On Educational Engagement

This Sunday’s Advocate, quoted Louisiana State Treasurer John Kennedy as suggesting legislators and BESE Board members should “substitute teach in a Louisiana public school at least one time in 2012”. Kennedy suggested the “substitute” assignment should be more than a self-serving press opportunity and “feel-good” (my quote) political photo-op of a politician (or his wife) reading “The Cat in the Hat” to kindergarteners. Real engagement with the kids is desirable.

I’d suggest “at least one time” is insufficient to grasp the problems in our educational system. They need to spend a month in the trenches with the real soldiers. They’d see and understand what’s going on in the classes, in the halls, the restrooms and on campuses. They’d see the effect School Boards have where sports take precedence over academics and parentally (de)based politics decides policy. Photo-ops show nothing more than the self-interest of the politician over the needs of the students. That’s on the local school board level as well as the state and national scene where First Ladies politic as a part of their “jobs” furthering the incumbent’s agenda.

In the real world of modern schools it’s still the dream to see academics as the primary reason for the school’s existence. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. Head Start in many cases is viewed by parents as free daycare. Elementary school is viewed as a legal mandate to be followed and because it’s still free daycare. Middle School and High School are no better; but at the High School level, outside, social activities can sway the value points influencing a student’s glide path into adulthood. It doesn’t always make for a happy landing.

It really is a sadness to understand the main malefactor in a disruptive class environment may be a spoiled and/or sports oriented “average white kid” with no better motivator than the memories, failed dreams and unfulfilled aspirations of disappointed parents looking to see their past hunt for glory realized through their kids’ performance. High School is this kid’s playcare. There’s also that pesky rose colored glasses perception their kids couldn’t be responsible for the tumult. The problem isn’t always racial or narrowed to a specific social stratum or culture. It’s just that it’s a widespread misperception of what schools are all about.

That would be education folks. Not politics. Education. Not making the kid a happy camper. Education. Not ensuring teacher tenure. Education. Not Superintendent selections and the pathetic posturing of school board members behaving as though they alone have the best interests of the students and teachers in mind (getting a paycheck puts the lie to that point). Education-that’s what it’s about.

Most Legislators, other politicians and many parents, have no better idea of what’s going on in an American school than an Afghani balloon boy or a sampan dwelling child in Kowloon.

I was advised there’d be severe repercussions if cameras were placed in classrooms to observe the conduct of classes. I was told the unions would throw a snit because teachers would be held to a higher than acceptable level of scrutiny during their workday. I must admit I never heard this from a teacher; as a matter of fact I was requested by a couple of teachers to place a camera in their classes for their safety. I never heard this from a member of a teacher’s union.

The statement came from a superintendent more interested in not ticking off parents by showing them their precious progeny was the problem as opposed to “the other kid”. It could allow supervisors more inspection time to observe more classes as opposed to a scheduled “observations” when everybody’s on their best behavior. The Principal can only observe one class at a time the way they do it now.

It’s a good idea; Legislators substituting for teachers. But doing it for a day is no better than doing it for an hour. There’s insufficient time to sense what’s happening. There’s insufficient time to know what’s right or wrong with the system.

Some say the way money will be sent to Charter Schools will damage the “traditional” conduct of public education.

Is that really a bad thing?

Thanks for listening.

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