Current Conditions
25 ° Cloudy

A Point of View: The genius of American education

WEST VALLEY — If one were to ask you the names of your favorite teachers, from kindergarten and throughout your education, it may be not too difficult to answer. Unfortunately, the memory of those who may have impacted a person in negative ways, may also remain vividly in one’s memory. Teachers leave an indelible impact.

Good teaching is as much about passion as it is about reason. Good teaching is about caring for your students and thoughtfully putting your finger on their intellectual, mental, social and identity pulse. A good teacher is artfully empathetic to the makeup of the whole child, including hereditary and environmental factors.

All good teachers have a mastery of the subject they teach, and of the art and science of teaching and learning. Good teaching is based upon solid research of child growth and development, differentiation and adaptation. It is about conveying that passion to everyone, most importantly, to your students. It is about letting students know that they are important to you, that you care about them, and that you are there for each of them. Good teaching is about turning students on to the success, joy and excitement in learning. Good teachers are determined not to turn students off to what is exciting, when learning new concepts and skills.

Most students require reinforcement by a supportive and nurturing teacher. For the gifted and talented students, a good teacher will provide learning experiences at the operational level of the learner: grade or subject core standards not withstanding. For some other students, the need for constant positive reinforcement is also most necessary. These students, for one reason or another, have strong feelings of defeat. The defeatist attitude is consistently reinforced, by failure after failure. When a student has a defeatist attitude, no amount of repetitious homework, drill exercise or comments such as “You better learn it; it will be on the test,” will change that attitude for the better. Rather, the student already has a feeling of sinking further and further into the dark tunnel of the doldrums. He or she sees no way out of that dark dilemma. In fact, the student may choose to seek other avenues for recognition, positively or negatively.

Teaching at the elementary and secondary level is far more than a teacher unloading information and expecting the students to regurgitate back this information, in rapid-fire order. There is a science to teaching, but it must be artfully and creatively applied. Instructional strategies should clearly be based on sound science and research, by knowing when to use certain strategies, with whom and to what degree. Every student is different, just as every adult is different. A passionate, thoughtful and creative teacher is skilled in determining the precise moment and learning activity that is best geared for a successful learning experience, for each individual. That is the earmark of an extraordinarily talented teacher, core standards not withstanding.

These, days, we hear much about Common Core Educational Standards.

If nothing else, these standards are causing a conflict of interest and students are well aware of this conflict. In fact, some students have indicated that the Common Core standards display a mistrust of teachers. This is at a time when students are searching for those in whom they can trust and confide.

I am writing this piece at this time because I care about education and I support what great teachers have done for me, in the past. They stood for the students’ individual rights to academic achievement. I am indebted to the great teachers I have known, in years past and in the present.

In education, good teaching is based upon solid research, that is, that each learner is developing distinctly, as an individual. Excellence in teaching demonstrates that there is a dynamic between the teacher and the individual learner. That is the heart of instruction. There is no “common standards” bureaucratic model that can measure this dynamic. Such measurements may work with nuclear power reactors, quantum physics modules or sophisticated business models. So, one might ask, why can’t it work with students? As one high school senior put it, “students are not robots.” In short, in education, one size does not fit all.

For example: we are told that the average sixth-grader, in the typical American public school, is 11 years of age. The average sixth-grade male student is 80 pounds and is 56 1/2 inches in height. The average sixth-grade female student is 11 years of age, weights 81 pounds and is 57 inches in height. The average female sixth-grader wears a shoe size of 5 in kid’s sizes and the male student wears a 7 1/2. The average arm sleeve length, for both female and male 11-year-olds, is 23 1/2 inches.

So, suit up a group of sixth-graders with clothes fitting these dimensions and then have them participate in a test run. There will be some students with a perfect fit. And then, there will be others for whom the pants are too loose or too tight, too short or too long. There will be some with shoes too tight or too loose. You get the picture.

The result is similar to what happens in academic standards testing. Another example may be that we are told that the “common” 75-year-old male has, on average, three chronic health conditions and is on five prescriptions.

If one were to follow the common standards approach, the gentleman, upon visiting his physician, would be told, “Well, you are 75 years old; we need to find three chronic conditions you have and we need to get you on five prescriptions.” Thank goodness physicians do not follow the common standards approach in medicine.

Standards are absolutely necessary, but they must be comprehensively defined, in light of what is known about how students learn. Every learner is wonderfully unique. It is that special uniqueness that is the challenge for the teacher. Therein is the science and art of teaching. And, therein is the challenge of establishing educational standards.

Hopefully, these standards are not so simplistic that the genuine power of the art of teaching is grossly minimized and the factual scientific data of child growth and development are dismissed. This would truly set education back to the dark ages.

Standards that weaken the fabric of employing strategic teaching strategies, cannot help but be a disservice to a population of students waiting to learn. Artfully skilled teaching is truly the genius of American education, common core standards notwithstanding.

You must be signed in to comment.

Click Here to create a Free Account

Click here to Sign in


Be the first to Comment