Reaching young people today is more difficult than ever. It requires a quiet, waiting patience; the use of indirection on the part of the teacher, an ability to get to where the kid is at, and to make connections to them that will pull them in along with you and what you are trying to do. You want them to come along on the journey you are taking in education and make it theirs too, without them even being aware of your elegant slight-of-hand; the transference that has been made. This requires teachers who are experienced and trained professionals of course, but it also requires that teachers not feel pressured to teach outside their strengths. There is nothing more damaging to a teacher’s effectiveness than a panicked feeling that you must deliver the goods today, not tomorrow, and that someone else holds your entire career in their hands at a moment’s notice.
Enter Race to the Top. The Obama Administration has mistakenly thought that how children perform on tests is the total measure of educational success. Now teachers will have to pray that they do not get a group of weaker students. Their job will be on the line if they do not perform well enough on the test. When it comes to putting bread on the table at home, teachers will do what they have to: teach the test, and nothing but the test, or quit. Whole staffs will be fired, schools closed, and others of questionable value opened.
Instead, what is needed is a concentration on making the communities where schools exist stronger and to rebuild families and neighborhoods block by block and community by community. Education is a community endeavor. Parents, and community organizations can be called upon to assist the school to succeed. This is messy. This is hard. This will take an effort of a generation and not just what is on the next news cycle. This will also take real resources.
And most of all it will require a respect for what teachers do and how valuable a resource they are to a community. That is quickly being lost in the race to destruction currently being undertaken by Arnie Duncan and the Department of Education. It is a tragic mistake that will take years and years to fix if allowed to continue. Let’s trust our teachers, and stand with them and support them and the children. We must build community and get our children in the best condition to learn we can. Often overlooked are the low attendance rates at many inner-city public schools. The children and the teacher must be together every day. Good attendance is the bedrock of later success. Truancy must end. We have to pay as much attention to how they are being fed, housed, clothed, mentored, loved, and cared for as much as what they learn in the classroom. Parents need to step up to the plate and meet their responsibilities. But we must give them all the support they need to do that.
The resources are there. All we lack at present is the will and the vision to do what is right.