For someone who currently works in public education I find myself constantly asking why do we do what we do? Why school? I have been fortunate enough to work in public, private and international schools. I have seen a wide range of expectations for students, teachers and schools from parents, school boards and governments.
I recently read Doug Johnson’s post “Teaching for the Subservience” where he ponders the the question “how many schools for the governors truly exist?” I guess I have taught in a few of these schools where diplomates and corporate executives have sent their children. There is a difference in these schools a different focus, a mind set that creates a different undercurrent.
In these private schools there is a focus on individual student achievement. Staff meetings focused on supplies need for classes, research projects, guest speakers, field trips, internships – activities that broadened our students experiences and staff development. We frequently meet to discuss specific students and what we can do support or encourage them. We talked about all our students those that struggle and those that show talent. Our class room curriculum showed more depth in fewer topics. We were not hemmed in by a state or national curriculum. We had room to move beyond, take side trips and adjust to our student and local needs. There was a focus on critical thinking and students were often asked how to do you know? Why not? What is the impact?
In public schools there is a focus on high levels of compliance for teachers and students. The terms assessment, evaluation, measurable goals are bantered about, just reflect on the agenda of most staff meetings. We mull over data, align curriculum, develop assessments, we focus attention on under achieving sup-groups. Classrooms are focused on covering standards with a very large breath of content. There never seems to be enough time. Contrary to many teachers desires there is little room for side trips, and taking time explore other points of views and analyzing cause and effect, and the development of knowledge.
I work with teachers in a variety of settings public and private and sadly you can tell the difference, just listen to the conversations and the words that crop up. Maybe that is why I am so focused on asking questions, teaching research skills, critical and reflective thinking as I found this a natural part of the what was done in the private internationals schools.
For further reading I would recommend the following:
Catching up or Leading the Way, by Zhao Yong
Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing American Schools Back to Reality, by Charles A. Murray
Weapons of Mass Instruction, by John Taylor Gatto
I like these particularly because they have lots of footnotes and extend bibliographies so I can look things up myself and draw my own conclusions. We need to practice a little critical thinking and research skills ourselves.