“The world is changed, I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost; for none now live who remember it.” ~Galadriel, The Lord of the Rings
Education has changed. I was in high school less than a decade ago, and I can tell you that the school I teach at is nothing like the one I attended.
There were precursors to change: we heard and feared commentary on increased homework, increased rigor, higher standards and expectations to compete in the global environment, and so on. And yet, strangely, from where I teach, in the state of Washington, in 2015, none of that has actually happened. In fact, students’ meeting of standards and the standards themselves have continued to slide backwards, such that the majority of the 9th and 10th graders at the high school I work for are reading at 3rd and 4th grade levels; few are willing to attempt, let alone complete homework; many try to opt out of standardized testing, and many who do not won’t put any effort into the assessments anyway.
Why has this happened? What is to blame? How do we change it?
Over the years, schools have been trying to provide more and more support and leniency to students; schools and teachers have been trying to reach students where they are; teachers are being challenged for failing too many students and encouraged to find ways to pass them in order to avoid the demoralizing stigmas of failing grades and remedial classes.
A lot of these things sound like they would be in the students’ best interests. However, with each year many students of public schools are becoming less and less able to meet the challenges and expectations that previous years’ students could. Students who do not actually meet the standards or learn the material are often ‘given a pass’ at an early grade, and then continue forward unprepared. Students who are met at ‘their level’ have more opportunities to believe that they don’t need to go beyond that level and they don’t. It feels like every step believed to be for the greater good is moving us backwards.
Whether caused, causing, or simply correlated, I have also noticed that everyone has less faith in the school system. Teachers don’t support their admins or tests; the admins don’t support the legislature; students have reduced faith in and respect for their teachers, and in some cases they’re parents feel the same way. As someone who usually supports questioning the system as a means of bringing about change, I am beginning to see only an angry, subversive rabble whose criticisms are doing more harm than good.
And now, with new debates on testing and threats to go on strike, where I want to see solidarity, I see more anger and criticism and doubt. The students see and hear it too. I can’t tell you how many times I have had students asking “What’s the point?” in the last two weeks or relating something that they heard in a rumor or from a teacher that the testing was “pointless” or “stupid” or a “pain-in-the-ass.” People have been arguing that the tests won’t give us accurate data on student progress; of course they won’t if all students are told that the tests are a waste of time!
Education has changed. I feel it in the students’ attitude, I hear it from the parents, I see it in the test scores. It does feel like we lost something, but there must be those who remember a better education environment with more faith and higher standards–and problems, naturally, but I don’t remember a vote-of-no-confidence to the level I see today. I had wanted to believe that the problems we were facing locally were mainly local issues, based on the district or school or specific event that had impacted the students**, but the last two months’ state-wide arguments and policies have indicated otherwise.
And if that’s the case, if we are spiraling out of control together, it is difficult to see a point in going on, in continuing to teach and test in environments and using methods that are constantly being challenged by those whom you would most need to support it: students, parents, fellow teachers, principals, neighbors, citizens, taxpayers, and out legislators.
More than anything, more than additional funding or fewer tests or that cool new gadget from Sweden or Japan, what we need in schools is a little more faith. Teachers need to support their colleagues and admins; parents need to support their kids’ teachers; students might learn from our example. Everyone needs to have more faith in what students can accomplish and stop focusing so much energy on how to make excuses for what they haven’t accomplished yet. And I’m guilty of losing faith too, I’m guilty of criticizing–and I need to change that; I too am working on being more supportive.
So maybe you don’t support how a particular test is administered or certain legislative decisions–that’s okay. Let’s rally together and figure out a way to address these needs as a strong collective. BUT PLEASE DON’T let your commentary take the form of random criticisms of teachers or schools. We want the students to learn from us; we want them to follow our example; let’s make that example one that supports instead of subverts.
For more reading about different education groups and some of the commentary on the current policies, check out the links below.