Sunday, June 21, 2009

Let Learning Be Cherished...

I'm on my education soapbox again. I came across a draft of this blog post today that I never published. Granted school's out for summer, but I thought this draft worth polishing and publishing. I've been dry in the lengthy op-eds lately anyway, so here goes...

My Alma mater's motto, Alenda Lux Ubi Orta Libertas. Translated "Let Learning Be Cherished
Where Liberty Has Arisen."

The problem with education in this country is that education is no longer cherished properly. We moan about the state of our schools, but if we have the money to move into a good neighborhood with good schools, or we can pay our way out of public school into a private system, we do. Why wouldn't we? Why would you condemn your child to less if you can provide better for them?

The problem inherent in the above argument is that we miss the point entirely. When as a community (or district, or state, or nation) we don't accept the challenge of cherishing education for everyone, we diminish the value of educating anyone. While we can work on rectifying the state of our schools on any number of levels--spending, restructuring, and rethinking, the fundamental questions remain the same: do we cherish the opportunity to educate our children? What is it we want every child to learn?

There are many problems in this world that are not the fault of children--divorce, single parenthood, neighborhood crime, drugs, lack of money for infrastructure, lack of money for salaries, lack of jobs in poor neighborhoods, the list goes on. However, we can certainly hold our children and each other accountable for their success. Part of our education system's failure is that we no longer hold children accountable for their own success or failure. We blame the system, the neighborhood, the lack of parental supervision. If the child isn't successful, it's the teachers fault, or the curriculum's fault, or there are too many kids in the room, or the bus ride is too long. I've seen schools twist themselves into pretzels trying to offer extra help, homework hot lines, free supplies, after-school programs, extra credit, more time, extensions, the list goes on. For what? What happened to taking away the car keys, cell phone, the xbox, the Internet, the TV, pocket money? And in the absence of those things what happened to grounding or restriction? We've let parents off the hook too. And what about the community? There was a time in my life when my parents knew what happened at school before I could get home to tell them. I wish we had a school rule handbook for parents to remind them that public school isn't a birthright, it's a privilege. A privilege paid for by a lot of people in America because they believe that learning should be cherished.

Individual responsibility for your life belongs to you and you alone--that's liberty. What you choose to do with opportunities you are given is your choice--that's liberty. We are no longer teaching this ideal to our children. We lay the responsibility of success or failure at the feet of teachers, tests, administrators, everybody but the child. Granted children must be taught responsibility, must be taught to value things, must be taught to cherish things. But how do we teach these principles if we do not apply the principle of accountability? I'm not saying public schools don't have rules. I'm not saying public schools don't have accountability. I am saying that there has been a dangerous trend over time to reduce the amount of accountability for the student from "I matter therefore my choice to participate matters" to merely showing up and staying quiet in his or her seat. Showing up, keeping your head down, and not making noise doesn't make a roomful of successful children ready to cherish learning.

There are many different kinds of education; life lessons, book lessons, cooking lessons, self-help lessons, financial lessons, love lessons, survival lessons. I understand that many children in our country live in places in which surviving super cedes any other form of learning. I also know that modeling reliance on self can be a great lesson--in any culture, in any place, at any time. In the absence of family, it is up to us as community to model self-reliance, love of learning, and how to place value appropriately regardless of where we live and often times, in spite of it.

Do you ever watch those movies about extraordinary individuals who went in and turned around a school, a class, a group of people, fought the system, etc. etc? Besides the warm fuzzy those movies give us, there are reasons why those folks accomplished the extraordinary. They demanded accountability from everyone. When leaders demand accountability from followers, synergy happens. Giving a human being freedom over their lives by making them important enough to be responsible for their own choices creates an atmosphere of inspiration. Instilling the idea that "I matter" is essential in cherishing an education.

What do I think it means to "let learning be cherished where liberty has arisen?" School rules that make sense and are enforceable. Bend the rules for exceptions if you know you are right. Give teachers back the command of their classroom. Make the students accountable for their work, for their behavior, for their attendance, for their success and even for their failure. Give them the opportunity to fail. Nobody gets a free ride for anything. If you want it, you gotta work for it. You can't cherish something you haven't worked for. You can't value something that has no value to you. You can't love something in which you haven't invested time and labor.

Teaching is a labor of love. Teaching is an investment in human capital. True teachers cherish learning. They cherish the students they teach. They cherish their students' potential. They value students' work. True teachers aren't just in the classroom--they are at church, at home, in the grocery store, at the post office, on the street, on the television. If we all acted every day the way we would if we were responsible for the education and well-being of all children, imagine what a different kind of place America would be.

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