Education reformers and politicians like to talk about accountability, pay for performance, and other incentive schemes. I’d like to take a step back and reflect on the unsuccessful policies such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. The intense focus on test scores has created a culture that encourages corruption and other forms of deviant behavior. All of the pressure by educators, politicians and parents has come at the expense of our children.
As we seek to reinvent public education in America, I am reminded that I am first and foremost, a parent. Last week, while watching the emotionally-charged documentary, Race to Nowhere, I could not help but wonder whether the ends justifies the means. What I mean here is that a large majority of our children are overscheduled, overworked, and overstimulated. Children need time to decompress, to socialize, and to simply “hang out.” In urban environments, this is compounded by the fact that the children do not have stable family structures and in many cases, are receiving a sub-optimal education from the failing inner-city public schools. Thus, they resort to mischief in their “hangout” time.
How do we make sense of all of this? Another article shows the lengths a mother will go to in order to protect her children.
The point here is that our public education system has forgotten how to build an intrinsically motivating environment. Students are not being encouraged to “love to learn.” Instead, they are being held prisoner to “the system.” This system is assessing the wrong skills, and it is these assessments that are forming the basis of much of the federal and state investments in the public education system. NCLB and RTTT have created “artifical competition” which appears to be endorsed by public policy officials, and many education reformers. As I watched this documentary, I was moved by the stories that were unfolding. How can a 7 year old be traumatized by going to school???
Children should be encouraged to find their passions and to strengthen them. They should not be taught by teachers who can make learning fun, and can teach to a specific student’s learning style. Parents must be supporters, and not “pressure-cookers.” And this goes for teachers as well. The goal is to not eliminate pressure from a student’s life, but to find a healthy balance amongst all of their interests, both academic and extracurricular.
I believe that every parent must see this documentary, and should be mindful of what the effects could be on a child who is staying up until 1am every day to get their homework done.
It’s time to rethink every element of our public education system, and it’s important that the themes that emanated from Race to Nowhere are not lost in the public policy debate about how to reform Public Education. Our children depend on it.