It felt right to combine some ideas into this post.
She must have been the ripe old age of 23. We had no idea. We were 7. When she passed away in 2009 several of us from that 2nd grade class in a poor working class, integrated, south Bronx neighborhood were at her memorial service. This is who she was to the world. (from NYT obit)
Dr. Rita Stafford Dunn, a professor at St. John’s University and the director of the Center for the Study of Learning and Teaching Styles became an inspiring, internationally renowned professor of higher education; prolific author of 32 textbooks and the recipient of 31 professional research awards.
Little did we know as 7 year olds entering Rita Stafford’s class in September of 1956, that we were to become the happy guinea pigs for a life dedicated to helping children with all kinds of “personalities,” as we called it then.
I can’t count the number of times I have told students and teaching colleagues how we learned long division because some of us worked in our parents stores even at that age, or about the solar system by building one and hanging it from the ceiling; or about civil rights by writing letters to president Eisenhower. (We even received a reply and were quoted in the New York Times).
She inspired me to become a teacher. Those activities were the seeds of every “outrageous” activity I ever cooked up for use in my classrooms.
Over the years, I have never stopped talking about her. In addition to students and teachers, I have spoken about her to several colleagues involved in this latest endeavor. I have told the Teach For America teachers I mentored in the Bronx about her. She is their model.
What do our second graders get now? Do they get teachers like my Ms. Stafford or frustrated new and experienced teachers constricted, restricted, and scripted by RTTT and it’s villainous partners, more standardization, standardized testing, APPR, Unfortunately, and Common Core?
Concerned parents all across the country are asking: What’s wrong with our public schools? What’s wrong with our teachers? All parents are right to ask these questions. The problems are immense. The solutions are complex. There is much to be fixed. Students of all ages are not challenged. They are bored. They are being tested to death. The love of learning is instilled in far too few students of all socioeconomic backgrounds and geographic locations. Policy makers do not listen to parents, teachers, and students.
Additionally there are simply not enough good teachers to go around. All of our kids deserve the kind of teachers we may have had that inspired us to learn, to grow, to become better students and human beings. How do we get them? Why are there so few inspiring teachers? What about our system prevents it? What about the new reforms make it worse, not better? We all deserve answers.
For us to continue to be the democracy we care for, we must provide for a better-educated electorate. To accomplish that we must fix our schools, fix our curricula, fix how we recruit our teachers and, finally fix how our teachers are taught to teach so they can be most effectively in today’s world.
However there is much already very good about our schools. There are excellent schools with excellent teachers in excellent districts all around the country. There are programs and styles to be shared. But who knows of those? If you are lucky enough to live in one of them you know. But if you don’t, what information do you rely on to judge American schools and teaches? Who are your sources? More importantly, how can the good be shared?
There are thousands of well-informed academics and educational leaders who cry out but simply are out spent by the misleaders. There are thousands of smart, caring, engaging, and inspiring teachers who must be heard. I am but one teacher trying to make a difference. The public must be made more aware of what is the truth about American education today before it is too late.
Every school wants to perform better. However, too often they have relied on the wrong solutions — prepackaged materials by “so called” experts, not real practitioners. Good rarely comes from a kit. More often than not good requires planned spontaneity and practical wisdom. Common Core is simply the biggest, baddest, prepackaged kit of all time. Common core and its associated prescribed modules are creating the intellectual deaths of our teachers and the children we put in their care.
We know the Solution. We must educate as many parents and educators as possible so that they are armed to fight the powers that be, whoever they are at the corporate, local, state, and federal levels. We must remember that a return to the past is not the answer either. We all had bad experiences as well. We must always work to improve our schools.
The real question is who does that:
Carlson’s Law is a term coined by NYT columnist Thomas Friedman to describe Dr. Curtis Carlson’s take on autocracy in the workplace. Dr. Carlson is responsible for the computer mouse and the i-phone’s Siri. He says:
“… Innovation that happens from the bottom up tends to be chaotic but smart. …and…
“Innovation that happens from the top down tends to be orderly but dumb.”
So why have President Obama, Arne Duncan, the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School officers, Bill Gates, Pearson, and those in power chosen to be orderly but dumb?