Saturday, January 10, 2009

The state of the education system…

Did you hear the big sigh at 3:00pm on Friday afternoon?  If you listened really closely, you could have heard the collective exhale of thousands of Ontario teachers.  The first week back after a holiday is difficult because you really need to go from zero to a hundred overnight.  The kids are talkative and don’t remember anything from before the Christmas break and, on top of that, it’s also the end of the semester.  But with that said, I also had a fairly easy week with only a few actual lessons to teach.  Either way, I’m happy to be enjoying a Saturday morning again.

I’m thinking about writing a book.  That’s a tough statement to follow, I know.  For now, it’s a preliminary thought and one that may well be better suited for a thesis or a masters paper than an actual book, but the idea is still there.  What I’d like to do is spend some time sitting down with teachers throughout the province and discussing the state of education and the “ins and outs” of their specific classrooms and schools.  I’d like to get down into the trenches, so to speak, and see what’s really going on behind the scenes.  I am confident that I am not alone in my frustrations about the state of the education system as it currently stands.  Now, there are a variety of factors that play into the success of a young person in education.  I am well aware that most students at Sinclair and Donald A. Wilson are doing just fine, but those students would do well in most circumstances.  Essentially, I’m upset with the “buzz words” that permeate throughout the world of education.  Say the words, get the job.  But does it all work? 

Sure, some of it does.  Take the new push on assessment for starters: It’s no secret that assessing more and evaluating less is going to mean that more kids pass.  It has to, whether the students are more successful or not.  The thought is that students will learn what is most important in a given course and only get evaluated once they have had quite a few opportunities to practice a given task.  This idea isn’t ludicrous.  In fact, I agree that it can work in certain contexts and with certain types of students.  My problem lies in the fact that these ideas are expected to be implemented in any given context, without being tested there first.  It doesn’t matter that assessment is the LAST thing that students from school’s like mine need.  They’re already lacking accountability and have attendance issues.  How exactly are we planning to benefit these students by effectively telling them “It’s not your fault that you don’t attend class or complete any work, it’s your teacher who is to blame.  They need to entertain you more and give you more choices in your learning.  Oh, and they will also evaluate you less, not take off late marks, and not count any zeroes.”  Now, say this to someone who pushes these new ideas and their response is simple: try it and you will see the benefits.  But that’s a logical fallacy in the argument: they’re skipping the step where teachers can say ‘no, this isn’t needed in my classroom.’

I’ll try to organize the jumbled mess above into a succinct argument: I honestly don’t think that it’s about student success.  This may not be a revelation, but I’m going to point it out anyway.  It’s about the bottom line: numbers.  The more students we have passing in Ontario, the better our education system looks.  What does that mean?  More money!  And this all trickles down.  School boards want their students to look successful so that they can secure more funding from the province.  Schools want their students to look smarter so that the board will be impressed and offer the school more funding and better resources.  Teachers want their students to succeed so that they don’t like poor educators to their administration, thereby allowing themselves more job opportunities and, eventually, more money.  In effect, it’s not about student success, it’s about the big green.  This is why the quality of education in this country has fallen so greatly over the last couple of decades. 

As well, the powers that be are frightened of “the almighty parent”, who has changed immensely from when I was a child.  How can the board of education possibly point the finger at bad parenting (when we all know, deep down, this is the root cause of the majority of classroom problems) and tell parents that they need to instil better values and more discipline into their children?  They’re too scared to say something like this, so instead they blame the teachers and come up with a new way of doing things that will shut parents up and keep the big green flowing in.  Students be damned, it’s all about the Benjamin’s.

Before you ask: Yes, I am aware that I am inherently biased in this argument.  But, I’m biased in two different ways: most obviously, I am a teacher who has to deal with the true results of these initiatives on a daily basis, which could make me negatively biased.  But second, I’m biased because I am one of the minority of people in education who are actually concerned about student success and helping the youth of today improve the world of tomorrow.  The ironic thing is that this makes me an outcast in Ontario’s education system.

To be continued…

1 comment:

Maggie said...

I agree with your comments. As for your thoughts on writing a book or doing a masters thesis, you can do both at the same time like me and kill two birds with one stone.

Talking with teachers, those on the front lines of the system is definitely a worthy research project. Teachers are the ones at the bottom dealing with the numerous bureaucratic initiatives and seeing the downfall of students first hand.

Keep on caring about the students--some of us have to.