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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Public Education Is At Risk of Sounding Like Pop Music

By Peter DeWitt — December 23, 2012 3 min read
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The American education system -- inasmuch as it’s actually a system -- is not failing. For readers stunned by a phrase not often seen in print these days, I repeat: The U.S. education system is not failing. I know that’s not a popular position these days, but it is the right one. There are indeed problems that need addressing, but there is significant cognitive dissonance in how the public views K-12 education”.

Recently, the Transforming Learning blogpublished by Education Week had an outstanding post written by Steve Berlin, the Senior Communications Manager of the National Association of State Boards of Education(NASBE). It was a welcomed blog to read among the noise that came from the past political campaigns citing that schools are failing. If we continue to believe the hype that came from these campaigns, we will be trying to move forward at the same time policies are forcing us backwards.

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Berlin that we are not failing. I also agree when he stated, “I will never say that we in the broader education community -- from state board members to educators to custodians -- should not aspire to greater academic success for our students.” It was something I thought about when I drove into school today listening to The Cure. I wanted to take a break from my usual Florence and the Machine song list.

I don’t watch a great deal of television but music plays a big part in my life. Having an iPod makes things easier because it gives us the opportunity to keep all of our favorite genres of music in one place, although I still have albums and a stereo to fall back on. As I drove in to school I began to think how there is so much unique music out there in the world. If we only listen to one radio station we are missing out on most of the other unique music the world has to offer. Even worse, if the radio station is only playing Top 40 music we are really missing out because Top 40 music all sounds the same.

I realize I’m stereotyping but most of the music played on Top 40 stations seems contrived; the same three chords, with the same types of voices which are typically enhanced by some wonderful music technician with the same bubblegum sound. If we’re not careful, the same thing will happen in education. The same goes for public education. Blanket rules, an overuse of textbooks and an emphasis on test prep is putting school at risk of turning into top 40 music where everything sounds the same.

Kids are not the same. They come with different experiences and different backgrounds. Some have parents who are involved while others have parents who non-existent. We need to find a balance and use our resources as a base because if we don’t create teachable moments we may indeed lose our creativity and lose out on great student connections we could make with our most unique students. One of the greatest things about public education is that it brings diverse groups together. If schools create safe and nurturing climates, those diverse groups can all learn from one another.

Books Teach Kids How to Read
The other day I was watching House Hunters International and a commercial came on about an interactive book. A little five year old girl was lying on her floor using a magical pen that sounds out the words on the page. I know it’s not really magical but the commercial really wanted be to believe that! Her parents stood back in the doorway and were overjoyed that the book was teaching her how to read. The little girl was coming to the last page and the parents were frightened. How would she continue to read without the interactive book!!! Her dad ran out to the store and bought the rest of the books on the shelves.

Corporate marketing is really doing education a disservice by making it seem that all kids need is a magical book to teach them how to read. They sell us the idea that we should all be thankful that there are books that teach kids how to read. Who is doing our marketing for us? Teachers and parents teach children how to read. Magical talking books are just fun resources to use. We, as educators, need to do a better job at marketing ourselves.

One of the issues with our society is that there is an app for everything and there are commercials, which some adults really believe, that show interactive books supposedly teaching kids how to read. In his post, Berlin goes on to say, “To you I ask, “Who’s controlling the tone of the debate about public education?” He’s right because it feels as though the people who know the most about education are the ones left out of the equation. We need to continue to force ourselves into that conversation because if we don’t we may all be forced to sound like Top 40 music.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground 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.