Three Conversations Ed Reformers Need to Move Past
I made a Tumblr last week for ed reform. I want to talk about education from a global platform, but I don’t know how. The Tumblr is my first step in that direction. But right now, it doesn’t have the kind of audience this blog has.
I’ve been talking about education a lot the past couple of days. I was at the Statehouse for a while listening to legislators talk about it. And I’m frustrated. I’m actually beyond frustrated. I’m angry. We never get to talk about the good stuff, the stuff that will change kids’ lives because we are so busy misunderstanding things and phrasing questions in the wrong way. Here are three things we are doing wrong in the education conversation in this nation:
1. Whose kids are going to go to the trade schools? Legislators love to talk about how it’s not that we don’t have enough jobs to go around, it’s that we don’t encourage children to learn trades. We are always going to need electricians, they say. That’s true. We will always need electricians. But no legislator would encourage his or her child to be an electrician. Their children are too smart for that kind of job, right? And that’s where we run into a wall. In this country, not every student has the option of going to college, even if he or she is achieving at the requisite level. And so encouraging kids into trade schools starting in the ninth grade is a form of forcing complacency. Give these kids a trade in which they will be earning $40,000 a year, but don’t give them the education my children get, the legislators say. And so while we masquerade the trade school solution as the thing that’s going to decrease the gap between the haves and the have-nots, it’s actually just a way to make it bigger. Senators’ sons will turn into more senators, and electricians’ sons will turn into more electricians until those two worlds hardly ever talk. So let’s put the trade school conversation on hold until we are sure that every kid, no matter of their zip code or parent’s income, is getting the option of going to college.*
2. Liberty and equality are not opposites. I heard a speaker the other day that was trying to tell me that they are. But they aren’t. If I have a penny, and I want a bagel, but the bagel costs $2.50, I can’t buy that bagel. I’m not free to buy that bagel. That’s how education works. If I have a second-rate K-12 education because I grew up in inner city Detroit, and college expects a first-rate education, I can’t go to college. I’m not free to do the things that I want. Equality is not (as some people like to put it into metaphor) about making sure everyone is on the same starting line or about putting some people in front of others for the start of the race. It’s about making sure that no one shoots any of the runner’s in the leg, while they are running.
3. If you get rid of standardized testing, what do you put in its place to evaluate schools, teachers, and students? Look, I’m no idealist. I don’t think standardized testing is perfect. And if I could come up with something that took more of the learning process into account, I totally would. But we can’t just keep saying “Get rid of standardized testing.” That’s not helping the conversation. Come up with an alternative. Then we will talk.
Please, when we talk about education, let’s stop having the above conversations, and let’s start talking about how we are going to save the kids.
*I want to point out that I don’t believe that being an electrician or having any other trade is anything to be ashamed about. All I’m saying is that when a senator’s kid is good at math, that kid is encouraged to become an engineer, not an electrician.