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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Your child's education is up to you

Over the last 27 months, I’ve come to see public education as an immoveable force. Administrators are fond of talking about “accountability,” but it doesn’t mean much, not in any real sense. Today's administrators know that all they have to do is produce upward ticks in pretend numbers. The only real accountability comes when unhappy parents leave the school district. Although a few thousand Spokane families have done that over the last five years, local administrators have so far declined to say publicly that the enrollment drops have anything to do with how the schools operate.

Meanwhile, things stay fairly quiet, which is what bureaucrats generally prefer.

My comments here could be seen as “cynical” or “critical,” but I see them as “realistic.” With realism comes truth. With truth comes knowledge. With knowledge comes power. With power comes change – even if it’s change for just one child. When it’s your child, one child is a lot.

My husband and I have therefore taken control of our daughter’s education. We now know it isn’t enough to just be involved in the school or the classroom; we need to know what she’s learning. We also must have some idea of what she should be learning. When the school curriculum or learning environment fails her, we must fill in critical gaps. This isn’t a game we’re playing. Her future is at stake. Six short years from now, it won’t matter whether we helped out with field trips or cut paper for the class every Friday. What will matter is the knowledge she takes with her to college.

Although several people in this district care about our daughter – most notably her teachers and principal – no one at the district level has expressed even a sliver of interest in what kind of experience she must have had that would lead me to do an intense and focused two-year investigation of public education. To them, I’m sure she’s just a bit of data in a long string of data. I doubt they know who I am. Over two years, I've interviewed three curriculum coordinators, two board members and other sundry district staff. I’ve sat down with district Superintendent Nancy Stowell and asked her pointed questions. I’ve written about Dr. Stowell on my blog and run into her a half a dozen times at various meetings. She still introduces herself to me as if we've never met. Clearly, she doesn’t feel the need to retain any information about me or my concerns.

Over 27 months, I've come to believe I could be brilliant, have the best research, find the most perfect words and fill up school board meetings with the most knowledgeable people – and administrators would still operate as if I don’t exist. If I ever manage to effect positive change in this district, I have no doubt that the minute I turn my back, someone will begin working to erase it.

I have two main goals now:

  1. Help parents cut through the fake statistics and “edu-speak” so they can see things more clearly.
  2. Tutor students in math. I looked into earning an education degree, but colleges of education tend to train teachers by using discovery learning methods and reform philosophy. I'm 47 and a college graduate. I get hives at the thought of sitting in groups to hash out simplistic problems I could easily solve on my own. I’ve therefore chosen the math program over the education program.

In these two small ways, I hope to help the children succeed. I yearn for revolution, but perhaps some of the improvement will just have to come one person at a time.

Speaking of “one person at a time,” I received an email from a Spokane parent who is distressed by reform math. Last fall, an elementary-school teacher told her to not teach traditional math to her children. She wrote:

“Laurie … I have to tell you, I'm going through a kind of personal revolution right now. I've always felt that I was hindered by a lack of knowledge, betrayed, if you will, by my own public education, and would just sound ignorant if I spoke out on the things I felt strongly about (education, political issues, etc.), so I said and did nothing. Besides, I'm just one little suburban mother. What difference could I possibly make? I have long felt that the public education system has failed us as a nation, and that this is now more apparent than ever. I've been very concerned about the direction our nation is heading at such a rapid pace, so I've been educating myself on American history and government. For the first time in my life, I've been following the actions of the government, communicating to my representatives, and I'm 33 years old. My own public education didn't come close to preparing me to be an active, educated citizen in the community, let alone in the nation (yet I still cast my vote at every election). I've been compelled to educate myself and take a more active role. I just can't sit complacently by anymore, and I've realized that everyone who has a part in making a difference is just one person. It's only when voices speak out that they're heard. “I spent 13 years in public school, 2 years in community college, and 3 more at a state university, and I have always felt ignorant and uneducated! There is definitely something wrong there, and the last thing I want is for my kids to grow up that way, too. So, I offer no more excuses for being part of the problem. I want to be part of the solution, and I do feel that it all comes down to education. I thank you for doing your part to improve the state of education (and, therefore, the country) and I want to do mine as well, so count me in! “I did go to bat for my own child last week, and I wish I had done it a year ago. (My son) has been complaining about school in general and math in particular. I think he's bored with the math in 1st grade and especially the pace of the class. Last year, I had the same issue with (my daughter) and (the teacher) danced around it, asserting that she was challenged in class in a variety of ways. My naive mistake was giving her the benefit of the doubt and not pushing any farther than bringing the issue up again at conference time. Last week, I went straight to (the principal). I have to say, I was very pleased with his reaction and the result. By the end of the day it was arranged (that my son) would go to (the next grade) for math. …”

This mother acknowledged, however, that the curriculum in the next grade is also insufficient, so she is tutoring her children in two traditional programs – “Singapore Math” and “Saxon Math.” She expressed concerns about the calculators in the elementary grades and wondered how I felt about it. I told her I’m opposed to introducing calculators in elementary school, that there is no need for it, and that it’s my belief that they interfere with the learning of necessary arithmetic skills. I asked the mother if I could quote from her email, and she said I could:

“I hope it can help encourage other parents to get involved or even just interested. One of the greatest things I took away from homeschooling was the attitude that my children's education is my ultimate responsibility, whether I choose homeschool, public school, or somewhere in between. That realization has been very empowering.”

I couldn’t have said it better.



Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (March, 2009). "Your child's education is up to you." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:
http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/

This article was also published at EducationNews.org at http://ednews.org/articles/35600/1/Your-Child039s-Education-is-Up-To-You/Page1.html


3 comments:

RMD said...

you are absolutely correct!

Anonymous said...

Although I dont comment here- I check your site daily for new posts....keep up the great blog!
Dee Hodson, Monroe CT

Samantha's breastfeeding tips said...

“…my children's education is my ultimate responsibility, whether I choose homeschool, public school, or somewhere in between” That sounds really great! I believe the way we take care of our children’ education now will influence much the way our children will live when they grow up. What I mean is that both curriculum and, so to say, moral components of our children education should be carefully considered, closely examined and implemented, if they are worthy, and, on the contrary, substituted with more reasonable ones, if they contradict principles of sound education. I am now having a baby, but I am planning its education right now – choosing appropriate schools and extra curriculum activities that may be of interest to her…