The inconvenient truth about education

I needed a large iced coffee to head to the Loft Cinema on a sunshiny Saturday morning  a movie, a documentary at that.  “The Inconvenient Truth behind Waiting for Superman” was too New Yorky, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t some truth to it.

The film brought me back to the early ’70s when I was in graduate school getting my M.A.T. degree. We knew then — and we know now — that the most important elements of good schooling are classrooms with fewer than 18 students, led by experienced teachers.

And I’ll add, let those teachers be learners who care about kids. Provide “a culturally relevant curriculum.” We sure know about that here in Tucson where a highly successful ethnic studies program was wiped out as being racist. Huh, maybe too culturally relevant?

(My son, Ethan,  a graduate student at Rice, just called after hearing a University of Arizona professor speak this evening about Tucson’s defunct ethnic studies program, one of  the latest in unfathomable educational decisions made by Arizona’s powers that be.)

During the 2000 presidential election, when Gore and Bush were talking about education, I figured that was a good thing. Somebody cared. I was wrong, oh so wrong. Naive maybe, even after all my years as an educator.

I couldn’t figure out why the Gore people weren’t talking to educators like Yetta and Ken Goodman, now UA professors emerita and emeritus of the Department of Language, Reading & Culture, or Phyllis Brazee, professor emerita of education at the University of Maine, who almost singlehandedly trained teachers to raise reading/writing skills in students by uh, reading real books and engaging kids in their own lives.

Kids don’t vote. And unfortunately, many parents don’t complain about their children’s so-called education, which has become more political than educational, overladen with meaningless testing. Enough.

I’m addicted to “The Wire.” The fourth season focused on the plight of middle-school kids in inner-city Baltimore. The kids who didn’t have caring parents or clean clothes or the confidence to imagine themselves doing anything but selling drugs on street corners broke my heart.

I had a few students at Mt. Desert Island High School who weren’t going anywhere, were into drugs or booze,  and didn’t care much for education. Somehow, we connected.

I liked that they weren’t shy about expressing their opinions. I joked with them. One of my favorites started asking me for books he could read on his own. He became a lobsterman, may still be a rowdy guy, but he sure could think. 

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