“Most people don't realize how important librarians are. I ran across a book recently which suggested that the peace and prosperity of a culture was solely related to how many librarians it contained. Possibly a slight overstatement. But a culture that doesn't value its librarians doesn't value ideas and without ideas, well, where are we?”
Neil Gaiman

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Why Do We Go To School?

Why do we go to school?

We go to school to learn our ABC’s and 123’s.

Why do we go to school?

We go to school because Mom and Dad tell us we have to get up out of bed
and get on the school bus or we are going to be in BIG trouble.

Why do we go to school?

We go to school because it’s a lot of fun to play with our friends at recess
and the other stuff is pretty fun too.

Why do we go to school?

We go to school to learn to respect each other and to treat others like we
would like to be treated.

Why do we go to school?

We go to school to become literate: to learn how to read and write and to
learn how to use technology.

Why do we go to school?

We go to school to become problem solvers, able to come up with solutions.

Why do we go to school?

We go to school to learn how to become good citizens by saying the pledge,
voting in mock elections, learning history, and learning about current

Why do we go to school?

We go to school to learn how to take care of our earth by learning how to
recycle and learning about science.

Why do we go to school?

We go to school to learn how to learn.

What is the purpose of our schools? I believe that the core purpose of our schools is to produce well-rounded literate citizens who are able to function as independent, responsible, contributing and caring members of our communities and of our nation as a whole. Recently, I feel our schools have been drifting away from that ideal. We have been focusing more and more on producing workers for business while neglecting important social aspects of schooling and the arts as part of educating the whole child. If I were to change the current public education system to fit my personal philosophy, there are a few key areas that I would address.

The first area that I would address is that I would make the U.S. system a national education system rather than a state-based education system. While I know this would be a major undertaking and would meet with major resistance, I think it would be in the best interests of American children. It would bring equity to funding of schools, equity to curriculum, and equity to teacher pay scales, all which could be adjusted according to cost of living allowances. There are so many advantages to creating a national system not only in terms of educating children, but also in educating and certifying teachers. Teacher certification could then become nationally standardized as well with reciprocity across the country making it easy for teachers to move and transfer. This change would be especially beneficial for younger teachers who are often willing to move wherever there are jobs available.

By creating a national system, funding would be based on income tax, not property tax. The current system based on funding via local property taxes has created insanity in real estate prices in some areas and a huge discrepancy between wealthy districts and poor districts in many states. By shifting to an income tax based funding system and putting school funding into the national budget it would enforce a more equitable per student spending base. We would be able to look at what the real cost of education should be and be able to build a truly outstanding public education system which ensures that all of our schools have proper resources.

In addition, we need to look at how to heal those areas of our current education system where there are severely disadvantaged populations living in poverty. Most of these schools are in rural or urban areas and they have been suffering for generations. In looking at all of the solutions tried so far, they have all failed to solve the problems of these populations. The most promising model is the community school. It provides full services from health care to social services as well as before and after school care for children. These schools provide adult education and daycare. They serve the community 24/7 year round. The funding is obtained via a combination of public and private grants to provide the extra services and extended hours. Creating a large-scale model that can be adapted to fit all of our disadvantaged schools nationally is in the best interests of our nation’s children so that we can begin to put an end to our huge percentage of people in poverty nationally.

I would ensure that every school had an art and music program at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Art and music are important in development of the whole child and I believe we need to keep them in our schools. In addition to teaching classes these teachers can help collaborate with other teachers in our schools to help them bring art and music into other areas of the curriculum and make their teaching more creative and interesting. I am a firm believer in multiple intelligences and any way that we can adapt our lessons to introduce new ways of presenting material is good for our children. Art and music teachers offer us expertise in the arts right in our very own schools and are a valuable resource.

I would ensure that every school had a physical education and a health and nutrition program. All children from K-12 need to learn how to take care of their bodies inside and out. Learning to take care of ourselves is an invaluable life skill. In recent years there has been focus on healthy eating in our schools and I think it is a good trend. I believe we should continue to emphasize nutrition and the skills needed for a healthy lifestyle in our schools and add support where we can. In my children’s elementary school they are only allowed to bring healthy snacks and I feel they are learning to eat better food as a result. Physical education teachers are also able to address areas of multiple intelligence and can help brainstorm for ways to add to the curriculum through kinesthetic awareness. This is an area in which physical education teachers have been traditionally under utilized.

I would ensure that every school had at least one trained and accredited librarian on staff with a fully functional library and media center. In this day and age we need to ensure that our children are trained in information literacy and that they have the resources they need available to them. All K-12 schools need to have libraries with media centers and librarians who are trained teachers available to help them or they are at a disadvantage. Librarians are now trained in advanced technology skills in addition to traditional literacy skills. They are trained to collaborate with staff on projects as well as teach students how to navigate their way through the masses of information that they encounter on a daily basis. The media center needs to be stocked with computers, printers, AV equipment, video equipment, smart boards, etc. necessary for training children to use technology. The library needs to be filled with reference books and current reading material to complement what is available at the local public library as well as to supplement the course material of the school teaching staff. The school library should be an inviting and welcome place for students and staff -- a hub of the school.

Another area that I believe we need to strengthen is multicultural education. In a country as culturally diverse as the United States we need to have a public education system that embraces our cultural diversity and educates our children to embrace our diversity. We have been a nation plagued by racism for far too long and yet we ought to be working toward being the nation that sets the example for multicultural diversity and acceptance. We ought to be showing the world how people can live and work together without racism and hatred. I believe that we can achieve that goal through better multicultural education in our schools. James Banks’ five dimensions of multicultural education – content integration, knowledge construction, equity pedagogy through varied learning styles, prejudice reduction, and an empowering school culture – should be a part of all teacher training and should become integrated into schools nationwide. Eventually operating via these methods will become second nature. If we don’t start to make a change in education, we are only adding to the problems of racism, sexism, and animosity that are occurring in our country based on difference.

A final area that I would change is the emphasis on standardized tests. I believe tests have a purpose as a tool, but they are not the end all. They do not prove the intelligence of an individual, nor should they seal a child’s, or school’s, fate. I don’t think that teachers should receive merit pay based on test scores, nor do I think children should be striving to get into “gifted” based on IQ tests. It is reasonable to have a national standardized assessment of some sort to gauge where students are at certain stages throughout the K-12 years. The 3-7-11 model seems reasonable. Putting pressure on those tests for it to be anything other than a diagnostic tool for teachers and parents is ridiculous. It forces teachers to teach to the test and produce robots and undue pressure. The reality is that if the system is working, the children should be able to do fine on the test. If not, there is something wrong with the test.

I truly have faith in our public education system. When I talk to people, they often think that I am far too optimistic. I don’t feel that our public education system is in grave peril and that American students are the worst in the world. I look at my own 17-year-old and her friends and I am proud of how many bright young people are graduating and going off to top universities from public schools. I’ve watched some incredibly talented kids perform plays over the past few years that could have competed with off-Broadway productions – in a public school! If you read media accounts of our youth, you don’t often read about the amazing kids who are performing on stage or spending the summer in China studying Chinese on a scholarship, it is usually a doomsday story. I know kids who spend every spring doing Model UN in New York City as model diplomats solving the world’s problems and sing in choirs that travel to Florida on Spring break. They are good kids with promising futures. I know kids who don’t have such promising futures as well, but I think that it is exciting to see so much ahead for so many.

In fact there are so many things that I love about our current public education system. I love that our current system allows creative teachers like my son’s teacher from this past year to teach the way that she wanted to teach. She was a fabulous example for me of the way to teach social skills, diversity, and acceptance to a group of 2nd graders. Every time I walked into that classroom I ended up in tears I was so moved. She used singing and dancing, had them writing stories and poetry, created photo stories, and did presentations of all of it for families multiple times throughout the year. The writing by the end of the year of all of the students was amazing. It was wonderful to watch!

If as, as a country, we can move forward and I can have my dream of a national system with many of the other changes I suggested, I feel we will have an incredibly strong public education system. I am very passionate about public education staying public and will always be an advocate for it staying that way. I believe that all of our children need to be educated in order to function in our society and we as citizens have an obligation to provide that education. I find myself frustrated when I hear people grumbling about having to pay for schools “because they don’t have children.” We all have to pay for schools because we are citizens of the United States of America. It is our responsibility to educate all of our citizens. As we educate our children I would include education about social responsibility. We do have an obligation to one another as Americans, just as Canadians have an obligation to other Canadians and Australians have an obligation to other Australians. It comes with citizenship. Much like, while I am philosophically opposed to the current war, I am fully in support of our troops and believe we have a social responsibility to care for them fully both now and as they return to the U.S. – no matter what the cost. We sent them to war and now we have a responsibility to care for them. It is a cost of war and a responsibility of citizenship.

By going into education as a librarian, I feel that I can make a difference for so many students at all levels. I know that the students at my 17-year-old’s level will be fine. She is a reader and will find books and resources no matter where she goes. While having a librarian as excited as I am about the job as I am would be a bonus for her, she still manages to find the things she needs. It’s the other students who don’t find their way to library that need me. It’s the teachers who aren’t currently integrating information literacy into their lessons. They are the ones that I am truly going to be in the library to serve. Even though I will be one individual out there teaching, I believe change starts with the individual. We start with our schools. We advocate. We make small changes. We make our voice heard. We hope for the future.

1. Banks, James A. and Michelle Tucker. Multiculturalism’s Five Dimensions. NEA Today Online. http://www.learner.org/workshops/socialstudies/pdf/session3/3.Multiculturalism.pdf

2. Parsons, Richard D., Hinson, Stephanie Lewis, Sardo-Brown, Deborah. Educational Psychology: A Practitoner-Researcher Model of Teaching. Wadsworth, 2001.

1 comment:

Centenial College said...

To making an education country based instead of state based in an excellent idea and great thinking.

You have wrote an excellent article. If the system changed as you think then it'll be excellent for American students.

Thanks for sharing your wonderful thought with us.

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