Retired educator weighs in on status of public education

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For years I took to heart a quotation with one guy saying that education was him sitting on one end of a log & another guy talking to him from the other. It made no difference who they were — what appealed to me was the idea that education not only is an individual thing, but that what is seemingly a roundabout, time-wasting procedure accomplishes the goal of learning at a very high level.

Today, the idea of education has strayed about as far from that concept as it can. Consider: teachers now are being asked to spend most of their time straining to fit all of their students into the opening designed for them by a distant group of politicians whose usual solution to any problem is to pass a law, presuming that that will solve any difficulty.

You perhaps have noticed that their panacea often not only does not remedy what it is intended to, but that it engenders argument, sometimes for years, over intent, method & some way that they can shift grant money to their constituency & gain personal recognition while enriching their campaign coffers.

When pols apply their usual formula to education what results is not learning, but an attempt to align educators into a single formation, leading their charges into what has been determined is the best possible way to educate not just students, but communities as well. The concept that individuals are unique & that locales might be able to better determine what is good for them is lost in the “one size fits all” education policy.

What happens under the “test takes care of all needs” system is that teachers are not allowed to teach. Instead, they become clerks & bookkeepers, since the system requires monitoring and voluminous reporting to insure that the rules are met or funds will not be forthcoming. And it behooves the school systems to confess that they are falling short of meeting accepted test scores so that they can get financial help, making their schools look bad in the eyes of their community.

Let’s throw another figure into the equation & introduce a revolutionary, novel, foreign concept to the rules-makers. Not only are the students varied, but teachers are also different! A given is that some students learn better under certain educational systems than do others. That also holds true for teachers’ teaching. Teachers reach students in their own way — and learning takes place.

Instead of communing with students, establishing empathy, teachers are forced into teaching toward the test. Educating in this manner would be efficient & work well, except for one small glitch: not only are there 25-30 individual students in front of the teacher, but they are not equipped with lids that can be lifted so that knowledge can be poured in; they all learn in different ways. That becomes the teachers’ challenge: how to reach students singularly. That means individually.

An added complication is that teaching, I feel, suffers from an unintentionally flawed concept. Good teachers do not “teach”, instead, they help students progress toward how to learn. If the only requirement were to teach, the “open-the-lid-&-pour-in” or “Here is your workbook, fill in the blanks & hand it in when you’re finished,” techniques would suffice. Anyone could do that.

What teachers need is time to waste in the classroom. Sounds like heresy, no? Contrary to outsiders’ beliefs, a great deal of learning takes place in off-the-subject interaction, exchange of ideas, colloquy & Socratic question & answer periods between teacher & student. The important product here is that the teacher & student get to know each other. The more the teacher gets to know the student, the better is he able to discover a way to improve his/her learning ability.

Meeting the needs of individual students is the key, & should be the goal, of successful classroom mentors — if they are permitted to work at their craft.

It also helps if they like children.

The old saying to physicians: “Heal thyself,” applies equally to legislators.

About Dan Diadiun

Dan Diadiun spent his career teaching journalism at John Glenn High School in Westland, MI. He currently resides with family in Connecticut. He also was our publisher, Trish Brown's, high school journalism teacher ,and TPE contributing writer Janice Ryken's journalism teacher as well.