I have a very different vision of what public schools should be doing than Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Jeb Bush, Arne Duncan, Michael Bloomberg and the current generation of “School Reformers.”
My vision involves making schools centers of community revitalization where young people's curiosity and creativity is nurtured, where student differences are recognized and respected, where the physical and emotional health of children is promoted, where teachers have long careers, and where parents and community members are welcome.
I think you begin with creating a child-friendly environment. That means sharply reducing the number of tests, leaving ample room for exercise and play, giving primacy to the arts, and having instructions in subject areas, when possible, incorporate hands-on learning and project based activity.
I would also like as many schools as possible to grow and prepare food (with indoor and outdoor farms) and link that to science instruction; have students participate in community improvement initiatives, have students use computers they can carry with them rather than forcing them to use them at desks and become involved in mentoring younger students.
As much as possible, I would like learning to be cooperative rather than competitive and extend that to the teaching staff - a process that would mean removing the threat of school closings and having evaluation done by peers using multiple measures rather than consultants deriving their data from student test scores.
I would also like to see an end to the “one path fits all” approach to secondary education and revive the vocational and technical schools once a fixture in our educational mix to prepare students for decent paying jobs in traditional trades such as repair of automobiles and appliances as well as emerging areas like solar and wind energy and environmental friendly agriculture. Here, we can learn a great deal from how Germany and other Northern European countries do this.
Additionally, I would try to create a climate where talented people enter teaching a lifetime career, which involves treating teachers with respect, giving them input into all decisions affecting their professional lives, including at those made at the city, state and national level, and an end to attacks on their collective bargaining rights.
And in communities which suffer the effects of poverty, I would turn schools into 24 hour community centers which serve neighborhood residents as well as students, and train residents of those communities to run programs in the schools, whether they be after school sports, arts and computer programs, school based farms or community improvement initiatives. i would also actively recruit the teaching staff for those schools from people who live in those communities, or communities like them and incorporate the culture and history of the people in those neighborhoods into school curricula.
Right now, the basic thrust of Education Policy is making teachers hate teaching, students dread going to school, and parents fear that the love of learning in their children will be snuffed out by excessive testing.
We can do better, but only if our basic goal is to make schools places where young people are inspired and nurtured, and where teaching is treated as a lifetime calling that allows talented people the opportunity to work collaboratively and creatively.
With A Brooklyn Accent
Wednesday, 9 January 2013