Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Arne Duncan and His Boss are Chickenshit


I read an article this morning from Slate.com written by a guy who is a maker and talking about how kids in schools should be makers but what they are right now is test-takers. It was an easy article for me to read as I agreed with everything that he was saying but it was tough to set it aside because as a teacher and a parent I know that schools are so far away from having kids make things that I could cry.

Inside my house right now I have a daughter who is creating a blog for a radio station that she is creating with her friends. They have recorded a couple shows already and have a list of shows to record over the next couple weeks. At least one show will likely involve her training our dog to do something new. By the way, that daughter is ten and doing all this as play.

My other daughter spent most of the car ride home with two dolls having a detailed conversation about why one of them was stuck to the ceiling and how the other could help her. The story involved dialogue, music, plot, and the theme of friendship. And it was delightful as all hell to listen to as we drove.

If you need me to list all of the things that the girls are learning in these activities, drop me a line and I'll crank out a list. I think it will be about fifty items long for each of them.

Neither my wife nor I feel the need to test them on the things they are learning. I don't give a damn about the data. I don't expect them to learn this and then be done with that learning. Nor do I expect that what they learn today will necessarily set them up for what they need to learn tomorrow. Maybe it will, maybe it won't.

All I know is that what they are doing is good for them and good to them.  It's both useful and fun. I don't need to know much more than that because I know that this kind of exploration is exactly what they need to be creative, thoughtful, interesting, knowledgeable people.

My role in all of this is mostly to facilitate. When the ten-year-old asks how to create a new blog, I point to the button and then let her go experiment. When the eight-year-old asks what a word means, I ask her what she thinks it means and then help her think it through.

The article about makers mentioned that school administrators wanted to know how to evaluate that kind of learning. What they are looking for is a way to boil it down into numbers so that kids can be ranked, a curve can be filled, the public and politicians can be sold on the idea, and funding can continue. Wood and metal shop, home ec, and a lot of art and music classes are gone because they were not easily boiled down to such data. And this is why our schools suck. Trust me, they do. I have taught in public schools for seventeen years and there's no way around the simple fact that school is worse than it ever was and getting worse.

Why?

Because we have chickenshit politicians and administrators. The biggest chickenshit is President Barack Obama who did the impossible when he took the Bush Administration policies and made them worse, when he appointed Arne Duncan as Education Secretary and further empowered the idiots who believe that education is a business.

We also have an idiotic populace who believes that good schools are the ones who test the most and cost the least. Everyone wants a great school but that shouldn't mean having to pay for it. Certainly the teachers don't deserve any money, right? Don't they get the whole summer off?

And so our kids sit at desks and practice for tests. Then they take tests. Then they practice for the next test. Then they take the next test. If they do well, they get...a crappy education.

I'm ready to turn my child's school over to people who like to make things. People who build, design, sing, dance, bake, farm, invent, and write. Let students make things and they will learn to be creative. Force kids to answer test questions and they will learn to obey. This is why I tell them not to mind about the tests. They couldn't be any less meaningful. All they do is turn out chickenshits.

Write on.