wasting bandwidth since 1999

Planning for the Past

This rant has been snowballing in my warped little mind for quite a while, so be warned: it’s going to be long and rambling. You won’t offend me in the least if you wander off to something more coherent.

As I’ve mentioned before, the recent disaster along the Gulf Coast points up once again how we as a country do a crappy job of planning for the future. Certainly the possibility of a major hurricane wiping out a major port city was not a difficult event to predict.

And it seems to be getting worse.

Today is the fourth anniversary of the attacks on New York and Arlington, Virginia (nothing was damaged in DC on 9/11!). On that day, we are continually told, "everything changed". Unfortunately, the major alteration doesn’t seem to be improved "homeland security" as much a huge national increase in shortsightedness, not to mention paranoia.

Instead of preparing for an increasingly complex future, our "leaders" (of every political stripe) are more focused on recreating a largely fictitious, leave-it-to-Beaver past. When they do any planning at all it’s for two, four or six years down the line – just enough to get them to the next renewal of their jobs.

This lack of vision is nowhere more evident than in the massive transportation and energy spending bills passed a few months ago. Legislators designed these laws to shovel out pork projects, showing local voters how "effective" they are. Or to provide incentives to large industries who will return the favor in the form of campaign contributions.

In passing out the candy like it was Halloween, our "leaders" were only thinking about the next couple of elections. The long term effect for the country, however, was to continue fostering our addiction to increasingly expensive fossil fuels imported from somewhere else (does anyone serious believe Iraq isn’t partially about the oil?). Little of this will actually improve our national infrastucture.

So, what has all this got to do with education, the primary topic of the rantings in this space? For me, teaching has always been about the future. In adopting this profession I thought that I could possibly improve the world five, twenty, thirty years from now by helping my students build an educational foundation. I’d bet that many teachers, at least partially, had the same motivation.

But it’s not just national events that has my head weaving together all this crap. As we’ve prepared for the opening of school this year, it’s very apparent that the overly large school district for which I work is not doing a lot of long term planning either.

We’re spending huge amounts of time, effort and money on preparing for nine months from now, on getting our students to suck in and spit out enough facts to pass their spring standardized tests. Tests, which in the overall picture of a student’s educational life, are largely irrelevant.

The primary motivating force in all this, of course, is No Child Left Behind, which seems to be all about turning education back fifty years. Back to a black-and-white era from our "leaders" memories, featuring perfect classrooms in which knowledge is dispensed to students sitting in straight rows, absorbing it all.

Learning – real learning – doesn’t work like that anymore, if it ever did. The politicians in charge of our educational system need to wake up to that reality and begin planning some serious reforms to the way we prepare our children for the future. For a future that extends farther than the next test or the next election.

Well, I’ve wasted more than enough electrons on this topic. Hopefully all of this makes sense to someone other than me. Now, I’m going to take out some aggression on the weeds masquerading as a lawn in the back yard.

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3 Comments

  1. You’re assuming that the folks currently in power actually care about the consequences of their actions, or the quality of public schools. Unfortunately, that very common error leads many of us to the wrong conclusions.

    The neocons are interested in dismantling public education, along with social security, medicare, medicaid, and anything else that increases Steve Forbes’ tax bill.

  2. Tim

    True, I am making some rather broad assumptions about the people who want to be our “leaders”. I guess that’s the eternal optimist in me struggling to stay alive. :-)

  3. superdestroyer

    Most of the high stakes tests have been shown to test below grade level. My own daughters tests in elementary school were laughably simplistic. If teachers cannot get their students to pass such test without cramming should be a huge sign that the schools are incredibly ineffective. Maybe social promotions, time wasting social engineering, and all of the other social fads should be given up and the focus should be on broad academic learning. They the “trivia” test would be easy.

    Maybe if students were only promoted when they are reading/functioning at grade level and 11th grade tests actually tested above the 11th grade level, you would have a valid argument. But when a single student fails the incredible easy history and math tests my daughter had to take in elementary school, the teachers should be sued for fraud for calling what they do education.

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