"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Zen of Public Schools

Zen master D.T. Suzuki is quoted as saying that "before studying Zen, men are men and mountains are mountains. While studying Zen, things become confused and men are mountains and mountains are men. After studying Zen, men are men and mountains are mountains."

In the public schools, if you're merely looking in from the outside, you might observe that teachers are teachers and learners are learners. If you dig a little deeper, though, you see that teachers are learners and learners are teachers.

It's true. A good teacher never stops learning and good teachers learn from their students. The true test of a "master" teacher is the understanding that no one ever becomes a "master" teacher. By definition (at least my definition), a master teacher is one who has "mastered" the art of teaching. Since education is an ever-changing field, and since every student needs something a little bit different, teaching, as an activity, can never be mastered. That's as it should be. Once education becomes static intellectual growth ends.

One of my goals as an educator is to have my students learn how to learn. Thus they become their own teachers and once again teachers are teachers and learners are learners.

There is another dichotomy in public education. That is, the people who know about teaching and learning do not have much input into what needs to be taught and how the education should proceed. People who know next to nothing about education are often the ones who make the important decisions affecting schools. Public schools are run by the "public." In general this means politicians.

One needs only look at the state legislature battles (pick a state...any state) to see what damage this does. It is the legislators who decide how much money the schools get, what should be taught, how it should be taught and when it should be taught. It seems as if everyone considers himself an expert at education because he attended school at one time or another.

In Indiana money is doled out to school systems by means of a complicated funding formula. This determines how much each school system and ultimately each school will get. I don't claim to understand how the funding works...it's way above my math abilities, however, I do know that it's not enough.

It's not enough because the state wants public schools to be, as Bill Moyers put it, "the permanent emergency rooms of our country's dysfunctional social order. They are expected to compensate for what families, communities, and culture fail to do."

Social scientists, politicians, parents, the media, even many educators believe there's a "crisis" in education - especially in the public schools. I don't think that's true. I think the crisis is in society and since no one wants to take responsibility for the enormous inequities in our society, it is blamed on the public schools.

The obsession with testing is so that schools will be "accountable" to the greater society. Where is the society's accountability, though? Why is it that we can spend billions of dollars on a contrived war, and ignore the "economy gap" in our society? Why is it that educators have to accept No Child Left Behind to eliminate the "soft bigotry of low expectations" and local, state and national governments don't have to accept the "soft bigotry of urban neglect?"

There is an achievement gap in our society, but it's not in schools. The real achievement gaps are:

  • the gap between what our leaders say they will do and what they do

  • the gap between what we as a society value, and what we are willing to spend to get it

  • the gap between what we're willing to spend to "promote democracy" around the world and what we're willing to spend to equalize our democracy at home


  • BTW, after making the statement about men and mountains Dr. Suzuki was asked "What is the difference between before and after?" His reply was "No difference - only the feet are a little bit off the ground."

    1 comment:

    rmcnett said...

    AWESOME ! !

    Well said. Truth is what is.