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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

You Too Can Read My Homework

I have previously posted some of my homework here on my blog. Just to give you a little flavor of what I am working on. I will now continue with this series. Below is my Education Vision Statement. Essential I was asked what my vision of education is for the next 5 years, and how I would change education. One slight disclaimer, I only had a day to write this. So it is not my best writing.

Education is at a critical crossroads. We are at a point where fundamental change can happen. Very slowly the federal government is doing away with the controversial “No Child Left Behind” law. The new educational “buzz words” which according to some will save education is charter schools. New digital technology, such as iPads, tablet computers, and smart boards, are sweeping into the classroom, changing the way teachers teach their students, making learning more interactive. On top of all of this, the American public is demanding the school structure be changed to better enable American students to compete in the global job market. All while funding for schools are being cut. It is truly a time of change and innovation.

Some find this to be a scary time for education. I do not necessarily believe it needs to be scary. This could be a time where we fundamental change our educational system for the better. This is a time where one good idea can change the world. In this educational vision statement, I will outline four ideas, which I would like to see incorporate into our educational system within the next three to five years.

What is the goal of our education system?

I think before we can ever implement real change in our education system, we need to ask these very important questions. “What is the goal of our education system?” “Why do we educate our young people?” I have posed this question to my students before. The responses I have received from them vary, but majority of them respond with “To get a good job”, “To get into college”, or “To make money”. I believe that this should not be the reason why we educate our students. Early on we need to instill in our students a love of learning, so that they become life longer learners. But how can we accomplish this goal of life long learners? While there are many theories out there that advocate how to make students life longer learners, I will only discuss a small aspect of what I think can help individuals become life long learners.

We need students to view education as a way of making them a better person. That the knowledge that we are passing along can be used for more than just taking a test. As Mortimer Adler, the educational philosophy said, “a virtuous person”. This should be the goal of our educational system. Because no matter what field of employment a student enters, they will always be a virtuous person. They will understand how knowledge of different subject matters make them a more complete individual, and will hopefully encourage them to always want to learn new things. When we have more virtuous individuals, we will then have a more virtuous society. This should be our goal of our education system, why we educate our young people. To create virtuous life longer learners.

Treatment of Teachers

If I could wave a magic wand, and change one aspect of our educational system right now, it would be this. How we treat our teachers. Teachers are dumped on constantly. Any problem that occurs in the classroom is automatically the teachers’ fault. Teachers are human beings, and thus are not perfect. And yes there are some very bad teachers out there. But find me any profession that does not have bad employees. No body is perfect, and yes when a teacher makes a mistake, they need to be mature enough to own up to it, and accept all the consequences that occur from their mistake.

However I do not believe you will find a more caring, hard-working, and dedicated group of individuals anywhere in the world than teachers. Everyone has a teacher that inspired him or her to do better. They make us believe that we can accomplish almost anything. They push us to do better. These great teachers can instill this sense of inspiration while facing insurmountable odds. Some teachers face large class sizes, little to no funding, and massive amounts of bureaucratic paperwork. Yet they still go in everyday and face these challenges head on. Why? Because they believe in their students.

When we go to the doctor, and receive a diagnosis, we do not immediately stand up, and tell them they are wrong. Some of us may do this, but majority of us do not. Why? Because we know that the doctor is the expert in the field of human health, and they know more than we do. The same goes for teachers. Teachers are experts in the field of education and learning, yet everyday people march into their classrooms and tell them the way they are teaching is wrong. Everyone is human; including teachers, and they want to feel appreciated too. Imagine what teachers would be able to accomplish if they felt appreciated.

Reading, Writing, and Discussion

My next idea in my vision statement on where the educational system could be in the next three to five years focuses on improving students love of reading, and improving their writing and discussion skills. It seems that whenever I turn the news on and they have a story about education, it is followed with “Improving math and science scores”. While I agree that math and science are incredibly important, very rarely do I hear anything about improving reading, writing, or discussion skills. If a student does not understand what the question they are reading says, how can they improve their math or science scores? Reading needs to become the focus of education improvement. Young people’s love of reading is dying. Whenever I ask my students what book they are reading, more than likely the response I will get is: “I don’t read”, “I hate reading”, or if they are reading, it is fiction such as Harry Potter. Which is fine, but very rarely do you hear students reading non-fiction, historical accounts, philosophy, or religious texts.

In one of my previous graduate courses, I studied the educational philosopher Mortimer Adler. Adler advocated reading, founded The Great Books Foundation, and returning education to the classic style of instruction. The classical style focused on making a virtuous individual, which I discussed earlier. Reading can be the silver bullet for improving education quickly. If students better understand what they are reading, they may do better on standardized tests.

To go on a tangent for a moment, our society has allowed standardized testing to become the ultimate form of assessment, and in my opinion-standardized tests does not do a proper job of assessing our students’ knowledge. It only measures how well the student does on that one test. What happens if the student is not a good test taker? We need to find a better way of assessment.

Writing and discussion could be the better forms of assessment we are looking for. It allows students to articulate their opinions, and describe things in their own words. Writing and discussion allows students to be creative, and allows teachers to better measure the students’ mastery of the material.

Technology Integration

The final idea of my education vision statement is the integration of digital technology into the classroom. We take for granted the time we are currently living in. Technology is changing at an ever-increasing pace. We need to be able to keep up. We need our students to be able to keep up. If we are going to do this, we need to have technology in the classroom. Students need to be familiar with how to use it. Because technology is revolutionizing every aspect of our lives. Even now, I am in a graduate class with classmates across the United States. 15 years ago the only way this would of happened is if I traveled to the destination. Now it is in my living room.
Technology can make a subject or discussion come alive. Literally at students’ fingertips is a wealth of information that one hundred years ago would of seemed like a pipe dream. Additional technology, if used properly, could accommodate almost every learning style. Visual learners, auditory learners, can all benefit from using technology. The key with technology is we do not allow it to replace teachers. Technology is a tool for teachers to use, not the other way around.

There you have it. My four points of my education vision statement. Looking back I think I can summarize my education vision statement with just two words. Social justice. We need to implement social justice into our educational system. We as a society need to ask the fundamental question, “What is the purpose of our educational system?” We need to treat our teachers with respect; we need to encourage our students to read, write, and discuss ideas with one another. They need to know that it is ok to disagree with one another, and that books are our friends. Life is not a series of multiple choice, true/false questions. Life is a joyous time of questioning, experimenting, and creative thinking. I know that most of what I wrote about probably will not be implemented, or is too much of a flowery dream. But if we cannot dream big in education, where can we dream big at then?

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