Thursday, February 10, 2011

Crisis of Conscience

So. One and one half years later. Married now. Baby on the way. Amazing how time just...passes. Inspiration struck tonight, so I sit here, beer in hand, decompressing. It's late, and I will pay for this tomorrow, but the cost is worth it.

I just attended a District viewing of Race to Nowhere, a film that takes a closer look at the culture of education we seem to have created. This is the culture that keeps pushing, keeps scheduling, keeps demanding more from the kids. This is the culture that is harming those same kids. The effects of parental, federal, and social demands are damaging our students, our future.

I used to joke with my class a few years back that I was terrified that they would soon make decisions that would impact my future. Then, I would stand in front of the room (where else?) and inform/complain about the decline in academic skills in my class. This year, I am having a crisis of conscience (sounds worse than it is): I realized that I am a player in this convoluted game.

So I change my tune. My class website is called A Shift in Perspective, and my philosophy (stated often) is "choice and consequence." I begin answering the question "What's the answer?" with "I really don't care about the answer, I care about the question." And I mean. And it confuses them. Rightfully so.

I realized quite recently that my focus is off in the classroom, that I needed to shift my own perspective and realize that there were consequences to the choices I make on a day to day basis. Welcome to my crisis of conscience.

There is no doubt - my students are weaker than ever in the realm of English skills. We have developed a culture of righteous apathy - "I will complain loudly, though I really don't care!" When we focus on answers and not questions, we stay in the realm of basic information and avoid critical thinking. "Why should I figure out the answer...I can just Google it." Soon, we will all have Android logos stamped on our foreheads (and this coming from an avid Google supporter).

This film came along at a perfect time, meeting my soul in a head on fight (there is no clear victor yet). The film raises SO many excellent questions about the state of education. Some new studies have shown that doing less homework results in better performance (think: playtime, family dinner, less stress to "achieve"). The over-scheduling of our lives has surpassed the tipping point, and we, as individuals, as a community, as a country, are in desperate need of rebalancing.

A mother stood up after the film and said that her 2nd grader is suffering physical pains from anxiety over her schoolwork. What, 8 years old...and this is what we are teaching the student to focus on? This reminds me of a George Carlin skit, where he laments kids today not having playtime ...

(and I paraphrase): What ever happened to sitting in the yard with a fucking stick. And you dig a fucking hole.

As a parent-t0-be, I am a bit freaked out by this paradigm we have created. This year, my District has disallowed (ain't that a great word) physical contact during recess. Translation: no freeze tag.

What. The. Hell.

Let kids be kids. Let families be families. Let's work towards a change and let life feel real again. I am filled with hope at the prospect of change, and dismay that it will not happen. I don't have enough faith in the parents of my district to create a united front for change. After all, how will their kid get to Harvard if we relax the rules?