Sunday, September 16, 2012

Oregon Education’s Collapse

by Steve Buel

Over 40 years of teaching has taught me that kids are all different. Their abilities are different, their families are different, their attitudes are different, and the way they learn is different. So how should we be approaching education in Oregon based on these realizations?

First of all we should take a look at those things which are important to all kids. Obviously all kids need to learn to read well, write well and do basic math through algebra. Beyond that we need to educate all kids as future citizens. They need to understand how democracy works, including our form of government. They need a basic understanding of history and geography. This includes having a historical timeline in their head for both U.S. history and world history, and a sense of where major countries and geographical features are located. They need a basic understanding of science and health. What is the structure of the earth, the atmosphere and the universe? They need a background in basic biology, chemistry, and physics. They need an understanding of how their body works and how to keep it healthy including taking part in physical education.

All kids need to understand how to get along in the world as adults including such things as personal finance, job interviewing, and public speaking. They need to know how to take care of their everyday lives and the lives of their children.

Each child should have a background in those cultural activities which permit a person to appreciate American culture as well as culture itself. This includes the arts, music, and literature. And it includes taking part in such things as athletics and other types of group activities.

Each child needs to have a basic understanding of technology and how to use it.

And each child needs to have the opportunity to think critically and make judgments based on reason and knowledge. They also need to have experience working with things in the physical world.

Now, you are welcome to suggest I missed things which you deem as important. But you can’t disagree with the things I have listed as being important. Yet, everyday in our schools, and recently most pronounced in our state government, these things are seen as being expendable. But they are not.

These things should be taught continuously through our school system in every one of our schools – primary grades through high school. And we are not doing this. In fact, every day we seem to move farther and farther away from offering a decent education.

For instance, instead of focusing on making sure all kids can read decently well we are focused on testing all kids in reading, spending millions and millions on making sure all kids can pass the reading tests we have designed. This goal, not the goal of all kids being able to read, becomes most important. So, we close libraries and hire academic coaches and spend millions on testing instead of making sure those kids who genuinely can’t read get the help they need – very small classes with trained reading teachers.

While Governor Kitzhaber’s Oregon Education Investment Board and such powerful groups as the Portland All Hands Raised coalition centers on educational benchmarks (such as testing results at a certain grade level), while districts work on achievement compacts, and while teachers unions try to stave off unreasonable attacks and demands, the real work of real education often goes unheeded. Even large districts such as Portland and Beaverton seem to have no idea of what their educational programs should really contain. And the state department of education, which used to monitor education in general, no longer does.

The results are that Oregon’s education in K-12 is in disarray. We are using educational reform ideas which are gleaned from large corporations which are interested foremost in making money and secondarily creating an educational atmosphere which is good for them – to hell with the kids. Of course, like people who watch television and internet commercials these motives are masked behind their public relations activities and fool millions of people.

And even educators, both many administrators and teachers, as well as most politicians, buy into their propaganda and go along because it has become the accepted norm. Hence, we get accountability when we should get support. We get testing where we should get curriculum. We get general supposed cures, where we should get pressure to improve at the school and district levels. We forget that the status quo, which we so decry, is the result of many years of the reform movement’s mistakes.

And in so doing, we condemn huge numbers of our children not only to poverty and an inability to truly take care of themselves in this world, but to unhappiness and a sense of self-defeat.

Shame on us.

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