Saturday, August 27, 2011

The teachers’ union on the school board election

When I sent out my questions for school board candidates, I mentioned how most such questionnaires tend to focus on “budgets, buildings, and boundaries,” with little, if any, attention to the district’s educational philosophies, approaches, and goals. The Iowa City Education Association (i.e., the local teachers’ union) has its own questionnaire -- the responses to it are here, and their summary of the candidates’ pros and cons is here -- which I think demonstrates my point. Eleven questions, and not one that invites any discussion of what the district’s educational mission should be, or even acknowledges that there might be more than one way to think about educating people. (Number 7 arguably qualifies, but is pretty narrowly focused on accommodating socioeconomic diversity.)

Don’t get me wrong: I think the ICEA is asking about important issues, and I’m happy to link to them here. But as a parent, what I most want to know is: Why is the district treating my children this way? Why does it seem to be striving so hard to teach my kids that learning is an unpleasant chore? Why is it so bent on turning my kids into quiet, obedient little worker bees who will score high on standardized tests and fear authority, instead of skeptical, questioning citizens who will speak up and think for themselves? Why does the district have such a blinkered idea of how people learn, and such an impoverished conception of what it means to be well-educated?

As I’ve made clear before, I don’t mean this as a criticism of the teachers. This approach to education is being imposed on the teachers partly by the district and partly by individual principals. We have no way of knowing how the teachers really feel about it, and I think many of them strive to keep as much joy in the learning process as they can, under the circumstances.

Deborah Meier frequently talks about how schools should be striving to create a “feisty, democratically savvy citizenry.” Our district, though, seems to want to stamp out all traces of anything resembling feistiness from the kids. For the kids who are deemed “disruptive,” we’ve adopted million-dollar programs and entire curricula to train them -- and all the kids -- not just to obey the rules, but to internalize and agree with them. For the kids who are too people-pleasing, too quiet and docile, too unquestioningly obedient, too happy to be told what to think, too fearful of authority -- nothing. The district doesn’t see those kids as a problem. In fact, they appear to represent the district’s ideal student.


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