A recent post by Rick Hess* (American Enterprise Institute) is being shared across social media. That got my attention and you can read the post here.
With fellow writer Timothy Shriver*, Mr. Hess leads off with this great quote: “the need for schools and communities to embrace children as individuals and future citizens, and ensure that they don’t feel like test-taking cogs in a bureaucratic enterprise.” (Emphasis mine.)
Who will disagree with that? As a math teacher, one of my major frustrations is the difficulty in getting high school freshmen out of the mindset that all they need to know is how to put the right answers into the test: no learning, no understanding, no curiosity necessary. Besides Geometry, every year my teaching challenge is to turn test-takers into eager, self-directed learners.
Hess and Shriver call for an end to the dichotomy in education that they describe as false: “Schools should not have to choose between chemistry and character; between trigonometry and teamwork.”
Props from GOT for the alliteration; it makes for a memorable quote. BUT! That is exactly what schools have to do as long as the test-and-punish policy of reformsters, billionaires, politicians, and the like are maintained by state laws and regulations.
Hess and Shriver get much correct. They recognize the role of schools to develop character and help children grow into responsible, capable adults. They recognize the difficulty educators face in this job because collaboration, empathy, and integrity are not innate (their word) for children.
However, they betray themselves when they say “the Commission (the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development) suggests … every teacher should be trained in child and adolescent development and the science of learning. This would require, of course, major improvements in educator preparation that must be accompanied by ongoing professional support for teachers and other adults who work with young people.”
Hello? Mr. Hess and Mr. Shriver? Have you ever visited a teaching college? This is exactly what they have been doing since the days of John Dewey. It is insulting to teachers to say that they do not have the training or knowledge needed.
Teachers have more than the knowledge; they have the desire, a burning desire, to do exactly what Hess and Shriver call for. Why is LAUSD on strike? More bucks in the paycheck? Not at all! They are striking because their school district, burdened by privatization policies of the school board and superintendent, are preventing them from providing whole child education.
Every teacher, including those in Florida, being handed a scripted curriculum that says, “You know nothing! Read the script because we high-ups and reformers, who if we ever taught in a classroom only spent a year as we raced to the top (irony intended), know better than you what children need,” rejects the insinuation that they don’t know how to provide nurturing, development, and caring for the children in their classrooms.
There is much in the article that is commendable. However, it is missing the elephant in the room: standardized testing and the destructive policies attached to it.
Kick that to the curb and cut teachers loose from their bonds. You will be amazed at the transformation that will take place. You will find places where, in the words of Hess and Shriver, they are “helping students feel safe at school; cultivating traits like responsibility and perseverance; developing an emotional foundation for academic success; and teaching students to respect and listen to one another in the face of differences.”
*Biographical footnote: Timothy Shriver is Chairman of Special Olympics, Founder and Chair of the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, and Co-Chair of the Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. Frederick M. Hess is a resident scholar and the director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.