Saturday, November 16, 2013

School Reformers Can't Destroy the Longing to Learn

The board of our tiny public school district  in New Jersey has hired as superintendent a man who prides himself, as his resume puts it, in "data-driven decision making." His brief (he's 35) CV reads like that of a striving business man, not an educator.

What is missing from his resume, and from the school "reform" movement in public schools, is the understanding that the best educators teach children not just facts, but how those facts have value and how that value finds a place in our children's souls. And so, it was moving for me to discover yesterday, while I was stewing about how New Jersey politicians are deforming public education, our sons were returning from a field trip to the United Nations full of, well, joy. It seems no how badly politicians try to mess up the process of education, the drive to teach and the drive to learn are immutable.

Since the superintendent's hiring in August from a one-year-gig  as a "turnaround" expert with Gov. Chris Christie's state Board of Education, the district has been in tumult. Nine support staff members, including every single high school and middle school secretary and two literacy coaches, will be gone by January. The board has no plan on how those jobs will be performed once the women leave.

While those employees, including the vice president and president of the union, were abruptly sent their walking papers, our board created two central office jobs for the friends the new superintendent had made during his year as a "turnaround" expert in Trenton. All of this happened without input from taxpayers, including public-school parents and their children.

So now our district, which has slightly more than 400 students at its high school, has: one superintendent, two quickly hired assistant superintendents and a data cruncher, all of them pulling in six-figure salaries.

Confused about the priorities? See the board says this was all done to save money and improve test scores. Instead, it has left many of our sons' high school teachers scared and demoralized.

And yet, and yet....despite how badly politicians try to deform the education of our children, deluding themselves they are doing this 'for the children,' no matter how much politicians try to assert power over the working and learning conditions for staff, teachers and students, no matter any of that, something in the human heart continues to strive for knowledge and beauty and meaning. This is, after all, why we are called into being.

Yesterday, two teachers took a crew of high school students (including our two sons) to the United Nations. The teacher are the high school's Model UN advisors, a club in which at least 10 percent of the high school students participate.

Education will continue to happen here and elsewhere despite it all:  the corporate influence of test-taking companies,  the politicians and administrators who profit from that influence. When our sons excitedly told me about their visit to the United Nations I realized there will forever be adults who want to teach children, and children who long to learn. 

Nothing can break the bonds between teacher and student.

 “To educate means to help the human soul enter into the totality of the real.”
Father Luigi Giussani

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