Having been absent from the school system for the better part of two years has not fueled a complacency about education; it has given me a lot of time to reflect on my experiences.
As indicated before, my passion in teaching was with special needs student, and I spend many days thinking about one or another teenager and how we might have served their needs more appropriately.
Adolescence is a crucial period in the development of a citizen of the future: which is how I approached my work: How could I best help prepare this child for the life that awaited him/her?
I came into teaching at a time when building self-esteem was the all important goal, which really translated into: let’s give children an inflated sense of self, build their reliance on external signals, and teach them to doubt their ability to overcome adversity, giving them a false sense of protection and entitlement moving forward. Sorry if that is harsh, however; as a parent who raised my children on the principle that I was responsible for helping them finding their wings and ability to fly (i.e., be responsible and accountable), I shuddered frequently over the disservice we did to many students.
While I do not have answers, I do believe that we need to enter into a serious dialogue that addresses current issues. At the point in which I fell ill, the trend was swaying towards a recognition that resiliency is the best thing we can foster in students, and there was a movement towards looking at ways to change the instructional format and expectations for assessment, in order to define “success” in a way that defined more personal outcome than an assimilist attitude of mass conformity.
Forty years ago, I was invited to participate in a panel composed of educators, parents, and former students of the high school I had attended. The question they put to their alumni was whether or not we felt that our experience at the secondary level had helped prepare us for life beyond. The resounding response was “no”. This was before the age of technology changed the landscape of the post-secondary world. Success today requires adaptability, versatility, and a willingness to engage in life long learning. Are these the skills our high school students are pocketing during their high school years?
I know I am ranting into the wind here, but the haunted memory of so many children, who lives touched mine, lingers with me, especially how inadequately their needs were met.
This post is dedicated to all those students who spark was extinguished by bureaucracy, failed initiatives, and a system whose mandates often have more to do with keeping “bums in seats” than actually making a difference.
Ken Robinson’s take (although focused on the U.S. system) speaks much more eloquently about the matter: (If you haven’t time to watch the whole talk – please skip to the last two minutes – this is the part that brought tears to my eyes.)