Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Who Is Steering the Ship?

March 23, 2011

It's the question at the forefront of a lot of minds these days: What's Wrong With Education, and How Do We Fix It? The simple answer to a terribly complex question is there are far too many captains attempting to steer the ship in several directions. Who is the clientele? By whose navigational maps should we chart our course?

Just some of the captains include the following:

--Big business wants productive citizens who can adapt and engage within an existing construct. (Detractors might deem this, disparagingly, 'conformity'. There is something to be said, however, for learning to operate within a social structure, no?)

--Government wants statistics they can use to compare our children to other powerful nations in order to continue to prove to ourselves that we will remain the SuperPower ruler of nations, protector of democracy and freedom for all everywhere. A tall order, and a noble one, but one that certainly doesn't take into account the vast amount of education that takes place within the school walls that doesn't find itself easily reducible to a bubble on a scantron.

--Parents want education to make geniuses of all their children-or at least recognize the genius of their children. The parents also want all of their kids' individual needs met--personal, social, emotional, and intellectual. We are, after all, entrusted with the care of the parents' most precious and important part of their lives. As a parent, I too want all of those needs met for my own kids. As parents, we are concerned about our own children, no matter how many other personal, social, emotional, or intellectual needs have to be met for other kids.

--Teachers want to instill the love of learning, hoping to excite kids about the process of engaging in collective inquiry. No small feat in the face of the testing, testing, testing culture that has now overtaken modern education. And some teachers want kids to learn to follow rules. And some teachers want kids to develop good character. And some teachers want kids to NOT question authority. And yes, some teachers want kids to just keep quiet and not bother them until they retire. (Despite the fact that most of the teachers I personally know truly have a heart to teach kids and help them find their futures, I know it's true that there are teachers who are merely marking time.)

--Universities want kids who are creative, critical thinkers, ready to set the world on fire with solutions to problems we don't even know we'll have yet in our future. They want kids who are articulate in speech and in writing, and who can engage in texts in a meaningful way. They want kids who are aware of the world and self-aware of their place within it.

--Students want to learn. They want to be treated as adults. They want grades to ensure the path to whatever university they want to attend. They also want sports opportunities and they want volunteer opportunities and they want leadership training, and they want organizations to help support their varied extra-curricular interests. They want guidance and they want job training and academic training and they want to know that their teachers see them--really see them--as individuals, as human beings, filled with love and fear and stress and desire and visions of the future, no matter what that future holds. They want to know their teachers care.

These are only some of the captains steering the ship--important captains, all. None of these captains is wrong, none is trying to steer the ship into a storm. All of them have great destinations in mind, and truly, none of the destinations negates another. Think of a destination cruise ship: you could choose to go to Hawaii, Alaska, Australia, or England. If you've chosen to go to Alaska but find yourself on the ship governed by the captain who wants to go to England, you're going to find yourself unsatisfied. Mind you, England's a great destination, full of history and beauty and its own unique culture. It's just not Alaska, you know? If you knew you were still going to get to to Alaska, you probably wouldn't mind going to England. But instead? No, no, that will not do.

We're not going to get anywhere until our captains all get together and recognize the value of each destination. Or we simply choose one (or even vote for one--this is a democracy, after all). We could continue to fight each other, with one captain leading the charge toward his destination of choice, only to have control wrested away by another captain who careens wildly toward another one. We'll never get anywhere if we continue to let this be our path. If we want to actually get somewhere, we've got to do things a little differently. We could, in the end, choose a far-reaching, extended cruise where we visit all of these ideas, these countries, if you will, as complementary stops on the journey, all important, all stops necessary for a full and rich experience in the educational journey.

A journey of this magnitude takes more planning, more thoughtfulness, more resources, more cooperation. It might even be more than we think we have right now. But aren't our children worth it? Isn't our future worth it?


  1. Sigh. Very civilized and reasonable... our students need to read this too.

  2. I think you should send this to every newspaper, government office and school board in every state in this country!

    Amazingly well said, Donna. Bravo.