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"WHAT WORKED" IS THE CLUE TO UNTANGLING SCHOOL REFORM

By JOAN E. BATTEY

Everyone is debating what works and what doesn't. That debate has been, and will continue to be endlessly unproductive, as well as destructive. The catch phrase "preparing our students for productive careers"; is a code phrase to disguise the fact that education has shifted so far from its original intent as to be almost unrecognizable.

We are kept off-balance trying to figure out where we are; the educators have long forgotten where we were; and children are casualties of BOTH sides of education issues.

Adults connected in any way with education are concentrating on their own "productive careers," rather than on the now lengthy procession of badly- educated students sacrificed to educators' expanding job creation, consultants' job creation, program sales creation, and creation of commissions to "prove" that more changes are needed. Crafting reform is "all in a day's work" (often lucrative busy-work!) to them. Tomorrow is another day and another round of busy-work stars to paste in their career ladder portfolios. Their productive careers are protected by stifling or eliminating good, efficient and caring educators from the process, lest the comparisons of results emerge into public view.

The education industry-and that is definitely what it is! -- has become like the proverbial House That Jack Built. In this case "Jack" is both the architect and the slang term for the billions of dollars made available to agenda-driven managers and innovators who are THEMSELVES products of the first wave of "reformers." Convoluted zigzags of soon-discarded innovations remain as monuments to the self-anointed experts. The House is an eyesore, marketed via "needs work; but is a real treasure, don't let it be torn down."

When something is as badly flawed as the current education industry, what is needed is not more innovation, but unraveling back to the point where IT WORKED! Everything that worked before was thrown out in the frenzy to justify the layers of jobs created by opportunists more intent on reaching the top of their profession than on ensuring young people a well-rounded education.

You have to look at WHAT WORKED before you can fix what didn't! What worked was starting in kindergarten with a good beginning foundation for education, in an atmosphere where children were safe, where adequate books and supplies were available, and where children were not herded into a fast-paced, high-pitched frenzy of stimulation that stressed them instead of letting them get their feet on the path to the future, at a pace they could handle.

"Developmentally Appropriate" is a code phrase to cover the junking of what actually WAS appropriate for children at the first stage of their education development. "Developmentally appropriate" is the code phrase that also fooled parents into believing that sex ed was only "health" and that experts would only teach students what they needed to know. Look what the experts have zigzagged onto the House with that trend!

The educator industry was clever. It used the IDEA of giving children a good foundation, but twisted it to mean that kindergarten is none too early to start "career training." (The careers are for the layers of bureaucracy and the partners they enlist, not for the kindergartners.)

Earlier generations were ALWAYS "prepared, beginning in kindergarten." "Skills needed in future employment" didn't require massive pilot programs, lengthy planning sessions by paid consultants facilitating in-service programs, or by processions of "exposures to careers" by adults taking time off from their own jobs! Skills were absorbed in the course of routine kindergarten activities.

"Employment skills" were always taught in school-but with much less fanfare, and far less expense! Getting to school on time is the same as "showing up on time for work." "Socializing skills for work" is the same as learning to behave civilly in classrooms and hallways. "Doing research and preparing reports" is the same as studying and completing homework assignments based on studies. "Character education" is the same as the old "don't destroy other children's work, don't cheat, don't insult, don't hit," now updated by added layers of consultants, troupes of entertainers and piles of literature, videos, billboards culminating in evening performances by students "demonstrating their skills."

The most laughable "employment skill" contrived by reformers selling the need to upgrade students' employability, is "Ability to read, write and communicate."

Wasn't this what schools did before word-guessing, inventive spelling and abolition of grammar became the watchwords of the crowd that insists "critical thinking and problem solving" can be done without instilling any intellectual and literary skills first??

What WORKED, was teaching basics FIRST-not listening to teams of competing educators twisting the idea into the claim that only radicals want to handicap children by LIMITING their education to "basics." If you don't know basics, you won't know if you have a mile marker or a millstone. If you learn "creativity" before you learn how to harness and direct it, or "invention" before you understand what makes a process work, you end up with exactly what we are seeing now: human error in programming or construction; faulty components; inability to live up to advertised claims; and unworkable policies and projects at all levels of society.

We had "diversity" when we learned about other cultures as they developed in history, and how EACH erred or succeeded along the way. We will have chaos if we persist in listening to experts who have been teaching American children that their culture is both non-essential and abusive. We will have chaos if we persist in listening to experts who urge that students be taught that culture is superior by virtue of being non-majority.

We will have chaos if we persist in listening to experts who teach students that they have the right to develop their own rules, while at the same time holding parents responsible for their children's actions.

We had an education that, by and large, was excellent. It was run by people at the local level, staffed by teachers and administrators whose "career" was educating children, not moving rapidly from place to place before knowing the locale and its students. The profession was based on performance, not on insider-tracks laid out by fellow "experts" sharing the same agendas. Schools and parents worked together as equals, not as dictators viewing parents and taxpayers as inept irritants. Schools didn't usurp large blocks of parents' time and lost time by coercive involvement in schools, and then justify co- opting parents' wishes by pointing out how little time they spend raising their children.

It worked when students graduated from school with skills that have been for centuries legitimate "training" for higher education or for starting at the bottom rung of any career, not just a school-directed "career strand." It worked when business and industry concentrated first on providing steady employment for the adult workforce, and next on providing whatever specialty indoctrination a new employee might need. They didn't expect students to walk in, ready to take over for any seasoned employee the first day on the job. They didn't use regular employees to go into schools and tell students how exciting work could be. School was school and work was work; it wasn't playing at work or working at play.

It worked when businesses didn't hire graduates who couldn't read and write for jobs that required literacy. They didn't do the educators' jobs for them by acting as "alternative schools."

When earlier generations of fifth-grade students were well able to read and write, and earlier high school students could do what is now almost post- graduate college level work, it's time to go back and see what WORKED. We need to stop funneling money AND students into the hands of experts whose track records prove only that they made tracks through the school systems and monkeys out of parents and taxpayers. Otherwise we well deserve what we're getting now and what will destroy the future of the country as well as that of the students.


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