Teachers open the door, you enter by yourself
— Chinese Proverb
“I am glad I retired when it did. Whew!”
— Noted Cornville-based teacher
From New England to Seattle, from Phoenix to the Verde Valley, a new nemesis has emerged in the national debate about the quality and direction of public education: the teacher. Caught up in nets of reform created by non-educated reformers, free-market advocates from Wall Street and major foundations, the nature of public education in the U.S. has been fast changing from offering basic standards and broad-based curricula to testing and teacher accountability. What’s emerging has all the earmarks of an episode from The Twilight Zone. When student test scores don’t measure up, schools lose federal funds, and any number of punishments loom: fire the principal, turn the school into a charter school or some kind of private management—and of course blame the teacher, even releasing the names of teachers whose students did not test well enough on multi choice test which is often not in their native language.
A major casualty along the way is the emphasis on testing for math and reading leaves little or no room for once important studies such as history, civics, the arts and geography so important for right-brain creative thinking. Furthermore, asks Holly Shannon, 50, local writer and post-grad student, “Is this world moving so fast that it has forgotten the importance of learning through human contact?”
One of the results of the growing teach-to-test movement created by the No Child Left Behind law, passed eleven years ago, is the creation of a system of public funded charter schools, many of which are run by non-profit corporations, some on-line so that students never meet their teachers. Writes Sedona’s Adele Seronde in her new book, “OCCUPY EDUCATION! BREAKTHROUGH TO THE MUSE, THE ART OF EDUCATION,” “teachers are being so maligned in the national debate that it is harder and harder to attract our best and brightest. If we want better educational outcomes, we need to attract better teachers and work to retain them—better paychecks and respect would be a fine place to start.”
Alas, however, the political winds are blowing in the opposite direction. Facts Frenchmen say go with the person caressing them best. No caressing needed here. Little publicity is being given to the following facts. From 2008 to 2011, jobs in education have been slashed like the Light Brigade at the hands of the Turks. Nearly 300,000 jobs in education have been lost since 2008. And if teachers aren’t being fired, surveys show that 50 percent of them leave within their first five years because of frustrations and lack of support. Teacher turnover annually? 7.3 billion dollars.
Firing can not only be brutal but life wrecking, as well. Consider the story of Sarah Wysocki, a fifth grade teacher in a D.C. school and said by her superiors to be top notch and “coming into her own.” Indeed they urged her to share her techniques with other teachers at the Middle School. Two months after a terrifically positive evaluation, she was fired. She was fired because of reading and math scores; while rising, their scores didn’t grow as predicted. What did her in was “value-added” a statistical tool is said to measure’s direct contribution to test results.
Can technology capture a teacher’s true value? Is there really a concerted campaign to replace teachers with robots? What of the creative process, students lucky enough to still enjoy music, dance, art, walks in nature?
Seeing the huge changes moving students away from such right brain experiences is Mei Wie Wong. Executive Director of the SedonaArtsCenter. As she sees it, there is an effect when you only develop the wrote memory of the brain. It is akin to the process of learning to make choices. “ The problem with being told what to do all the time, and being a good kid and following orders is that one doesn’t learn how to make choices…that is an essential part of becoming an adult that gets lost. The creative process is not only about making choices but developing a way of thinking outside the box essential to innovation, to being a unique individual and also just to be able get to college requires both sides of the brain, both abstract and literal. The danger is that we raise our kids to be automatons no longer capable of thinking, or able to use discernment in actions.”
Is that happening already?
As Pogo once put it, We have met the enemy and he is us.