I am writing this, and you are reading this because of a woman who we will never meet and is probably no longer alive. This nameless woman permanently altered the course of my life. My father was born in what is now Spanish Harlem. His Italian immigrant parents were near destitute – to the point that they placed him in an orphanage (he had parents mind you) so they could feed his younger and less capable brothers. As he bounced between varying caregivers, a teacher in his middle school noticed him. This 8th grade teacher told him that he was smart, and a little different than the other students, and got him signed up for the Specialized High School Achievement Test. He got into Stuyvesant High School (class of 1953), followed by CCNY, University of Iowa, and, eventually, Columbia University for his PhD. It was the initial leap to Stuyvesant HS that made all the difference. Without that, none of the following actions would have happened.
What this woman did exemplifies the power of good teachers and good schools. She took a poor student in the ‘bad’ neighborhood and reached out and radically changed his life. As my father died when I was very young I never got the chance to ask him who this person was, but she was apparently astute, aware and awake to her mission. She was a professional – in the sense that she provided rigor in the classroom, and saw it as necessary to raise as many deserving and capable young students as possible. The fact that she was in one of the least affluent areas was irrelevant – it is ones capabilities can carry a person far, and it was her duty to see to it that the great equalizer, education, her purview, was fostered and handled correctly.
I wonder how this person would operate in today’s educational world. Today we seem to have forgotten about the hard and fast truths of yesteryear. About every five years or so there is an article in the Organ of the Establishment, the New York Times, about how it is time to re-think, close down, or offer open enrollment to the Specialized High Schools. Why? They don’t have the requisite ‘diversity’ that the Thought Controllers at the NY Times deem appropriate. History is to be ignored by the Educational Establishment: the dismantling of the free, yet superb school that was CCNY as well as what happened to Dunbar HS in Washington DC are realities to be dismissed. Merit based institutions like the Specialized High Schools are targets in today’s world, an unthinkable concept 60 years ago.
Now we send our young people through a battery of State Exams, testing them into oblivion. For what are we testing and why? Is it the low functioning youth of today – a group of young people who have no idea when WWII took place, or what the Bill of Rights is, or who Odysseus was? Why is the entity that has sent a once proud public education system off of a cliff is now given credence to “fix” what they broke? To add insult to injury, their ‘fix’ is to create serial high stakes exams and place the fate of the school and the staff on the performance on these ‘tests’. Any reputable college admissions counselor will tell you that the standardized tests are almost meaningless – yet that is the course of repair chosen by the Educrats. It is my personal belief that the SAT and ACT are still used simply because the institutions are unwilling to upset the apple cart.
So what do we do now? As we’ve lost our way so badly, how can the damage be repaired? The road ahead involves re-thinking schools. The use of technology is paramount. As of this writing I write, in chalk, on a chalkboard and the Power Elite at my school demand to see an “Aim” and a “Do Now”. One of my bosses showed us a video of students in Singapore using their phones and twitter to see who could get and send the correct answer to a physics problem the fastest, oblivious to the obvious irony that we do not allow cellphones in class. We seem to be afraid of rigor while we embrace Educational Gobbledygook. The “Core Content State Standards” – the initiative that Very Important People seem to be serious about – contains reams of jargon without mentioning the trivium or even active or passive literacy in the ELA standards.
Let’s unshackle our students from High Stakes Testing. All these seem to do is increase anxiety while affecting nothing with regard to future performance. Students should be free to use technology in and out of class to complete serial projects – everything from History / Literature projects and Science / Math projects that have a natural harmony that is difficult to reproduce in class.
“Think outside of the box” is one of the current catchphrases in the Educational Business. Let’s actually do it.
Kenny Hignite link: http://rense.com/general75/pass.htm
What Happened to Dunbar HS? http://www.tsowell.com/speducat.html
Diversity, not performance, matters: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/05/at-top-city-schools-lack-of-diversity-persist/