Saturday, August 21, 2010

My Opinion about Thinkers

I'd like to believe it's a valid one developed after fifteen years of teaching, and forty years of living my own life from infancy and childhood through teenage angst and young adult abandon; through parenthood, military family life, and wedded bliss; through stress, difficulties, and personal success; via my own lifelong learning:

Simple math and reading scores do not a ~whole~ child make. Children should never be reduced to mere data points by anyone. Ever. Abusing our students and allowing others to abuse our children because we've chosen to buy into the hype (the root of which is money, big surprise) of NCLB is a regret I don't intend to have on my death bed.

I not only require five and six year olds to think, I require the adults in their lives to do the same. Thinking requires seeking out information, not merely parroting back the latest sound byte from what now passes as the evening "news" or an educational mandate set down from professionals content to take a flying leap off of a bridge because their "friends" (political heavyweights and their clueless constituents) and colleagues are dictating that they do so. Thinkers weigh their own prior schema with empathy and sympathy for others, looking at the big picture, deliberating on whether new concepts or trends are appropriate for themselves and in this profession, the children for whom they care.

Thinkers will often set their own fears and inexperience aside to open their minds, share ideas, and learn about others. Thinkers can agree to disagree, they can compromise, they can create new paths, solve problems on their own, and help others when needed. Thinkers actively tune in to others, to the environment around them, and hopefully accept their responsibility within the setting of their personal and professional lives.

Thinkers like learning. Thinkers appreciate more than the image, the facade, the fad. Thinkers value the meat and potatoes, the details, the facets, the quirks. Thinkers understand and accept the entire package, even if they find some parts of it more appealing than others. Thinkers ask "what would happen if" BEFORE they blindly drive into the fog. Thinkers don't tend to cut off their nose to spite their face. They don't believe that their students' multiple abilities should be dissected and sorted into math and reading piles, with the other skills, interests, and natural inclinations abandoned by the wayside.

The burden for Thinkers is heavy: they have to calmly and simply present information to the non-thinkers in an effort to help guide them. They have to tolerate, even allow, other peoples' choice to NOT think. They must listen to loudmouths argue that it's better to be a Do-er than a Thinker, implying that Thinkers are incapable of timely action. They must take the bull by the horns at great personal risk, while everyone else is content to sit back and be entertained by "the show." They can lose so much when they're outnumbered by people who talk the talk but don't walk the walk... or by people who can't be bothered to use their own voices to advocate for their children.

So *think* about this: have you ever noticed that P.E. instructors DON'T tell classroom teachers to only bring students' arm or leg muscles to the gym each day? Have you ever wondered why music teachers don't ask that a child's brain be divided between the math center and reading table in the classroom while s/he instructs the child's voice on its own down in the music room? Is it simply inconvenience that requires a child's entire body be present for each lesson, or is it actually *necessary* that children see, smell, hear, taste, feel, watch, engage, attempt, overcome anxiety over and form an opinion about experienced concepts before they know and remember them?

Fractions aren't JUST slices of a cut-up pizza. Fractions are rhythmic beats in a measure. Fractions can be found when children evenly divide up Lego pieces at the building center. Fractions are understood by adults because we've had a lifetime of varied experience with them, not because we've remembered the answers to questions on a standardized test once a year. We're not automatons. Neither are our students, no matter what politicians, administrators, or curriculum materials peddlers are able to sell to the non-thinkers.

No wonder so many good teachers retire or quit. Stupidity can be overwhelming. Watching politicians use children and their parents' fear to continue to grow the market for the NCLB product is frustrating. Thinkers know that students won't grow into successful adults by merely reading about their world or sitting all day at desks figuring mathematical equations. They know they won't grow into successful adults by enduring drill and kill test "practice" for reading and math scores that are primarily used to determine a school's operating budget. Thinkers would appreciate it if this system was packaged and sold honestly:

We're not here for your children. Your children are here for our economy. NCLB is our latest product. Buy, buy, buy!

Fear mongering is faster. Fear mongering is profitable, and ~deep sigh~, people don't think about how fear is used.

They just follow.



  1. Couldn't agree more!

  2. Anonymous3:41 PM

    Have you noticed how administrators do not know how to utilize their experienced teachers in a productive way? Again, it's $$$. New teachers do bring exciting ideas that we "old dogs" find fun and interesting, but the experienced teachers are being forced out, placed on the back row, not being allowed to use their years of expertise to help children learn. After all, new teachers are cheaper - Annual School Budget - and when a principal can get two for the price of one, who's going to argue?

  3. Amen, my sister, amen!

  4. I began 12 years ago in my building with some of the most wonderful group of seasoned teachers. In those 12 year I have seen some of the best in the business retire, or quit because of the stress of NCLB. Our building has made AYP year and every year. But the stresses we are under are taking a toll, physically, emtionally, and mentally on each of us. Luck to all of you this year on making your little thinkers a well rounded and loving individual....not just a number....

  5. Too bad the politicians that designed NCLB aren't reading your blog!

  6. You and I would be a dangerous combination! It's a good thing we teach in two different states! LOVE IT!


As always, thank you for your comments, tips, suggestions and questions!