Friday, April 8, 2011

2012 or 2014?

As the Underground wraps up Spring Break I find my mind wandering and relax watching ALL of the Masters so pardon my lack of focus with this post. But I am reminded the "end" is near.

I recall just last week my classes sped through our unit on Mesoamerica before one of many looming deadlines. We watched one of my favorite videos on the Maya and it included a segment on how the cycle of creation comes to an end and the Mayan Long Count expires on December 21st, 2012. The end of days. It sparked some interesting discussion and we chose to ignore the potential Federal Government Shutdown and its impact. Most people are now familiar with the doomsday predictions for when the Mayan Calendar ends. I found it funny how both political parties are spinning out similar predictions about the effects of a shutdown. What's the connection? Great question(sorry not on the test though).

Flashback 50 years ..."First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind..." these words came from President John F. Kennedy in May of 1961. Powerful rhetoric that put the heat on everyone involved to achieve this goal. I spoke recently to man man(who asked to remain anonymous) who after staging moon landings and covering up the JFK assassination said that if we make it to 2013, we might not make it much past 2014. That's the year when the much maligned No Child Left Behind legislation demands that all children be proficient in reading in Math. "Who's the we" I asked. Did he mean schools? He mumbled something about President Obama's proposed revisions to the law and how he and Congress weren't likely to do much better and then pressed a flashy red thing on his pen(did I mention he was dressed in black?).

The 2001 NCLB Act was President George W. Bush's(erroneously referred to in all failing public schools as Bush Jr.) call to action to make our schools better. NO child would be left behind in an ambitious plan reminiscent of the days of the Space Race. Among the authors of this bill were current House Speaker John Boehner and President Kennedy's late brother Ted. The bill did something pretty amazing, it took a well intentioned effort at reform and created a federal act that messed everything up. In fact it makes many of us teachers feel analogous to the Russians during the Space Race. I'll borrow heavily here from Gerald Bracey and his "THE SEVEN DEADLY ABSURDITIES OF NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND"
critique but it went about things the wrong way. Actually many wrong ways...a mistake that continues today. So states and schools have chimed in with their own ominous prediction when most of their schools are deemed "failing" and kids allowed to transfer. While Bracey rants a bit at the end( something I do well myself), pardon him as he illustrates much of what went wrong. Imagine if Kennedy(had he not been killed by the Oswald, the mafia, CIA, Castro, Russians, man on the grassy knoll or all of the above) had punished an entire agency or dept at NASA when one engineer miscalculated something? Somehow we made it to the moon but where is NCLB and now Race to the Top taking us? Another great questions...ask again at the end of class.

As a young teacher in 2001 I paid no attention to the law. Did anyone in schools really? That changed when scores started to matter. Admitting some good has come from the law it is the unintended effects that are frightening. Will it bring the end or at least contribute to the undoing of our public schools as some predict? I am uncertain but I have grave concerns about where we continue to be driven by Federal legislation intended to improve our schools. In my view new reform ideas are even less likely to realize improvement than the old. Where they succeed is making schools focus too much on testing, demoralizing our educators and potentially undoing much of the good we have done educationally the last century. When others ask why I oppose a lot reform they overlook the reality that there are just some things teachers know and understand that others cannot.

Bracey gets this and also talked in a separate post about the "schools suck bloc" and in some small way connects the title of this post, my unfocused rantings and actual events. Schools can only do so much and in that sense they are just like my unit on Mesoamerica. Set some realistic goals, make a plan, and get going. Just don't forget about the people involved. A rocket and a kid are different...though both can go off course without warning sometimes.

I have not fared well in predicting the future but I will say one thing for certain. Kids, schools, teachers, even our federal budget all face an uphill climb at times and we don't need any scary partisan rhetoric or cumbersome legislation making the hill steeper. Is 2012, 2014 or tomorrow the end? Another great question. I have to go back to the last government shutdown and I guess that also depends on what your meaning of is, is.That's for a later post

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