Teaching is one of those jobs that everyone thinks they can do better than you. The general public seems to forget that the most critics of public education have never been asked to motivate and engage 40 disinterested students packed into a tiny classroom with paint chips raining down from the ceiling.
I was not a stellar teacher. My own time in the classroom was wrought with a lack of political finesse and emotional maturity that eventually cost me my position. However, I can say I was “in the trenches.” And that’s what it still feels like. Being in a trench, drafted to one side in a pedagogical war I don’t want to be fighting. But never mind me, how do students learn with a war raging on?
I am a New York liberal at heart. The word “conservative” immediately gets my dander up. However, I am also 40something and a parent. I don’t have the “fire” I once did for such distinctions and when it comes to my kids’ education, I want to know what will work best for them.
And that is where the difference lays – “What will work best for them!”
While I agree with the notion of national content standards, I do not agree with the idea of a standardized approach. Learning is a personal process. Does the student respond better to visual cues? Aural cues? Tactile activities? Drills? etc. An effective teacher is able to make the minimum amount of generalizations about the ways the students in her class learn.
When Mayor Bloomberg took control of New York City schools, the benefit was to be greater accountability. Bloomberg’s strength is his business savvy. However, running a successful company is different from running a successful school. Who is the customer for the school? The temptation is to blurt out, “the students!” But are they really? Are they the decision makers who will buy or not buy your product? Is it the parent who makes the decision on which schools the student might attend? Or the community the school resides in?
Where President Bush had his “No Child Left Behind” plan for education, Bloomberg has “Children First.”
Children First is
“a comprehensive school reform effort… where all of the 1.1 million schoolchildren in New York City are able to learn the skills and receive the support they need to realize their potential.”
Children first has placed everyone else with a stake in public education last. Like in the corporate world, decisions regarding Children First are top-down. As depicted by Sol Stern in his article, “Grading Mayoral Control”, Bloomberg’s response to critics has been flippant comments and simple arrogance. What comes to mind is Woody Allen’s line in Sleeper, where he tells Diane Keaton, “In a couple of months we’ll be stealing Erno’s nose.” This comment comes after Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, and a band of rebels have stolen the nose of their ruler with the intention of placing their own ruler into power.
I should mention at this juncture that there is no such thing as unbiased educational reporting. Stern writes from the conservative Manhattan Institute. He and Elizabeth Carson from the conservative math education organization, NYC HOLD appeared on PBS’ New York Voices episode, Making the Grade: Education Reform in New York City. They spoke about their distaste for the curriculum choices made by Bloomberg’s DOE. As far as I know, neither Carson or Stern have ever taught in a public school setting. Woody Allen comes to mind again. This time it’s the movie line from Annie Hall, where he scolds someone for “pontificating so loudly.” That someone is going on about the impact of media on culture. When Woody scolds him, he replies, “I happen to teach a course in Media and Culture so that makes me an authority” (or something like that).
Sorry. I couldn’t resist.
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