What Are We Doing Wrong for Our Schools?

I’ve written about the first problem before, and will again; our first and most fundamental problem is compulsion. We must repeal all truancy laws, or we can expect no reform to succeed.

Perhaps, though, our biggest problem is being overly emotional and protective of “the children.”

It seems so natural to want to protect and hold up the children, but while they are certainly our children, they are more. They are not ours in any sense of ownership. They are only ours because we are responsible to provide that which parents must provide. We do, in fact, take that too far if we start with emotion and the ideal of doing all “for our children.”

Any sacrifice seems warranted when we know it is for the good of the children, when it increases their chances for success. Of course, taking that a little too far and adding a bit of sentimentality leads inevitably to claims and demands that help only the few in control, in power. Sometimes, the motives of those in power are supposed to be pure, and sometimes they are not intentionally malicious and greedy. But sometimes their motives are even worse, yet they proclaim, “Don’t you want to support the children?” Guilting us with the skill of the most manipulative mother.

Fundamentally, our children our people, persons, citizens, humans in their own right, each an individual entitled to all the rights, privileges, protections, and responsibilities of each of the rest of us. 

We must remember that while children are childish, they are still each his own man. (Or her own woman, of course.) We who are mature must lead and set example. We must teach and guide while never loosing sight of the fact that each of these little ones stands alone. No man, nor child, is an island, but when the bell tolls, remember, it tolls for thee, and each wee one. We are all in this together, and each child is just as responsible as every other person breathing.

We must help them, not cloister them. Leading is the key.

We are not Borg. The children are not ours to treat as a resource. We cannot make it our goal to prepare them as a workforce. It is no different than conscripting them and training them as soldiers. Do we see our children in some Medieval light, as the feudal lord who owned all within his realm? Rank, standing, clout, pull, favor, grace, duty, loyalty, liege, homage? Are these words we wish to apply to our children and their future employers and politicians; should I say overlords? Loyalty and trust work only when earned.

Common Core State Standards and many other recent educational reforms have emphasized preparing our children for “success in college and careers.” Really? Is that what we want? Is that what we wanted when we were children? Did we want to focus on college and career? Are we not simply selfishly saying that we want to secure our own future by fashioning this pliable resource to continue to grow our societies and economies such that we will remain secure and provisioned in our old age? If so, for shame. Doesn’t the mission statement of the Common Core State Standards show clearly how selfish it is? Mustn’t we reject it out of hand?

The Common Core State Standards, like other recent reforms, states clearly that it intends to establish “what students are expected to learn.” Simple, but I thought Western Civilization and modern society were founded on freedom and equality, not conformity. Again, we are not Borg.

In Star Trek, the writers devised the ultimate notion of utility and self-discipline. They applied it to a hive-type culture that sacrificed everything for utility and efficiency. Service. The Borg were We. You will service Us. (Resistance is certainly not futile, though sometimes it can seem hopeless.) The Star Trek writers established the Borg as the ultimate evil, “the closest thing to pure evil the Federation has ever faced.” Of course, the Federation in Star Trek is held up as the ongoing advancement of all that Human is supposed to be for good. Thus, duality. The age-old saga of good versus evil. However, the Borg were not evil at all. As T-Rex in Jurassic Park was not evil, only hungry, the Borg were not evil, only efficient. Liberty, art, love, desire, longing, freedom, and dreams are all messy and inefficient. The invisible guiding hand always proves out in the end, but the road can be long, with many diversions, delays, even hardships and suffering along the way. It is much more efficient to forcefully subjugate every individual to the collective, emplace and empower driven, type-A egoists as queens and heads, and simply disallow any deviation from the short and long-term goals set by the heads for the collective. Utility and efficiency above all, especially above the foibles and freedoms of individuals. That isn’t evil, is it? Well, actually, now that I’ve thought it through, it is!

We cannot afford to be that doting mother who never lets her child out of her sight. We must risk, and we must allow the children to risk. We must simply deal with the messiness and inefficiency of individuality. It is what makes us human, and, mostly, what makes us adult.

Ultimately I know I will stand alone at judgment. The Greeks had a court, referred to as bema, where each of the two sides had a podium, raised among the people. I will stand at bema and answer for myself, and myself alone. I will also answer for how I acted as father to my children. As a foundation touchstone, I know I will stand and answer. I know I will be judged, and I know I will be judged such that both justice and mercy are satisfied. Justice is harsh. Only the all-knowing, all-wise creator could satisfy it, balanced with mercy. Honor and faith, I believe, are the only hope. Live honestly, truly, and with all the honor you can muster, especially toward your neighbor, and that day can be nothing to fear.

We must honor our children.

Aiming to make them ready workers is hardly distinguishable from forcing them to conscription in armed service, and hardly above slavery.

Freedom.

Common Core State Standards and similar efforts fail abjectly to honor the individual and to allow for freedom. If we can lead by example, and ensure justice, and allow consequences, we will educate to the highest ideal. If we set criteria and force conformity, well, then we have used force and compulsion, and we crush the very soul of all we hope for.

Each student is certainly a child, and we must never lose sight of the level of maturity common to each age. We must also allow for, even provide for, deviation. The level of maturity is not defined by the mean, median, or mode. It is unique to each individual, each student. Likewise ability.

How can any set of standards, be they common, core, or otherwise, be expected to adequately educate the diversity of individuals seen in any given classroom? Ask any teacher. Every teacher will agree that no set of standards can address the spectrum of needs, maturities, and abilities of a classroom with more than a handful of students at any given age. Over the decades we have forced our teachers to narrow the focus and aim only for the middle. Teachers develop strategies, with various degrees of success, for dealing with those above and below, but mostly they hope the high achievers find ways to thrive outside of school, and they hope those below the median don’t fall too far behind and don’t get lost and slip through the cracks in the system. While our teachers’ efforts are to be commended, our system obviously fails. While the system’s aim remains targeted at only the overall outcome it will remain broken. It can only be fixed if the focus becomes the individual, not the collective.

Each child, each student, is an individual, a citizen, a fellow traveler on this mortal coil. They are not ours to direct and prepare. We can lead, guide, encourage, and protect as we are able, but we imperil us all if we forget that soon each chick will have to leave the nest and fly solo. It is the way of the world. It works quite well if we keep our eyes open, keep our hearts filled with love, keep our hands to the plow, and keep our backs into it.

This last, our backs against the load. Isn’t that our own individual problem? Don’t we find it hard to raise and teach our children, so it is all too tempting to shuffle them off to school and let the administrators and teachers bear the burden? Again, for shame.

What man among us doesn’t claim to be willing to sacrifice all for any and all of his offspring? Ladies, I know you are even more willing to sacrifice yourself than us men, and it is seldom that any man will shirk from protecting even a stranger’s child from imminent harm.

We are wrong in our schools when each of us, any of us, fails to fulfill our role and responsibilities. We each must be parent and teacher. Above all, as with our own in our own house, we must treat each individually because each is different, unique, and most of all, an independent individual.

We hold these truths. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” We do not hold that some common core, nor some clear expectation of accomplishment, nor even some arbitrary definition of success in college and career must be obtained from our younger members of society.

If we can keep that clear, we can effectively reform our education system.

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