20090711

Closing Schools Is Not The Best Solution

There's talk of another one of our nation's public schools closing. In these tough economic times, this is really a sad commentary. I grew up in a time when teaching was one of the safest professions to be in. Comparably to other jobs in the public sector, it probably still is. But, the closing of schools based on low test scores is concerning. It makes me wonder how many more generations of youth will be lost to this ridiculous means of measuring one's ability to succeed in life. As a person who spent a decade as an elementary school teacher in what I call the war zone of public education, I am an avid proponent of children receiving a diploma based purely on merit for showing up, as opposed to mastery skills. I discern the latter to be a stumbling block and deterrent for a certain "class" of learners to be excluded from ever moving further than the impenetrable wall placed before them at graduation in the form of an exit exam. The schools that are up for closure are actually being reopened under a term called re-purposing. I do believe this particular school should be repurposed for the goal of building and defining young males in the community under an umbrella of an all-male academy for grades 3-12. It's currently a middle school, which reminds me of a holding tank for youngsters to grow past the torrential years of adolescence. I haven't read the research; but, it's probably safe to presume that this is when most youngsters develop the 'I can't succeed so I might as well quit' mentality. And to know that this attitude derives from some manmade test that most of my colleagues, possibly even myself included, would have difficulty passing. On learning of this school's closing, based specifically on low test scores, I was disturbed to learn that the only areas the students were weak in were math and science. Teachers, on learning of this mid-summer surprise were understandably upset. But this decision, only confirms my belief that it is past time due for people to voice their disgust with the education system failing our youth by placing them all under one definition of success. Just because these learners were not given the gift of being mathematicians or scientists, does not exclude them from being magnificent writers, orators, artists of paint and music, as well as athletes born to do great things for future generations. It is time that this asinine belief that everyone was born to specialize in a certain area needs to STOP! I grew up in a time when youngsters were tracked according to what they were most likely to succeed at based on aptitude tests. That seemed to work for the overall community; although researchers deemed this as a negative bias. We not only had students who were prepared to attend college; but, we had students who trained as auto mechanics, who went on to make their living repairing cars for residents of the area. Today there is another type of tracking going on. It's tracking those who will succeed, and those who will fail. Every year an exam determines whether a determined spirit who showed up every day will get a diploma or not. We're talking high school diploma here; not a Doctorate of Philosophy. Students should be taught what's important. They should graduate knowing how to read. They should graduate knowing how to write. And they should graduate knowing how to balance a checkbook and save for retirement. There is entirely TOO MUCH wasted education going on in high schools across America. I ask you: What purpose does calculus serve for a "me-person" whose sole interest is writing til I breathe my last breath. What purpose does knowing the Pythagorean Theorem have for a person whose purpose in life is to dance for a professional ballet company or play classical violin or flute in an orchestra as a career. It is time for parents to take charge and define what measures their child's success. It is time for children to stop graduating knowing material that only a select few people will benefit from. It's like the education system is feeding its bread and butter with knowledge that has no relevance or interest to what's real for their future. The face of the public school system needs to change and it needs to change drastically. It is not about money as much as it is about curriculum. I have two children that finished from the public school system. And just like I, they learned a lot of wasted knowledge. One of them is a beautiful artist of paint; but attending one of the most prestigious schools in the district left her filled with a knowledge and disdain for a lot of math and science that she will never use as her interest ends up being in the area of art history. I literally was blessed to find an academy for my son that focused on allowing learners to finish the curriculum at their own pace. It was perfect for a child who learned quickly and got bored even quicker. I credit this style of learning as a saving grace so to speak; because, it made the teacher a tutor more than a lecturer; and simultaneously gave him the freedom to finish high school at his own pace. Closing schools means destabilizing jobs, means destabilizing communities. Granted, some schools need to be closed for renovation. But to close a school because of poor test scores is a clear example of why the system is failing. I'd really like to hear more from Arne Duncan on plans he has for the system nationally. Based on a recent expose on Teach for America, I perceive that this is an organization that may or may not be serving the best interests of the learners. I watched as stressed-out twenty-somethings tried to make sense of inner-city youth who have been exposed to more in their 15-years or so of life, than these fresh-faced teachers may experience in a lifetime. School should be about preparing people for what they plan to do with their futures. Everyone is not interested in being a NASA scientist; nor a physician, or mathematician. I vote that our schools begin to reflect the interests of our youth. Graduation requirements should be based on a student's ability to show mastery in the field he hopes to pursue for life. If it's playing a violin; at graduation after completing core requirements, he should be able to play a sonata that has the judges standing in applause on completion. If his interest is to sing on Broadway, well you get the point. It's time education gets back to the basics and stops competing to be better than other nations. Everything that looks like success is not, when we take into account suicide factors of people in other countries who feel they have disappointed their families. When America started looking at other countries as its gauge for success, it lost its focus on what makes its citizens unique. It began the dark journey of trying to be something it is not. It is a melting pot made up of many different peoples doing many different things. To limit our learners to math and science is a major disservice not only to the students involved; but, those who would so benefit from what true talent they have to offer. Some people were born to create life-saving vaccines. Some were born to write the perfect words that heal the hurting souls. Wake up America. Stop closing schools, and instead, start rewriting mission statements and curriculums that reflect what real-life represents!