(Author and retired middle school English teacher James Howson, from Connecticut, “gets it.” Unlike so many simplistic views that flood the news and media every day, James recognizes that the problems with education are systemic, and far beyond one easy answer. His excellent insight follows this introduction, and has been wait-listed as likely to be included in the 2nd edition of “Lifting the Curtain: The disgrace we call urban high school education.”)
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When the media, well-meaning and passionate bloggers, and legislators focus on one easy target for the failings of our education system (usually targeting teachers, but sometimes students or parents), they do a great disservice to any chance we have to fix the real problems in education. The problems are systemic –critical failings that have combined, especially in the last 2-3 years, to nearly destroy any chance we have of providing our children with a good education. In Lifting the Curtain: The disgrace we call urban high school education, three years of research and hundreds of surveys and interviews identified eight major interlocking failures:
- Systemic Failure #1: Unintended Consequences – good intentions gone horribly wrong
- Systemic Failure #2: Unqualified Administrators and rampant cronyism
- Systemic Failure #3: Inclusion classes – Everyone loses
- Systemic Failure #4: Special Education – Hijacked by parents
- Systemic Failure #5: “Bureaucrat” – Our newest four-letter word
- Systemic Failure #6: Burned out and departing teachers
- Systemic Failure #7: The Untouchables – Parents, and Teacher Unions
- Systemic Failure #8: Rewards unrelated to performance
Yet we never seem to look at this big picture, and “solutions” based upon just one area are absolutely doomed to fail.
Even teachers can be guilty of this. I am currently following a discussion in a forum on the best teacher discussion site I know – where the issue being discussed is the role of parents in the problem. Many have fallen into the trap of saying: “The problem with education is the parents.” But that is wrong factually, and on any practical basis. The real statement should be “One of the major problems with education is a minority of the parents.” (A mathematical minority, not a demographic one.)
The difference between those two statements is huge. The first statement ignores reality, ignores all the other factors, cannot lead to an effective solution to anything, paints the overwhelming majority of parents with an unfair brush, and alienates the very people we need to help us fix the real issues. The latter statement recognizes that it is a minority of parents, even in the most challenged urban high school environment, who dominate issues and policies contributing to the parent portion of the systemic failings.
All of these eight factors have combined to force teachers, against everything they believe in, to dumb-down education. They combine to destroy student expectations. They lead to forced promotions. When we don’t all pull together to focus on a great education, rather than a high passing and graduation rate (no matter how much we have to cheat the children to make sure they “pass”), then the children lose.
Giving a child a free ride through high school is not an act of love.
James Howson is the author of “American Education: A Nation in Crisis – A Blueprint for the Future,” and is a retired middle school English teacher from Connecticut. Here is his analysis:
For Education to really work in the 21st century, schools must have a clear mission. I believe our mission should be what I call the 3 C’s: Commitment, Community, and Cooperation! During the 2014 election season our politicians continued to play the “Blame” game. Instead of facing problems head on, our nation has become a “reactionary society.” We put in a much-needed stop sign only after someone is killed. Our communities have enough policemen and firefighters only after mobs and fires increase, and it makes national news. What’s going to be the “Education Reaction” when our country realizes too late that our Education system needs to be fixed right now?
Schools, teachers, parents, and communities need to get tough, to stand committed and cooperate together as one voice! Schools do not like to get tough – if we make parents mad, they won’t pass the budget. Teachers do not like to tell students that they are not doing well (Who does?), so social promotions have become a fact of life – we do not want to ruin a child’s “self-esteem.” Yet, students appreciate honesty and in the long run they will thank you – you can count on it. Parents do not want to admit that their children are not perfect. Believe me when I say that “realistic” love is much more long-lasting to them than “…my child can do nothing wrong” love.
Finally, communities need to work closely with and support schools. This is not about just parents, or just teachers, or just students – it is about all of us. As a caring society, we must all be in this together!