Recently, I read Peter Berger’s op-ed in VTDigger.org, “Poor Elijah’s Almanack: A collection of symptoms”. One of his points was about how our polarized way of discussing various aspects of education (testing, curriculum, approaches and methods) make it difficult for teachers to do their job. He gives examples from the “War on/about Math”, “War on/about Literacy”, and other “Wars on __________”. Here is his concluding paragraph:
As long as schools are ruled by two fanatical, bankrupt extremes, no matter what the issue and no matter which side’s experts are advancing at the moment, students, teachers, and learning will be suffering in the middle.
Thanks Mr. Berger for another thought-provoking column. Here are some of my thoughts and reactions:
As a backdrop to these polarizing “Wars on This or That” (Math, Language, Curriculum and Teachers, etc.), we live in a Digital World of either zero (0) or one (1). With base-2 whole numbers, there is no middle or “fractional” ground. Likewise our entrenched two-party system makes it difficult for independent or third party candidates to have a decent chance of winning. Our media also continues this trap of “This Or That”, “A Versus B”, Republicans or Democrats, Conservatives versus Liberals. If anyone outside our binary digit political system runs for office, well good luck with that.
It seems that the competitive and collective American Brain has a hard time dealing with “AND”, as it may cause cognizant dissonance, and won’t easily sell news, help ratings, or get R/D candidates elected.
Why can’t we take the best ideas from both political parties and fashion more workable legislation?
Why can’t we simultaneously apply the best parts of Math Basics and Problem Solving in the classroom? I don’t necessarily mean multi-tasking during the same class period, but throughout a school year, use both approaches to complement each other.
The same thing goes for literacy. Why not apply the best of both worlds, Phonics AND Whole Language, so that students get a more well-rounded education in reading and writing?
You could ask the same thing about “Learning Facts AND “Critical Thinking”. You need to be able to know or do both.
When I learned to play music and guitar, I learned the “basics” of reading music, and later writing out standard music notation. But I also later learned how to apply dynamics and effects, to give more meaning and emotion to playing. Musicians need to know both the “basic literacy” and “whole language” of music.
It seems that our “War on Whatever” culture has produced professional advocates such that there are cottage industries that have grown up on either side of a given issue or “war”. People make money and lucrative careers by taking sides, and can become “experts” in their fields, write books and appear on radio or TV espousing their beliefs. The polarization continues on because it makes money for those who start or wage these Wars on (fill in the blank).
Meanwhile, teachers who are actually in the classroom must navigate through the crossfire of these “Wars about Education” to teach their students.
Since teachers must take Praxis exams, and are continually evaluated as to whether “highly effective” or not, and students must take “standardized tests”, I offer another benchmark for evaluating politicians or candidates. We are in yet another even-numbered year, and November is approaching.
Politicians could stop spending money on negative campaign ads, and spouting off tired ideological talking points. Instead, those seeking election or re-election should provide voters with:
1. Their High School GPA
2. Their High School Transcript
3. Their ACT and SAT test scores
4. Their College GPA
5. Their College Transcript
6. Their GRE grade for graduate school (or other standard testing)
7. Essay question: Why you are highly qualified to be our Representative, State Senator, Governor, etc.
How about it Democrats and Republicans running for public office? Especially those of you who are critical of public schools and public school teachers!