Where I’m coming from….

This is a bit of my educational narrative created to capture my motivations for transforming the general studies program

Thought 1: Each generation teaches its offspring the lessons it wishes to teach to its parents.

I wasn’t around for the redbirding and bluebirding…or if I was, it was in reading in first and second grade.  I seem to remember some groupings, I was in the middle one, and wanted to be in the top one, and I remember trying to figure out what I needed to do to get into that group…to read whatever it was they were.  I later did get there, and about that time, those groups went away.  For the most part, the small town west Texas educators of my childhood and youth were mainstreaming and pushing through the last elements of integration and trying to ensure that no one had better access to education than anyone else.

I don’t know if my teachers saw it that way, but I did.  I sat next to kids who couldn’t really read, for whom English was not the language of their home. They weren’t going to college, they were going to work.  I never thought that was because they weren’t smart enough, but rather because that was just what the economy and the environment required. There was no difference in their education and mine.  Most of them passed with a C and a smattering of Ds.  In terms of grades, I don’t remember very many children who attended Idalou ISD left behind.  I do remember the teacher spending more time managing their antics than challenging those of us who could read and were curious to learn to learn more.  Ever since, I’ve been rather curious about descriptions of rigorous, competitive academic environments and those free-form, individualized curiosity driven systems (though I imagine descriptions of both are somewhat romanticized).

I think that those teachers and administrators of my youth were fixing the problems that were rampant when they had been in school, little towns with three schools—the white school, the Mexican school and the Negro school.  They replaced that with the integrated, egalitarian school.  By the way, I think that was great.

I think it must have led to a kind of plain vanilla education that tried to educate everyone, but didn’t do it very successfully…maybe the one size fits all curriculum didn’t fit the needs of all those different kids or maybe in those real classrooms the bell curve was inverted and the curriculum was pitched at the bottom of the U, leaving the curious to learn for themselves and the disinterested lost, bored, and looking to create whatever bit of distraction they could.  That state of education I think led the fifty something set of educational policy makers, with Laura Bush their champion, to attempt to put teeth in the educational system…to ensure that every student not only got an opportunity but was compelled as much as is possible to learn, and to place the onus on the teacher to make sure that no child failed to learn. If nothing else, to make turn the U into a bell. I can respect that, as frustrating as my colleagues in secondary education find that challenge.

But, while you can lead a horse to water,….

So how did this condition my philosophy of education?

First, I believe in educational opportunity for all.  I want to make sure that there is opportunity for everyone to learn as much as they can and want.

Second, I want to be sure that the weakest students learn those things that are essential to making a life and a living in the 21st century.  Education is not a panacea, but we can’t allow anyone to be intellectually disenfranchised by the system.  On the other hand, as someone who believes that people have the right to make choices and should be given opportunities to exercise those choices,  I don’t figure we can make anyone learn if they don’t want to.

Third, I want to make sure that the really curious students have an opportunity to explore the world as fully as they can.  They need teachers that will serve as their guides and lead them or point them toward whatever, wherever it is that will slake their current thirst for knowledge.  I don’t want to turn my back on them, just because there doesn’t seem to be that many students who fit that profile (and I think there might be more than is apparent, because these folks are often pretty good at conforming to the system to get as much as it has to offer them and then quietly finding ways to get more elsewhere).

In short, I sure don’t want a U curve, and I really don’t want a bell curve, instead I believe that we live in a world in which we should strive to create, reinforce, and reward a J curve in terms of student learning and performance.

So that’s what I want to say to my parents, what will my kids want to say to me?

That’s it for Thought 1.