The Wrong Side of History

I recently watch a video of children lobbying their State Senator, veteran Democrat Dianne Feinstein from California. They wanted her to support The Green New Deal Resolution proposed by the polarizing freshman democrat Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez from New York. The Senator did her best to inform the children on governance, but quickly lost her patience. As the exchanged continued, her frustration became apparent as she indicated to these constitutions that she knew how government worked and they didn’t. She even implied that she did not have to answer to them because they were not yet able to vote.

These spunky kids didn’t cower; they went back at the lawmaker, wondering why she wouldn’t support a bill that would help save our dying planet. The Senator’s response not only came off as dismissive, but also seemed to be the epitome of, “that’s the way we do things around here.”

In fairness to Feinstein, The Green New Deal is about much more than global warming. It is more of a leftist manifesto of where we should be as a country in 10 years. It offers no clear blueprint for achieving its objectives or how to fund these ideals. And, as a resolution, even if approved, it offers no clout, rather more of a wish list.

Still, as I watched the captivating clip, the phrase, “The wrong side of history” kept flashing in my mind. I could envision some not too distant future classroom teacher showing this video as an example of the ineptness of a society that could, but would not take steps that would prevent the irreparable damage that we caused.  Kids would be incredulous as they questioned their teacher.

“You mean they knew things were getting bad and they didn’t do anything to fix it?”  

“What was it like to visit the Statue of liberty before it was underwater?”

“Was Disney World really the happiest place on earth?”

They wouldn’t accept “that was how government worked” as an answer.

Put yourself in that classroom for a second; their questions make perfect sense and our answers to them seem short sighted .

Our response to Global…wait no… “Climate Change” is on “The Wrong Side of History.”

We have been on the wrong side of History before.

  • Slavery
  • Women’s rights
  • Milli Vanilli
  • Giving a crap about who others are attracted to
  • Treatment of those who are disabled
  • The lack of action during the Holocaust
  • Dances with Wolves over Goodfellas
  • Angelina over Jen
  • Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan
  • Babe Ruth to the Yankees
  • The unsinkable ship
  • Thinking the internet is a fad

And of course…Dancing with the Wolves over Goodfellas.

I know, I know, but it has to be said twice.

I tend to see many situations and discussions through the lense of the profession I love, and the wrong side of history is no exception.   

Are we on the wrong side of history in schools?

In some ways I believe we are.

Homework

Homework is too often rote tasks that students complete for a grade. It is a practice that does little to foster lifelong learning. In fact, it causes many students to see school as a task to be completed to get to the next stage in life. Can you imagine working eight hours a day with eight different bosses , no lunch, no break, then playing a sport, going to a job or taking care of family responsibilities, then being asked to do two-plus hours of homework? Yet, that is the reality for many high school students today. Is it any wonder that kids are facing mental crisis at an alarming rate?

College Acceptance

The college game is rigged. It is rigged for those who know how to play the game. It is rigged against students who come from poverty. It is rigged against students of color. And, if you have been following the lawsuit against Harvard, it is rigged against Asian students.

We tell kids to work, work, work, get into the best possible school they can, regardless of the inevitable debt they will accrue. The pressure to go to the University that is the most prestigious rather than the one that is the best fit is prevalent today and it is, well, just asinine.

At the end of the day does it really matter all that much which University you studied at? Is the valedictorian from your graduating class the most successful? How about The one who went to the best college?  College acceptance, the college game, is too often based on what we can measure easily and, unfortunately, what we measure has very little to do with success in life. Will we see a time in our lifetime where employment opportunities are based more on what you can do rather than what certificate you hold? I tend to think so, especially since companies like Google and Amazon are already doing it.

State Tests

I recently heard the New York State Commissioner of Education speak. It was so refreshing to hear her speak about the need to loosen up on the control government was trying to place on teachers. She asked that we let teachers be creative, be different, embrace their passions, and ignite passions in their students. She asked us to stop asking teachers to be robots, delivering a mimicked educational experience.

I was inspired until she talked about “fixing” schools that were underperforming.  How does New York determine if your school is on the “naughty list?” The answer is, sadly, poor performance on a standardized test that is easy to grade and embraces memorization over creativity and thoughtfulness. Worse yet, your school can be marked if enough families refuse to take the tests.

In my mind, State tests are mostly awful and useless. We use them because that is all we have. I used to think they held poor instructors accountable. I am starting to realize they are actually just holding strong instructors back and, much like homework does to students, kills motivation for teachers.

One Size Fits All

It makes sense to offer all kids an equitable educational experience.  Everyone should have the opportunity to learn and have a rigorous curriculum.  Does it make sense to expect everyone to excel in the same exact areas?

We all have strengths and weaknesses. Shouldn’t schools find out what makes each child unique, special, where their strengths lie and then cultivate those strengths?

As our world progresses, specialization will become more and more essential, yet we still encourage the sameness that worked during the industrial revolution.  

Lunches

School lunches…come on people, we can do better!

What We Teach

“So, Geometry, US History, and how to play basketball was taught to all students, but personal finance, personal health care, managing emotions, and building relationships were secondary?”  

Some student, in the future, will ask this question and the teacher will shrug and they will all have a good laugh at how short sighted we were.

Grading

Let’s be honest our current grading system is absurd.  Take a test today. Don’t know the answers?

“Can I learn the material and show you I understand it now?”

“ Nope you had your chance on the test.  It is not fair to the students who understood it when they were supposed to.”

Say what?  Is it our job to teach kids or rank them?

Other Areas That Will Not Translate In The Not Too Distant Future

  • Making kids change for PE
  • Desks attached to chairs
  • Asking to go to the bathroom
  • No food in the gym or classrooms
  • Yelling at kids who misbehave
  • Bohemian Rhapsody over A Star is Born
  • Stanton over Harper
  • Computer labs
  • Not asking kids for feedback
  • Reading logs- God I hate reading logs….it proves I read if it is logged and mom signed it?!???!?!?!
  • Too much direct instruction
  • Requiring students to miss class as a penalty for missing class
  • Super Bowl on a Sunday

Much like The Green New Deal, I offer few solutions to my grievances, no clear plan or action steps, no means to fund my criticisms. Yet, I know a lot of what we have done in schools just does not make sense.

“That is the way we do things” is not an acceptable answer for us as educators or for our lawmakers.  Our kids deserve better; I know in my heart we can do better.

I ask you what can you do tomorrow to make us all a little better?


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