Tuesday, October 28, 2014

These are the days of our.......oh, nevemind!

Teenagers are interesting creatures.  Beez has this lovely come back for many of my comments, “And you wonder why people are afraid of you?”  It has become a well-known family joke, but I think about this often. 

I come from a long line of strong women and I won’t apologize; truthfully, I’m proud to carry on their legacy.  I want my girls to someday realize that they had a strong Momma who fought for justice and equality.  But, I guess the thing that is most concerning is NOT that I “scare” people, but that people generally don’t like a strong woman with an opinion or one that questions.   I’m not easily led, with a hook in my mouth, to “jump on the latest bandwagon”, but I’m afraid that’s where I’m being forced to go.  As a teacher I'm angry, as a mom I'm outraged.

It’s clear that education is under attack like never before.  We’re under attack from the wealthy, the politicians, the profiteers, and sadly some within our own, local districts and it is our responsibility to speak up for justice, for what’s developmentally appropriate for children.  I recently met with parents who are “well aware” that their child is struggling.  When the mom told me, “It’s really clear <child> is struggling.  That’s all we hear.”  I was disheartened.  She went on to tell me that she was grateful to talk about the progress the child was making, no matter how slow and below grade level they are.  A dad recently told me, “I sell cars.  I read spreadsheets and numbers every day.  THAT’S where numbers should matter, NOT with my kid’s education.”  Wow, incredible, honest insight from people who love their children more than anything. 

But it left me with the nagging question, “What are we doing?”

I am someone who has always questioned, for information and to better myself and my practice, and I have come to realize, with a new school year under way, that even “closer to home” it is no longer okay to ask questions, to bring up an opposing view – no matter how grounded in research, no matter how level headed those questions may be.  I used to be in a situation where I could have dialogue about research and ideas and wrestle through questions WITH leadership rather than be marked for it.  For most of my career, I've been in situations where I didn’t have to be afraid to try a new approach in my classroom, to think differently, to take a unique stance on a topic, to take risks so that my students could think, learn, and challenge each other.  I was respected for finding several ways around a problem instead of avoiding it and doing almost everything I could to help a child learn, no matter how odd it seemed from the outside looking in. 

Now, I find myself criticized, scrutinized, and talked about for moving off the script, for using my professional judgment, for meeting standards differently than others, and for having autonomy in teaching.  I won’t hide my opinions or the differences in the way I approach education and for that I have paid the price of becoming a “person of interest”.  I am told that the choice administration has made is “non-negotiable and that will not be sabotaged”.  I’m not a lock step girl, but believe firmly in the practice of differentiating lessons and learning because it’s grounded in research & best for children and I believe firmly in fostering the love of learning to allow children to make progress and grow that intrinsic desire to learn rather than be locked in that same marching order step as everyone else – what I affectionately call the “minionization of education”.  The “culture of learning” in so many classrooms has been stripped away and become an oxymoron; there are no longer “clear demonstrations of intellectual achievement regarded collectively” – many classrooms have become places of regurgitation; scripted sit and listen lessons, and answer the same exact questions for several different stories.  Many of us have been minimized to teaching data, not children and children are paying the ultimate price - they're losing out on a strong education and the gifts of excellent teachers.  And I'm not just speaking for "those children", I'm speaking for MY children.

Although I’m being held in a box, not by my choosing, I’ll continue to march to my own band and make lots of noise from my box.  I’ll continue on my path, no matter how grown over it is, no matter the obstacles that are placed in my way.  I won't let the box fall in on me.

I’ll continue to read the books that the script says I have to read, and I’ll meet the standards that the script says I have to meet so as to not be “disciplined for not doing what I’m told”.  But you better believe that inside this box there’ll be some serious learning going on. 

We’ll meet standards that “aren’t supposed to be taught” until later in the year and we’ll take on challenges that push my kids’ minds to the very limits; ones that a script couldn’t dream of.  But I’ll still be in the box. 

I’ll do art projects and use iPad apps that promote deep understanding and honor learning differences.  I will link each to standards to “prove I’m teaching”, our classroom will foster risk and respect mistakes, I’ll continue to push my kids to think critically and question themselves & others, and most of all we’ll work to build each other up, continually encouraging our teammates.  But we’ll be inside that box. 

I will continue to set aside everything each Friday afternoon to do team challenges to build strength within our team, to learn to value each other’s abilities, and successfully use differences as strength in our team.   Because no matter what the “work force” will be for my current eight year olds, working with others will NEVER change as the climate in education will.

The box is waiting .... and it’s about to get noisy!
post signature

Sunday, October 5, 2014

DaVinci? Or the average Joe?

One of my summer adventures was my first trip flying off to Vegas with my mom to see dear friends; east coast transplants.  Of course we wandered from their home to the Strip and I was a COMPLETE tourist – you know, “that” person that the diehard gamblers wished would go away! 

We made our way to the Venetian – it just didn’t seem right that this second generation Italian-American would miss it!  I roamed the casino, mouth gaping, bumping into things and people as I looked everywhere but where I was going!  My eyes were wide in awe of the imaginations that made this place happen, the art and mastery of the craftsmen who created such a beautiful place – something got under my skin in this place.  Perhaps it was that we had master masons in our family, perhaps it was simply the creativity, heart and soul that was obviously poured into this place.  As we roamed the floors and endless hallways I stumbled, completely by accident, into a DaVinci gallery – I was in awe.  I wandered speechlessly (yes, a miracle in itself!) from invention to invention, idea to idea, the art, the mathematics, the mind.  As I strolled slowly along, I was even more struck by DaVinci’s brilliance and wisdom, well before his time......although he was incredibly disorganized, had his hand in so many projects, he was deemed a master of art and invention, of innovation and foresight.

As I continued to stare at each piece brilliantly worked, I contemplated what folks thought of him at the time – I doubt he had the respect and awe that he has today.  According to Helen Gardner, art historian, DaVinci is known today as a man of "unquenchable curiosity" and "feverishly inventive imagination" - which made me wonder if his genius was honored and respected then or seen simply as eccentric and a dreamer.  No matter, DaVinci continued to push through, ignore the nay-sayers and disbelievers and quietly go about dreaming with forward thinking – tough in any circumstance or time, but I kept wondering how challenging this was and how he kept pushing forward.

My wander continued and I kept wondering how many of us are willing to continue our push forward to do what’s best for our children, to go against “popular opinion”, to honor their own DaVinci?  How many of us will continue to work to push forward on issues and ideas that are rooted in research, that are intuitive and creative?  Are we willing to risk being a DaVinci, perhaps not popular at the time, but a true master at our craft?  Or are we happy settling for teaching from scripts, from something that anyone off the street could use to “teach”?  As I walked, I began to wonder where DaVinci would have fallen in today’s education system.  Perhaps he wasn’t as eccentric as believed, but saw great possibility in everything around him.  But would he “fit” in this rigid mold our kids are now facing?  Would he have continued to dream if he had been forced into scripted education?    

I have incredible respect for the people currently in education fighting this battle at the forefront.  The people who are standing up for what is developmentally appropriate for children, but who stand for those who see things more globally than what is on a script.  My hat is off to those who see more challenging options of allowing voice of teachers and honoring the knowledge of their educators, of facing the challenging road to “playing the game” using their own rules. 

My concerns about scripted modules and education are rooted in research by credible, known experts in the field and not in those looking to make a profit.  My concerns are rooted in reading a script that uses morally inappropriate “mentor texts” for young children, broaching topics and opinions on war and destruction by planes flying over, fear of stereotypical soldiers bearing rifles outside of schools and libraries.   They’ve grown from the faces staring off, unengaged because the text is boring to them, too challenging, or too easy, or simply sitting for forty-five minutes listening to a teacher talk at them has caused them to go on a mind trip to save their sanity.  It comes from the place where I can’t differentiate the text we use because it’s not in the script – it doesn’t matter the place the child is at, it matters what’s in the script.  My concerns stem from walking by a classroom of a wonderful teacher who is now, to her dismay, being a “good little soldier” reading from a script perched neatly in her lap while children are required to repeat back to her exactly what is first spoken by her:  “This is a heating system” – how insulting to this teacher or these brilliant little minds capable of so much more than robotic repeating. They grow from concern that we are teaching in depth about world religions where seven year old children need to know the number of Hindu gods and describe what they look like, the name of the Holy book, and explain reincarnation – we are crossing the line from respecting family values and beliefs to imposing new ones.

Believe me, I have NO PROBLEM with my children learning about world cultures – personally, my children are very familiar with the culture of our family’s “homelands” and their religions, cultures and beliefs.  They know, in depth, of my niece’s birth family – their culture and history and their Buddhist beliefs.  We speak of a friend’s family member who served in Germany under Hitler’s reign.  But that’s MY right to teach MY children what I believe is appropriate for them. 

In my grade level, we (used to) have a great depth of understanding of cultures around the world – all throughout the year learning about their schools, homes, food, transportation, families, clothing, traditions, etc and (used to) celebrate that in an end of the year Travel Expo extravaganza where students show incredible mastery of their understanding.  THEIR understanding, THEIR ownership, not what I am forced to impose.  The joy, the excitement, the brilliance of this day was incredible – all honoring cultures from around the world WITHOUT disrespecting families’ values and beliefs.   Call me crazy, but I can’t seem to see that same excitement from young children reciting back to teachers.  The boredom, the disengagement of children is palpable.  This hasn’t even touched on the quickly declining morale of master teachers, of those who have devoted themselves and their careers to engaging and honoring students.  The conversation of “my profession has left me” and looking on to what they could do if they left it is continual and makes me furious.

It’s concerning to me that we have DaVinci’s sitting in front of us, as we read scripted lessons, that will be destroyed and dishonored.  My fear is that we will label children the “problem child” for not completing work because they see things more broadly than the expected, specific answers provided in our neat little scripts.  That child who desperately wants to do things a different way than is on the script will become disengaged.  For having so many interests in many different things that aren’t included in the recitation, a student will be penalized.

In 1967, Liana Bortolon said: "Man is as uncomfortable today, faced with a genius, as he was in the 16th century. Five centuries have passed, yet we still view Leonardo with awe."  

How will you give voice to your DaVincis?

post signature