This week I helped with a two-day workshop with teachers in a town near here — one of the many small Oklahoma towns (population about 2,000 or so) that are fighting lack of funding as they try to keep their rural schools open.
The research is pretty clear that students do better in smaller rural schools than larger consolidated ones. But that doesn’t ‘save money’ ~ it just keeps kids in school. And even as I say that, I realise how negative it sounds. Like a song I was listening to yesterday says, when negativity surrounds/ I know some day it’ll all turn around. But it won’t if I don’t help it :). I have to make the effort to remember that most of us have good intentions. It’s the ones who want to abolish public education whom I don’t understand ~
I went to both private and public schools. Overseas, English-speaking schools are usually private, paid for by a parent’s employer. But when we lived in the US, I attended public schools. And despite their many warts, that’s the decision my husband & I made for our own two sons. We talked it over seriously, and realised that public schools are much of what makes America American :).
So I do not understand the current discussion of all that’s wrong w/ public schools. People jump on the ‘bash schools & teachers’ movement w/ very little idea of what’s actually involved in teaching, or in education overall. They’ve read none of the research — something unheard of when we speak of medicine, or energy or other professions. Is it because more than 75% of teachers are female? (NEA — 2007-08) Does that make us think that teaching is like parenting, and anyone can do it? (I don’t believe that either, just for the record :))
Around the world, those countries trying to move towards democracy are envious of our public school system. We try to educate all comers: you can enroll in a public school regardless of your background, your abilities, even your language capabilities. And I absolutely support that. Charter schools pick & choose, and still don’t beat public schools, research confirms. In fact, more than 1/3 of charter schools under-perform, compared to public schools, while only 17% out-perform. That’ doesn’t strike me as confidence-inspiring :).
Back to the teachers this past week: They spent the two days before they began school working on how to be teachers. They heard research, tried new classroom strategies, and used each other as resources for the difficult challenges they face daily: one-parent families where the parent is working 3 jobs to make ends meet (Oklahoma is a very poor state); lack of money for resources (teachers spend on average $356.00 annually, each, out of their own pockets — a whopping 1.3 BILLION dollars per year). On the pittance salaries most make…
But most people who blame the problems with contemporary education do not read research. They don’t know that consolidating schools may save money, but it harms real live kids. They don’t understand that classes of 60 online students is not a good idea for many research-based reasons. Ask them if they want their child traveling 20 miles to a school, or studying only online, and they may hem & haw. But usually? Americans look at the ‘bottom line’ — the dollar$ :(.
As I’m always asking — what does this have to do w/ beginner’s heart? Perhaps, if we take the time to study issues, we will see at the heart of each ‘other’ a person much like ourselves, struggling to make it in increasingly complex daily lives. Working hard to help the people around us (including our students :)). And not always managing, certainly. But trying. As public school teachers do, day in, day out.
Perhaps we should place human beings above dollars, trying to find solutions that are ones we ourselves would buy into, for our children, for ourselves :).
And maybe we should offer each other a smile and a pat on the back for our efforts :). Or at least buy a teacher you know a cup of coffee (preferably an iced mocha, these hot summer days!) and maybe a pretty journal ~ It’s little enough :).