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Recently I asked my friends: what do they consider the major issues pertaining to education? I received one response that I found interesting and I wanted to explore it further. Here’s the response I received:

“[There are] too many students in a classroom and not enough teachers. I’ve seen an art teacher [who has to] teach math because the school needed a math teacher and he was good at math. I’ve seen an elementary teacher only teach math because that’s what he was good at when he was suppose to teach another subject. There is not enough money for supplies. The excessive use of suspension instead of actually addressing the problems. Students aren’t being given a say in their own education. Students being taught not think, but to memorize instead of mastering skills by having a deeper understanding of the concepts. Intervention needs to happen early on instead of just passing students who do not know how to read or use basic skills. Need I continue?”       -Chamir Lawson
Chamir is a student teacher in college studying mathematics. She has been teaching and tutoring for approximately 9 years. Because of her response to my question I begin to have a deeper conversation with her.

Bryant: How many teachers do we need in a school?

Chamir: As many as it takes. It’s a shame that the media glorifies other jobs, but neglects one of the most important jobs in any society.  A teacher is much more than someone how helps a young person read, write, and do math. We are the trainers of the next generation. Of course that sounds very cliché; however, there seems to be a misunderstanding of how much of a child’s development takes place in and around school. My point is that young people need individualized attention or as close to individualized attention as we can get.

Bryant: You mentioned the excessive use of suspension and addressing the real problems. How do you suggest addressing the real problems?

Chamir: Well first we have to take a close look at a young person’s life outside of school to see if there could be an external influence on his or her behavior. Once we determine whether there are other issues that supersede the behavioral problem, we can address the problem. Honestly, this process has to be done with the help of other students. We, adults, are usually far removed from the issues youth are experiencing though we may have experienced them in the past.

Bryant: That sounds like a restorative justice type of disciplinary system.

Chamir: Exactly! Discipline isn’t just about punishing a student. It should be about how to prevent future situations and restoring the peace amongst members of the school community.

Bryant: My work with the National Student Bill of Rights focuses on a similar disciplinary structure. In fact, right number 6 expresses the idea of students being able to establish systems of restorative justice within schools and communities.

Chamir: That’s a wonderful idea!

Bryant: So tell me what you meant by not teaching students to think?

Chamir: It’s real simple. There seems to be this crazy notion that we can evaluate all students in the same manner. We like to call it standardize testing, but there is a clear problem just with the wording. Students have different rates of learning so how can we set an arbitrary standard. It’s irrational to assume that they [students] should be at the same level at the same time. But in order to perpetuate this fraudulent thinking, we [educators] are required to teach to the test. In Maryland, it’s the High School Assessment (HSA). You cannot expect students to be intelligent when you spend most of your time teaching students what questions and weird language to look for when taking these tests, especially in math. Students have to understand the concepts thoroughly so they can solve any math problem by approaching it in logic not by how the problem looks.

The conversation I had with Chamir went on for about 1 ½ hours where she goes into further detail about her ideas. For the sake of keeping this blog short while sharing her opinion I will try to use the rest of the interview in another blog.

Many of you have had similar conversations with friends and family who are educators. What disturbs me is the conversation about hiring and firing teachers based on their ability to get students to produce high scores on these standardize tests. Teachers are not being consulted about how to properly educate youth and how to produce a real system of evaluation of learning.

I encourage any educator who has read through this to share your thoughts about some of the major issues of the public education system.

-by Bryant Muldrew

Originally posted to Participatory Democracy and Public Education on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 09:27 AM PDT.

Also republished by Education Alternatives.

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Comment Preferences

  •  A big sigh from me. (0+ / 0-)

    Your friend sounds like she gets it. Really.

    I know a lot of people get it.

    It's the translating it into policy that matters. How do we get from here to there? I know so many teachers that get it but then they continue to struggle with the same problems year after year and so many of them volunteer hours of their own time to make sure their kids are getting the best, despite the current system that is failing them. Do we need mass walk outs from teachers? From students? Do parents start demanding more teachers in their communities?

    Do you have a link to your National Student Bill of Rights? I would love to take a closer look. I actually think we need a Children's Bill of Rights.

  •  Yes - of course, your friend has addressed most (0+ / 0-)

    of the problems facing American schools.  The big movement to attack public schools (thanks Ronnie) has led to this huge over-emphasis on testing testing testing.... to the exclusion of learning learning learning... learning how to think critically, how to discuss civilly, how to work well with others, etc. We spend about $2 trillion per year in this country on public schools and the Republicans are salivating on how to privatize and profit from those funds.  Hmmmm charter schools that select the best students and tap public funds - that might work.  And they of course, blamed it all on the teachers and their professional unions.  Am I skeptical about where this is heading especially if the GOP wins more local, state and federal control - youbetcha!  Take a look at "Finland Phenomenon" the movie.  It is the direction our once great nation should be taking.  

    Gravitation cannot be held responsible for people falling in love. - Einstein

    by moose67 on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 10:10:46 AM PDT

  •  In California we have a ridiculously high ratio (0+ / 0-)

    of students to administrators, which means that more and more students have no access to college or career counseling and that teachers are having to pick up more administration and discipline rather than focusing on teaching. There are schools where principals are shared with another campus at a different physical location.

    We've dropped funding for extra reading help and therapy and other pull-out programs that gives students extra one-on-one time.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 10:31:47 AM PDT

  •  A major issue, not often discussed, is (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Linda Wood

    the CURRICULUM!  I've wanted to do a diary, but never have time.  They talk about teachers, money, class size, teaching to the test, but not the basic curriculum.

    In order to teach so much stuff, including the "free enterprise" system to 2nd graders, we rush through everything.  I teach in Texas, look at our "TEKS" (the state's "Essential Knowledge and Skills"), which lists what we are required to teach.  2nd grade teaches every part of speech, but only for a week.  Then we have to rush to the next subject.  They say it spirals, and they are "exposed" again next year.  3rd grade TEKS, all parts of speech.  4th grade, all parts of speech.  But they never learn them because it's taught too quickly, and it never gets "set".  I know of many teachers who start reading as fast as they can to cover the allotted story in the allotted time.  As lessons, which are written by the district, are unrealistically crammed with too much stuff per day.  I know one teacher who never gets behind.  If her class had an assembly during Tuesday's math lesson, they don't get that lesson.  She'll teach Wednesday's lesson on Wednesday.

    Secondly, everything has to be "hands on" and "fun," which is wonderful and has it's place.  But students never get to practice much, worksheets are frowned on and no one drills for any facts:  math, spelling ... students are NEVER required to memorize anything anymore.  I'm no brain scientist, but I feel there is certain brain activity required to memorize things, you have to be working at it.  My district's policy is that kids will learn the math facts playing games, computer and "center" games. No drill sheets allowed.  Outcome:  very few students have mastered their math facts by 5th grade.  Most students count on their fingers for subtraction and multiplication.

    Then, without having basic facts in their head, we're supposed to teach them division.  Imagine doing division without your basic math facts memorized.  It's tough!

    Sorry, this is probably more than you asked for.

    •  I hope you will continue to take part (0+ / 0-)

      in these discussions about education at Daily Kos. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

      In the entire education reform debate, very few people here at Daily Kos seem to understand that teachers are trained and required to use particular methods of instruction that are questionable and that have enormous effects on children's skills and achievement in school and in life. That's a strong claim on my part given the fact that so many writers on this subject at Daily Kos are public school teachers! But I see it consistently. The methods you describe so clearly in your comments here seem to be accepted as just humane approaches to learning, rather than as significant factors in whether or not children gain vital skils.

    •  And please, please do the diary (0+ / 0-)

      on curriculum.

    •  you should write a diary (0+ / 0-)

      You have a lot to say and it is right on target(for lack of a better phrase). You've identified the problem correctly. The major issue in education is the curriculum. I have a new diary that I'll be posting soon about the topic; however, I want to encourage you to join the discussion by writing your own. We need to gather all perspectives on an issue in order to have a full vision on the subject

      -Bryant

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