“I want them to be good people, I want them to have fun, I want them to laugh.” These are the words of Diane Ravitch, quoted in a recent NYT article when she spoke of the overzealous accountability process that is in conflict with the more important objectives that come as a result of a healthy education for our children and grandchildren. They may be her words but they should be the sentiments of a nation. These words should resonate with all who stand for a robust educational experience for our students, and not the narrow focus of the so-called reformers.
How many in the field of education fail to see that our roles have taken a dramatic turn—for the worse? Who denies that the primary function of our work today is to insure compliance? Faced with the threat of_________ (you fill in the blank—loss of financial support, public humiliation, etc.) school personnel, from classroom teachers to administrators, have shifted the focus of their time and attention away from being immersed in a community of learners into becoming compliance driven enforcers of educational policies and procedures. Educators are forced to work in competition with one another rather than as collaborators of a more sane and inclusive agenda in education for the learners and leaders of tomorrow.
We have system upon system to manage the bits and bytes of information that allegedly conspire to move children down the “assembly line” of learning, yet we may be moving further and further away from arriving at a young adult population who can lead healthy lives. We can probe, calibrate, and apply countless interventions using a growing array of sophisticated tools and techniques, yet we fail to inspire curiosity and creativity. Dr. Haim Ginott once stated, “to reach a child’s mind a teacher must capture his heart. Only if a child feels right can he think right.”
I’m sure the psychomatricians, data wonks, and policy makers would claim that they have no intention of denying the aspiration that Dr. Ravitch has for our children. They fail, however, to realize how their systems of accountability breed fear, contempt, and mistrust. This is at the heart of the matter. Henry Lewis Stimson once said “the only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him, and the surest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him and show your distrust.”
This is the sad state of affairs in public education today. It is, of course, not the only narrative on which we must settle. Day after day, and in community after community, teachers and educational leaders fight hard to insure that classrooms and schoolhouses are joyous places to learn. It must be more than just a wish of Dr. Ravitch or any American who cares about the future of our country that we want our grandchildren to be good people, to have fun, and laugh.
To the cynics who might challenge this most basic aspiration for the children of our nation I ask if your counter narrative would have any chance to bode well in terms of fostering the kind of learning environment that promotes a healthy disposition towards lifelong learning? The over tested, anxious, and behemoth nature of this compliance driven agenda leads our children and us in the wrong direction. In the words of Rousseau, “you will never accomplish your design of forming sensible people unless you begin by making playful children.”