Opinion
Education Opinion

Digging Out

By Nancy Flanagan — December 20, 2010 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

I’m back. Back from an involuntary three-week hiatus from TV, internet and phone--and all the juicy news about education policy--and back into Talking Ed-Head World, days of fretting and snarling in front of a computer instead of shoveling snow (two feet of it in

our first four days here), assembling Swedish furniture and waiting for grout sealer to dry, so we could have an operational shower.

During this lengthy break, I’ve had plenty of time to think. Part of that time I was harboring evil thoughts about our (now former) internet provider, and how alarmingly isolated one can become in a matter of days in this Information Age. Mostly, however, I’ve been considering education in America--the layers and layers of stuff (ideas, machines, materials, practices and beliefs) that get dragged into any incarnation of “school.”

Having moved twice in the past six months, wrestling with hundreds of boxes and plastic tubs, I am now intimately familiar with the concept of questioning the value of every item: Is this worth saving?

Ten years ago, my district was among the fastest-growing in the state. We opened three new buildings in five years, each necessitating a clear-out of the old and a lot of breathless PR about how exciting it would be to learn in a new--inevitable adjective: “cutting-edge"--facility. It may have been exciting but it was also a massive amount of work, packing and unpacking, setting up and debugging technology systems, organizing essential tools and rebuilding staff unity.

That last, often-ignored concept is key to a quality education. No matter how many whiz-bang mini-labs there are in a building, a faculty that hasn’t learned to trust each other and share access to resources isn’t firing on all cylinders. You can’t create new, cutting-edge programming with people who aren’t aiming for the same goals.

In America, we love the idea of breaking new ground, abandoning the old and worn-out and pioneering on to unspoiled places. Making our own mark, unencumbered by the outdated past. Our national fascination with novelty and possibility began before Columbus and has led to some major triumphs--representative democracy, for example--and some gargantuan failures. Driving through the once-beautiful , brick-home neighborhoods in Detroit, abandoned to scavengers, crime and poverty, you have to wonder why the oldest cities in Europe are cherished and reshaped continuously, but “urban” has become a synonym for “poor and dysfunctional” when it comes to American schools.

It’s a truism to say that schools seldom discard useless curricula or practice. We’re all about disrupting class. We believe that our kids need a whole new mind--not to mention dynamic new leaders, bright and shiny teachers and scientifically based learning programs. The key message of Waiting for Superman is the idea that the old schools can’t be fixed; only new, charter schools will address the needs of those eager, worthy students trapped in the wreckage. The critical reality is never mentioned: there are vastly more students whose fortunes must be improved than a set of photogenic and articulate kids (recently named Parade magazine’s “Personalities of the Year”).

Also not mentioned: there are important reasons to preserve open-access public schooling in places where it’s currently failing. In the most derelict and low-performing schools, there are good, experienced teachers--paddling upstream--and pockets of excellent practice. Things worth saving. There’s also the idea that a rich nation ought to be focused on providing an equitable education for all kids, not just those whose parents are savvy enough to pursue multiple options.

In the Parade article, we’re told that only Bianca is still waiting for her academic nirvana. In the meantime, she says, “We have 30 kids in my class and one teacher. She doesn’t have time for each of us.” There’s some distinct cognitive dissonance between this blanket indictment of public schools with their too-large classes and the remarks Arne Duncan recently made, but no matter. We’re on the kryptonite bandwagon now: old public schools bad, “innovative” charter schools good. Action, not reflection.

My middle school opened in a down-to-the-wire rush where teachers were given less than a week to assemble their own furniture, haggle over rolling bookcases and make the place feel like home, blending old and new--not to mention creating those all-important first-week lesson plans. The school board recognized the newly formed staff at their September meeting. Most of us had worked at least an additional, unpaid 40-hour week getting the building ready for the opening of school. The Board President led a round of applause for the teachers--and then presented the superintendent with a $5000 bonus check for his “leadership” in establishing a new school. You can imagine how that felt.

It’s good to be back in the real world--but it’s time to unpack some more boxes. There might be something worth keeping inside.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP