efforts to develop specific strategies for turning around low-performing schools.

    While there are numerous positive aspects of the Administration’s education agenda, more comprehensive reforms are necessary to build a future where equitable educational opportunity is the rule, not the exception. As civil rights organizations, it is our responsibility to seek to close and ultimately eliminate the opportunity and achievement gaps experienced by communities of color. To this end, we outline six major principles that we will collectively advocate to strengthen the ESEA and ensure that the federal government provides the support necessary to protect every child’s civil right to a high-quality education:

  • Equitable opportunities for all;
  • Utilization of systematically proven and effective educational methods;  
  • Public and community engagement in education reforms;  
  • Safe and educationally sound learning environments;  
  • Diverse learning environments; and  
  • Comprehensive and substantive accountability systems to maintain equitable opportunities and high outcomes.

  • Might this mission be your own? If you prefer one of the other frameworks, please share why this might be. Principals? Principles? Or Principally Lessons that promote a love of learning? Personal anecdotes are much appreciated.  Experiences explored are lessons we might learn from.  Please share your thoughts. What is a Good School in your mind? Why? What has lead you down the path you chose?  We thank you for your reflections.

    References and Resources . . .

    businesscard.aspx

  • The Good School; Principals or Principles



    copyright © 2012 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

    A few organizations have attempted to answer The Good School Question.  Each asks, “What epitomizes a great learning center?”  “How might we, as a society, give birth to quality institutions?” The solutions are many.   Every  association offers guiding principles. A few also strongly favor Principal or Teacher Leadership.  The various alliances advance the premise; our first and foremost priority must be our children.  In prose, beautifully composed, mission statements submit, adult wants cannot come before the needs of our offspring. Yet, after careful examination it is difficult to discern this truth.  Many aspirations. Many a mirage.  How might we know which is which? Once reviewed, every one of us will decide what works well in education and how might we execute a plan. Will principles, Principals, or pedagogy lead learners to salvation.

    Some associations are familiar to most Americans.  Several, such as Michelle Rhee’s Students First, have recently come into being. For most of these prominent groups, the goal is to shape legislation.  The guise or what guides these alliances is an intense interest in our children.  Missions are eloquently composed.   However, a constant thread transcends each mission statement.  Cash Counts!

    There is money to be made in Charter Schools.  Testing too is a gold mine industry.  Even lobbying for education policy has become a big business.

    Backers such as the Broad Foundation bring big bucks to the charge.  “Transforming K-12 urban public education through better Governance, Management, Labor Relations, and Competition” is the banner headline displayed boldly in Broad Education literature.  The developer ‘s investment firm, cleverly characterized as an “entrepreneurial philanthropy,” stresses the need to “dramatically” change “urban education.”  The implication might be that suburban and rural children can and do help themselves. Possibly, this philosophy might be associated with an acknowledged truth stated in the original adopted Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965). Poverty is a significant problem. Except the profoundly poor are frequently enrolled in rural schools.

    President Lyndon Baines Johnson understood this veracity; he lived it.  The father of the nation’s “War On Poverty” spoke of his own reality as he signed the education Bill into law, “As a son of a tenant farmer, I know that education is the only valid passport from poverty.”  President Johnson also put forth a plan.  He said…

    “It (ESEA) represents a major new commitment of the federal government, to quality and equality in the schooling that we offer our young people. By passing this bill, we bridge the gap between helplessness and hope for more than five million educationally deprived children. We put into the hands of our youth more than 30 million new books, and into many of our schools their first libraries.

    We reduce the terrible lag in bringing new teaching techniques into the nation’s classrooms. We strengthen state and local agencies, which bear the burden and the challenge of better education, and we rekindle the revolution — the revolution of the spirit against the tyranny of ignorance.”

    The President did not say, as a nation, we need place the onus on our Teachers.  Mister Johnson did not claim to be the bearer of corporate gifts.  Quite succinctly, the Head of State spoke of the need to strengthen civil services within our State and Local communities.   Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed a deep desire to connect our children, not corporations and the dots these industries print on innumerable test sheets.

    However, over time, the essential element expressed in the original legislation evolved.  While the progression was slow at first, with the 2001 Reauthorization of the Elementary Secondary Education Act, the language and the leaning changed.  No longer was equality for pupils and people at-large the issue of import. Instead private firms and their financial gains became the subject and the ones served.

    The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) explicit “purpose is to raise achievement for all students and to close the achievement gap. This is done through accountability, research-based instruction, flexibility and options for parents, so that no child is left behind.”

    In other words, our nation’s youth will be assessed relentlessly and repeatedly.  Scores gathered will be used to validate and generate further well-financed studies. Versatility for Moms and Dads was defined as a choice; lift your child out from the ruins of schools (selectively) deemed “failures” and place that little learner into a crisp and clean Charter School.

    No one mentions that students who do not meet a set “standard” need not apply.  Attendance will be refused to those who might stain a record of exemplary performance.  Nor will anyone give voice to a disturbing statistic. “By the end of the 2004-05 school year, national K-12 education spending will have increased an estimated 105 percent since 1991-92; 58 percent since 1996-97; and 40 percent since 1998-99.”  The thought loudly articulate and promoted is, “Importantly, the increase in funds has been linked to accountability for results, ensuring taxpayers get their money’s worth.”

    Actually the massive infusion of money into the school system ensured that, education could be bought and paid for.  The delivery of dollars, Entrepreneurs saw as an endowment to their cause. Philanthropy for profit.

    The Broad charitable fund, just as Students First and its subsidiary Teach For America informs us that adults are both the nemesis of the young and the saviors our offspring need.  You might wish to evaluate the message of each fraternity.  It would seem from the rhetoric, there is a consensus; Teachers or adult Leaders are the salvation or the bane  of struggling students.  Circumstances such as poverty, hunger, and the lack of reading resources within a home matter not to those who profess a Teacher can provide all a child needs to learn. A parent’s education and socio-economic status are of little consequences when, as is posited by these “Foundations,” an excellent “tested” Teacher is available to lift a young learner up from the weight of Earthly concerns.

    Let us examine the messages.  Perhaps, you too might see a trend.

  • Students First Mission…While there are many factors that influence a student’s ability to learn, a great teacher can help any student overcome those barriers and realize their full potential.
  • Teach For America is growing the movement of leaders who work to ensure that kids growing up in poverty get an excellent education.
  • About Broad Education…To become effective, efficient organizations that serve students well, American school districts and schools need strong, talented leadership.  

    Many more “coalitions” clamor for controlled corporate education change.  Stand for Children sees “Empowering” education as an “entrepreneurial” enterprise.  Trained “Leaders” will reshape our schools and policies that pertain to our progeny, our pupils.  

    Parents Across America may be the antithesis to the “No Excuses” clamor of corporate command.  The message “Our Children. Our Schools. Our Voices” speaks to actual students in a way that the aforementioned and much acclaimed associations do not.  In their own words . .

    What Works:
  • Proven Reforms: We support the expansion of sensible, research-based reforms, such as pre-K programs, full-day Kindergarten, small classes, parent involvement, strong, experienced teachers, a well-rounded curriculum and evaluation systems that go beyond test scores.
  • Sufficient and Equitable Funding: Resources do matter, especially when invested in programs that have been proven to work.
  • Diversity: We support creating diverse, inclusive schools and classrooms whenever possible.
  • Meaningful Parent Involvement: Parents must have a significant voice in policies at the school, district, state and national levels. We are not just “consumers” or “customers” but knowledgeable, necessary partners in any effective reform effort.

  • The Moms and Dads who make up this collective reap no financial rewards for their work.  Cash does not count, children do!  Green backs do not grow Good Schools. These organizers do not have the dollars to lobby legislators; nor do the persons involved have easy access.  For these committed caregivers educated children are their just compensation. Parents Across America is not alone in their charge.  

    “Save Our Schools” the March and National Call to Action too, was born out of a need to respond to the corporate reform cry.  The creed this council promotes are much like those of the former.

    For the future of our children, we demand:
  • Equitable funding for all public school communities;
  • An end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation;
  • Teacher, family and community leadership in forming public education policies;
  • Curriculum developed for and by local school communities.

  • However, neither may present as profound a principle as one adopted by an organization, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) that has worked for more than one hundred years in the interest of equal education for all children.  Please ponder what might best define the dynamics necessary for The Good School.  

    Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn through Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

    Today there is nothing short of a state of emergency in the delivery of education to our nation’s communities of color. As our communities quickly grow on pace to become a numerical majority, it is clear that confronting the issues we face is not just our challenge alone but all of America’s challenge. As a nation, we are failing to provide the high-quality educational opportunities that are critical for all students to succeed, thereby jeopardizing our nation’s ability to continue to be a world leader.

    As a community of civil rights organizations, we believe that access to a high-quality education is a fundamental civil right. The federal government’s role is to protect and promote that civil right by creating and supporting a fair and substantive opportunity to learn for all students, regardless of where and to whom they were born. This objective is advanced by many components of the proposed FY 2011 education budget and the Blueprint for Reform setting forth the Administration’s priorities for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). For instance, we applaud the Administration’s goal for the United States to become a global leader in post-secondary education attainment by 2020 and its efforts to develop specific strategies for turning around low-performing schools.

    While there are numerous positive aspects of the Administration’s education agenda, more comprehensive reforms are necessary to build a future where equitable educational opportunity is the rule, not the exception. As civil rights organizations, it is our responsibility to seek to close and ultimately eliminate the opportunity and achievement gaps experienced by communities of color. To this end, we outline six major principles that we will collectively advocate to strengthen the ESEA and ensure that the federal government provides the support necessary to protect every child’s civil right to a high-quality education:

  • Equitable opportunities for all;
  • Utilization of systematically proven and effective educational methods;  
  • Public and community engagement in education reforms;  
  • Safe and educationally sound learning environments;  
  • Diverse learning environments; and  
  • Comprehensive and substantive accountability systems to maintain equitable opportunities and high outcomes.

  • Might this mission be your own? If you prefer one of the other frameworks, please share why this might be. Principals? Principles? Or Principally Lessons that promote a love of learning? Personal anecdotes are much appreciated.  Experiences explored are lessons we might learn from.  Please share your thoughts. What is a Good School in your mind? Why? What has lead you down the path you chose?  We thank you for your reflections.

    References and Resources . . .

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  • 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 . . .

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    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 . . .

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    School; If Boys Will Be Bored, Girls Will Be Too


    Pink Floyd – Another Brick In The Wall.  YouTube.

    © copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org

    The Detroit Free Press published an article that initially intrigued.  The title Boys can make the grade, if they’re not bored, seemed sensible.  I thought to myself as I read the banner headline, this is true for all of us no matter what the gender.  Why might this be significant.  As I perused further, I could feel myself reacting, refuting the reality some educators think remarkable.  Boys will be bored if not actively engaged is a valid supposition; however, I do not think that is news; nor do I think we cannot say the same of girls.

    As my eyes scanned down the page, I became more and more disillusioned.  Nuances were neglected.  The nitty-gritty was nil.  It seemed to me, educators were negating what we create and giving rise to new norms that mirror the old.

    There’s a big difference in Pamela Dean’s English 9 class at Salem High School when Grammar Bowl begins.

    The boys clamber over desks and race for the chairs, sitting with shoulders hunched forward, buzzers clutched in hand.  On a recent day, the boys beat the girls to the buzzer for 42 out of 45 questions.

    That level of engagement doesn’t usually happen in English classes, where girls typically far outperform boys on testing.  But turn it into a sport, and suddenly the boys get it.

    I thought of the many educators that function as entertainers.  This teaching style alienated me as a child and as an adult it still does.  I recognize many are amused by antics, frolics, and fun.  I am not personally among these. 

    As a child, I rejected cartoons.  Silliness bored me; it still does.  I continued to assess the text, wondering ; will this article cause me to cringe.  The concept of “play,” when I first encountered it in at an educational  Fish! Philosophy seminar did.  While engaging with Fish! folks, I came to understand that “play” need not be gamey.  It can be pleasurable, stimulating, as learning is when we love the process.  I continued on my quest.  What might the Detroit educators think and what are they truly doing.

    Plymouth Canton Community Schools is one of the few districts in the metro area making a dramatic effort to change how boys are taught in response to research showing they learn differently than girls.

    “You can teach boys anything as long as you don’t do it in a boring way,” said Sharon Strean, assistant principal for curriculum and instruction at the district.

    I embrace this principle whole-heartedly; however, I ponder.  Why does this discussion devote itself to boys.  Perhaps, these instructors are cognizant; boys are falling farther behind.

    I have long advocated for educational practices that focus on teaching to the individual, to the whole child.  I think, if we wish to thrive as teachers we must meet students where they live.  Lessons must be personally relevant to pupils as individuals.  Relationships need to be established.  As a girl, I know, when in a classroom if the curriculum is perfunctory, I am easily bored.  I have faith that boys are not alone in feeling as they might. 

    I recall a semester or two when studying under a certain teacher’s guidance. I taught myself how to write upside down and backwards.  I was able to practice these skills Monday through Friday.  By the end of the term, I perfected this talent.  I believe I was awarded a “D” for dexterity.  A year earlier, in the same subject area,  with a different teacher I received an “A.”  Hmmmm?  My gender did not change.  One instructor was no more animated than the other.  The lessons in one class were not more interactive than they were in the other.  Nevertheless, there was a huge difference.

    An educator can teach a student how to learn and how not to teach.

    Now, as an instructor, I recognize that if I alter the program slightly and engage a pupil as a person and not as part of a classroom, I can be extremely effective.  However, I loathe what is popular and preferred by many, competitive curriculums.  I prefer not to pit one student or group of learners against another.

    The district is encouraging more competition in the classroom and finding ways to make lessons more hands-on, all rooted in studies that suggest physiological differences in the brains of boys and girls are the main reason an achievement gap between genders exists in some subjects.

    “This isn’t about boys versus girls.  It’s about identifying who the students are and identifying their strengths and potential,” said Richard Weinfeld, an educational consultant and the author of “Helping Boys Succeed in School.” “As we’re able to do more brain research, we see more differences between male and female brains.”

    My personal experience and research suggests that we, as a society tell boys they are competitive, active, and better when they engage in a project with hands on.  We encourage them to be active.  Educators, parents, and professionals believe boys are kinesthetic learners and they lead young lads in this direction.  I think boys and girls are as we train them to be. 

    I am acquainted with a young man who thought he was expected to play football.  He was a big, burly fellow.  Of course, he would enjoy the sport.  He did as he was “supposed to do,” while suffering in silence.  He was injured.  A brain concussion or two and the doctor would advise him to leave the team.  That  ultimately, and he will tell you, thankfully occurred.

    Another gentle soul, male in gender was often asked if he wanted to shoot hoops.  He was tall, athletic in appearance, and limber.  The man could leap bounds; yet, he had no interest in doing so.

    Then there was the active chap.  As a child, he was enrolled in every class his parents could find.  He learned to in-line skate, play soccer, and golf.  Little league games were frequent.  Those familiar with the boy thought these were fun.  Nonetheless, this particular lad was happiest when singing.  Of all the activities he did, he enjoyed stretching his vocal chords most.  I believe boys and girls are often not as they appear, or as people think they might be.

    The research Strean cites shows that boys tend to be right-brain dominant, making them better able to deal with spatial thinking and more mechanically inclined. Testosterone tends to make them more aggressive and competitive.

    In girls, the left-brain, which deals with verbal skills, tends to be dominant. Physiological differences, research shows, also make girls’ brains more inclined to regulate anger and aggression and more involved with emotion and memory.

    I recall the words of Danish Philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard.  His wisdom is my belief.
    Once you label me, you negate me.

    Society pigeonholes us and then we think we should be as others claim we are.  When I study brain research and read of theories I am reminded of the chicken and the egg.  Which came first?  Brain chemistry is fluid, as is biology.  However, people seeking answers search for statistics.

    A 2006 Vanderbilt University study found girls had an advantage over boys when tests and tasks were timed, something that’s common in classrooms. The study showed boys fared better when studying interesting or challenging material in smaller chunks, and without hard and fast time limits.

    Never in my life have I worked quickly.  When taking tests, I am often, perhaps always the last to finish.  I am extremely analytical, mechanically inclined, and yes, I am better able to “deal with spatial thinking.”  I am not an anomaly.  I am as many of the female persuasion.

    Still researchers hypothesize and prove as was proven to them.  Tell me as a boy I am kinesthetic and I will go on to validate this truth.

    In addition, female teachers outnumber male teachers about 3 to 1, according to the Michigan Education Association. The ratio is roughly the same in Plymouth Canton’s secondary schools. And women, with the best of intentions, teach classes in ways that are compatible with their learning styles, Strean said.

    The result? “School might not be as friendly a place for boys,” Strean said.

    I laugh, or more accurately sigh as I read this statement.  Experts in education go out of their way to teach future teachers that they must be aware of their own learning style.  All human begins when instructing teach in a manner that matches his or her own preferences. 

    As an auditory learner, I tend to talk.  I learned years ago, that those of us that acquire knowledge as we speak often gain insight from our own words.  Nonetheless, I am extremely conscious of the fact that friends and family are very visual.  They need to see, read, envision before material matters to them.  Thus, when teaching, I remind myself I must include visual aides. 

    I understand that the kinesthetic learner must be considered.  We see these as we watch children.  At times, Play-dooh can help mold a mind more than any words, written or spoken might.

    I truly trust in human interaction.  A touch, a smile, a caring connection can move mountains.
    Too often, we underestimate the power of a touch,
    a smile, a kind word, a listening ear,
    an honest compliment,
    or the smallest act of caring,
    all of which have the potential to turn a life around.

    ~ Leo Buscaglia

    Bring on the action.

    The solution, Strean said, was to add elements to the classroom that would engage boys’ learning styles, such as more physical activity tied to lessons and less reliance on the lecture-recite mode. Programs such as Grammar Bowl were born out of that effort.

    Frankie Dinicola, 15, a Salem 10th-grader and a member of last year’s winning Grammar Bowl team, said he had little interest in grammar before the program began.

    “When it was just a work sheet, just a lecture, yeah, it’s boring,” Frankie said. “To be honest, I didn’t know much grammar.”

    Once grammar became a competition, his attitude and his learning curve shot way up.

    “It kind of turned into a sport when we did our first competition,” Frankie said. “Now every time someone says, ‘You’re doing good,’ I’m like, ‘No, you’re doing well.’ It annoys me now.”

    Jeffrey Blakeslee uses boy-friendly techniques in his advanced literature class on science fiction at Salem High.  The course is always full — and almost all the students are boys.

    “When you assign something you can read, and you do it in the traditional style, the kids kind of fight it. It comes as a task,” Blakeslee said. “Basically I open it up to any way they want.”

    As did I and do I, a girl!  I loathe doing any activity that is tedious, dull, monotonous, or uninspiring.  I revel in the imaginative, innovative, and inventive agendas.  Please let my mind and spirit fly! 

    Often I speak out against standardized tests and rigid lesson plans.  I do not think only those testosterone filled bodies reject the rote methods of instruction.

    Instead of writing papers, Blakeslee’s students are more likely to be making movies, writing stories or playing trivia games about the books they read. The projects are not only creative, they’re often more extensive than book reports.

    “It’s the fun stuff,” said Brad Lawrence, 17, of Canton, adding Blakeslee’s lectures were typically no more than 10 or 15 minutes long. “This class is really a shared activity English class.”

    As I read I reject the many notions that I believe cause what occurs in society, a deep division.  Then, finally at the conclusion of the article I notice words that cream out, almost as though they rose up from within me.

    Don’t forget girls.

    Strean and other experts caution that while most girls and boys fall into these classifications, there are plenty of exceptions. And no one’s talking about forgetting about girls — it’s important to mix teaching styles for both genders.

    The gap is of concern because high-stakes tests, such as the MEAP, require more reading and writing, two female strengths, Weinfeld said.

    “The skills we want kids to have at an earlier and earlier age, girls naturally have,” Weinfeld said.

    I sigh again and stress the skills any of us have are often learned from birth, or perhaps before.  When the girl child’s room is painted pink and the baby is encouraged to speak, to nurture her dolls, and feel her feelings, she does.  The little lovely see examples everywhere, on television and in her role models.  When the boy sleeps in a blue room, given toys that teach aggression, when he is told not to cry, or to go play, he does.  Surprise!

    “People are concerned. Boys are dropping out more than girls, fewer boys are graduating from high school than girls, fewer boys are going to college than girls.”

    For me, this is the great concern.  The answers are not found in repeating what created this dilemma.  The reasons are not necessarily found in our differences, many of which we as a culture create.  They are discovered when we evaluate our similarities.

    All kids could benefit from adding a little more movement in classrooms, said Cheryl Somers, assistant professor of educational psychology at Wayne State University.

    There are no differences in intelligence between boys and girls, she said.  While research shows some differences between male and female brains, research also shows that boys and girls are treated differently, from infancy on. Boys are bounced, girls are coddled. Boys fall down, girls are more protected, Somers said.

    “I think a lot more of it has to do with temperament,” Somers said.

    Indeed temperament may be individual.  Some girls are rowdy, others quiet.  Numerous boys are noisy; plenty are pensive!  Yet, stating the stereotypical continues.

    “Boys are a lot more active.  So if you’re not doing something to stimulate them, they’re going to tune out more, because they need more activity level.”

    This occurs as a reason is revealed.

    “Kids come to school with these differences,” Somers said. “No matter whether their parents are creating it or their biology is creating it, they come to school like this.  So let’s figure it out.”

    Please, let us engage as we never have. Might we consider the wisdom of a genius.  Albert Eisenstein reminds us . . .
    You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it.

    As long as we continue to believe and act of the notion that “Boys will be boys,” they will be.  I invite you to have a heart to heart with the fellows in your life and in your classroom.  You may discover as I repeatedly do; they do have feelings.  They can sit still and contemplate the universe as well as a girl might.  In fact, they are.  It may not be their gender that causes them to dropout or tune out.  It is likely the way in which we are teaching that effects them and the girls as it does.  It is also what we teach that needs to be considered.

    I trust that every problem is a sum of the parts.  Some aspects are visible; others are not.  In my mind, we need to probe more deeply and not rely on the consciousness that created the problem.

    References, Resources, Realities Realized or Refuted . . .

  • Boys can make the grade, if they’re not bored, By Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki.  Detroit free Press. May 21, 2007
  • pdf Boys can make the grade, if they’re not bored, By Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki.  Detroit free Press. May 21, 2007
  • Fish! Philosophy
  • Boys Will Be Boys; Write, Reclaim Their Voices, By Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org.
  • pdf Education Defined, Policy or Pupils Passionately Pursuing Personal Growth By Betsy L. Angert.  Educational Resource Information Center.
  • pdf Education Defined, Policy or Pupils Passionately Pursuing Personal Growth By Betsy L. Angert.  Educational Resource Information Center.
  • The Whole Child in a Fractured World. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD)   January 2006
  • The Luxury of Learning is Lost

    copyright © 2004 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

    The words said were, “We do not have that luxury anymore.”  The speaker stated that she loved the luxury. The luxury that she was speaking of is that of teaching in a manner that enlivens learning, engages, and ensures that students internalize information. She was referring to her joy for teaching in a manner that creates learning, the learning that lasts for a lifetime. Is it true that teaching in this manner is an indulgence; and that she is no longer able to partake in this possibility?  How sad.  

    Now, to believe that teaching in this fashion is a “luxury” and that it is lost, never to return is a concept that I cannot, or more accurately, wish not to consider. I cannot help but wonder; why does she feel that she no longer has this?  When, why, or how, did she lose what was once the objective in teaching?  How could or would she consider taking the time to guide learning, to give students an opportunity to truly learn, an extravagance?  I wondered why, and yet I knew.

    Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition. – Jacques Barzun  

    Days have past and the words still haunt me. The idea saddens me. I no longer wonder, for I knew then and sadly, I must now acknowledge that I do know. I know, for I experience it each and everyday. I read of it in the newspapers, in editorials, in professional journals, and in books. I hear of it from friends, from family, from any, and many that have even the smallest sense of what is going on in our nation’s schools. I speak with instructors, and others that are familiar with “education” as it exists today, and there is much concern. The policies and practices that are present in our schools, throughout this Nation, cause much trepidation.

    Currently, I am employed as a substitute teacher, what some so sweetly call a “guest teacher.”  I have a Master of Arts degree in Education, with a focus on Instructional Systems. I am credentialed in Psychology, Social Science, English, Art, Computer Concepts, and Computer Applications. I taught at the University level, instructing in the Teacher Credentialing programs. After receiving my degrees, my own formal education continues. Therefore, you might guess that education is important to me. It is!

    As an educator, one that has had her own classroom, created her own curriculums, taught those that were training to be come instructors, as one that has recently “visited” classrooms that are not her own, and as one that has been a student, I recognize the need to be sensitive to authentic learning rather than to the appearance of academic achievement. More so than academic achievements, a love of learning is what I would wish to facilitate.  

    I acknowledge that there are achievements today or the appearance of these; some students truly are accelerating academically, though I wonder if they are truly learning. However, on any and many days, I experience, just as other educators do, that students, even in the best of schools, and even the best of students, no longer read the text for meaning; they simply search for answers, short and simplistic answers. I not only experience and observe this; I ask students if this is true. I listen to their admissions. I hear their perplexing sighs when asked of their work and of their learning and their answers concern me.

    Students often share that they can master the art of test taking and yet, they do not fully understand the concepts. They state that they do not know how the information relates to the subject, to their lives, or to the wider world. They express that they can read and recite the words, and yet they do not comprehend the content or the context. Oh, yes, they can answer questions, regurgitate the text; nonetheless, when you ask them to explain these in their own words, even those pupils that seemingly can paraphrase what they read tell me that they do not truly connect to the meaning. When asked to probe more deeply, to present a parallel from their own lives, they express that they are lost!!!

    Teachers also express their own sense of feeling lost. They are lost in imposed schedules and lost in a simplistic stress on standards. They are saturated; they must create a credible trail, one that validates that the subjects are being taught well and that students are learning. The trail, or the trial, is in the test results. Students and teachers are now lost in statistics. Today, in our nation’s schools the focus is on the visible and verifiable. Yet, learning and facilitating growth are neither of these. Nonetheless, in our frenzy to find validation for what we are doing or not, we wok to produce a product, our pupils scores present a pretense of success. Genuine learning and true teaching are also lost. It seems that gaining knowledge and inspiring instruction are now missing from our Nation’s classrooms.



    In teaching, you cannot see the fruit of a day’s work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years.
     – Jacques Barzun

    At times, the fruit of “teaching” is invisible for a lifetime. For those that are forced, or feel a need to feed only formulas, facts, and the foundation necessary for gaining knowledge, never create what bares the fruits of learning. This is true even in the best of schools. I experience this in a community that is elite and highly educated. Just as those in schools that are fighting to survive, learners and instructors are coping with the stress of scoring and testing strategies. The level of angst is felt within all districts, dioceses, and in corporations that deliver educational services. I am aware that, now, education is governed by rigid regulations. There are ample frustrations filtered through the fulfillment of learning and teaching. It seems that for many, it is just as Einstein expressed, “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.

    It is for this reason that I am sharing an account of a day in the life of an educator; I wish to advance awareness and to open a discussion for what many experience. I would like to ask each of us to consider what occurs when we concentrate on the concrete. I believe that when we do, we all lose much. Students no longer have the opportunity to truly understand what teachers are attempting to teach; nor do they often love their growth. We have also lessened the opportunities for instructors.

    From my own life history, I believe that if we do not love learning, then we do not choose to develop the habits that create a deep desire to investigate, innovate, or imagine, even on our own. I believe that if we focus on creating a love for learning, a curriculum that demonstrates care for the student, for the subject, and one that is sensitive to the nuances of the process of progression, and then success will be guaranteed.

    The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil. – Ralph Waldo Emerson [American Lecturer, Poet, leading exponent of New England Transcendentalism]

    The other day I was teaching in a Social Science classroom. I was working with students that I have worked with often over the last two years. Frequently, their teacher requests that I assist in her absences. She has shared that she values my desire and ability to facilitate understanding. She has had many an occasion to observe me teach. On this day, she asked that I have the class read and discuss seven to ten pages. I was told not to go farther for she, the contracted teacher, would prefer to save the next lesson for another day.

    As we read and discussed, I asked the students to reference a portion and then share, in their own words, the meaning of what they just read. I know for myself and I have verified that this is true for others, many can read aloud and then not know what they read. Therefore, I always ask students to take the time to breathe and begin to internalize the words that they read aloud.

    Many in prosperous and professional communities, such as the one in which I work, can and do this well or so it seems. I realize that appearances can be deceiving. Often, when asked to provide a parallel, or if they understand what the words mean, when asked if they comprehend the ideas and the concepts, the meaning behind the words, students repeatedly admit that they do not understand these. They cannot offer similar concepts; they are unable to relate the material to their own life experiences, nor do they truly grasp the greater significance. Many, most, and often all confess that they can recite and regurgitate as expected or as needed to appear knowledgeable, yet they do not truly understand or internalize the information.

    Therefore, I discuss the readings further, present parallels, share stories that suggest similarities between the lives of the students and the lives of those that they, or we, are studying. These enliven the essence of the lesson. As I do, and did on this day, as I ask questions that assist them in sensing the similarities between themselves and the text, I discover a captive audience, one that cares to learn, asks questions, offers comments, and is engaged. I discover students no longer feel lost. Learning looms large when I take the time to stimulate student learning.

    On this day, as on many others, each of us, the students and I, feel enriched and enlightened. These exchanges are educational; they create a joy in learning. Students often tell me that these discussions, the drawing of parallels, are not only memorable, they help them to truly learn.

    Then it happened, and I learned again, what I would rather forget. In reviewing the day, I mentioned to the students’ teacher that we as a class were energized, the text was meaningful, and the discussion exhilarating. However, we did not finish all of the pages she assigned. She sighed deeply. She expressed her dread for falling behind; the need to complete the curriculum as the calendar dictates, and then she said it, teaching in a manner that stimulates students so that they truly understand, well, “We do not have that luxury anymore.”

    Sadly, the lesson learned is that what I do, what I did, what many educators do, and would prefer to do again, evoking authentic learning through deeper discussions, facilitating learning that lasts a lifetime, creating curriculums that are energizing and enjoyable for all, is a luxury, one that lost. I wonder what have we created.



    Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember; but directly involve me, and I’ll make it my own. – Confucian text


    I do not wonder why this teacher, or why do many teachers throughout this nation no longer have, or feel that they have, the luxury to truly teach. I do wonder why it is that now, capital and careers are more than important than learning. I wonder and I ask; I ask those that profess, propose, and then impose policies that stress schedules, simplistic, narrow and naive standards, to please explain this to me.

    I wonder why the rote, routine, rehearsed, and rigid is more reassuring to the masses than real learning is. I wonder why scores, statistics, and strategies have supplanted an interest in our students. I wonder why we settle for “standards” and no longer allow the minds of our students and teachers to soar. I wonder when we will learn and when will our classroom objectives parallel those we have for our future.

    Post Script . . . Not long after my own writing, the Los Angeles Times offered another illustration of how students are shortchanged. I offer this reading for your review. Please review and reflect upon this report from the Sunday, November 28, 2004, Los Angeles Times.“Are Schools Shortchanging Students”