As Jonathan Sacks describes religion in his book "The Dignity of Difference," I believe that education is like fire — sometimes it warms and sometimes burns. We, teachers, should be the guardians of the teaching flame. We should ignite the learning.
Teaching is not business. We should not focus only on results or data or scores. Schools are not factories. This is not Ford 100 years ago, putting the same engine inside of each student. They are all different. I think it is dangerous to have politicians trying to guard the flame in education, whether it is Barack Obama, Mitt Romney or state governors —- it is a scary idea. Can you image politicians telling doctors how to operate, engineers how to problem-solve, scientists how to research?
I fear that teaching is going to be about grades, dates, numbers, codes and statistics. Do we really want to narrow the learning to just a few skills in order to see a problem or an answer?
The focus should be keeping our students in high school and helping them to go to college. We should not expect all students to go to the New York marathon and to finish at the top. If they do, great! It is always fabulous to have kids going to Yale, Princeton and Harvard. We should not care if they finish first or last; we want all students to be able to finish high school and college.
Although other nations may outperform us on some standardized tests, we should focus on teaching our students how to think and learn.
Something happens in U.S. colleges and high schools that doesn't happen as often in other places. That is the ability to create. Some students in other nations can read and follow directions and with that open the box — our kids can open the box, create something to leave in the box and think from the outside of the box. Our kids can articulate the muscle of freedom of speech. What do we want for our nation — people who can answer questions, or create questions?
In his book "The Art of Living," S.N. Goenka writes about categories of reactions, which could apply to education. One is like lines drawn on the surface of a pool: as soon as they are drawn they are erased. Others are like lines traced on a beach: If drawn in the morning they are gone by night, wiped away by tide or wind. Others are like lines cut deeply into rock with chisel and hammer. They too will be obliterated as the rock erodes, but it will take ages. Do we want students to remember high school as tests, memorization and practice for CMTs, CAPTs and SATs? Or to remember being connected to inspirational teachers, experiencing tasks that taught them to think and working on projects that enlightened their futures?
Teaching is about feelings, connections, behavior and progress. If we focus teaching solely on numbers, it will interfere with our communication with students.
Education should not be created or destroyed, nor transformed. It should evolve, led by teachers, supported by administrators and in a learning environment removed from politics and lobbyists.
During the Olympics, it is great to see how the whole country — cities, towns, politicians, citizens and famous people — get involved in the Games, carrying the torch, taking turns, bringing it from one place to another. Why don't we have the same in education?
Why is college so expensive? Why is it so important to have good results and not a lot of people graduating? Why is the problem of education solely the teachers' or administrators' responsibility? Why do we still have so much poverty? Is this a societal or an educational problem?
The same way, as Jonathan Sacks says, that religion divides and spirituality unifies, education divides and learning unifies.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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