Monday, August 2, 2010

"Fixing" "Broken" Schools?

Dear Readers-
Every now and again I become aware of sayings, phrases, and slogans that people and organizations throw around to a point where they are said commonly without a 2nd thought to their meanings. The most common examples can be found in some political speeches and campaigns. But when you dissect these ideas you might often start thinking to yourself, "Wait, what does that actually mean?" One of my favorites is a Brad Zaun commercial in which he states "There's a plan for most of the problems that face America... it's called the Constitution". As I thought about it, it sounds good, but is that all it really does, just sound good? Throw out the words "people" "Constitution" and "freedom" in a political commericial and everything sounds good. I love the Constitution, but I'm not sure it specifically addresses the problems of Al Qaeda, the trade deficit with China, or broadband internet service in rural America. See if you can spot the meaningless phrase in this campaign commercial.

How does this relate to schools? I am growing wary of the phrase "fixing" schools that seems to be used by many media outlets, as demonstrated by this Time magazine article and cover. Because the phrase is catchy and easy, it's said with relative frequency as a nice way to sum up EVERYTHING that is going on in education. Instead of addressing the different areas in education that are and are not working, everything is lumped together into a dismissive idea that schools are "broken". To me, this kind of language conjures up images that if someone were to walk into a public school, the kids would be running amuck and the teachers would just be sitting back with their hands thrown up saying, "I have no idea what to do!" It sounds like our schools are overrun with incompetent workers who are filling positions at desks.

The thing is, my classroom is not perfect, I know this, and I know that I can always push myself to be better. But I don't consider myself or my classroom needing "fixed". I am a fully licensed professional who went through four years of schooling to learn and train in what I do. I can improve what I do and how I do it, but can't everyone? Our education system isn't perfect but it can't be summed up into "broke". And it can't really be "fixed" either. To say this would mean that we will, some day, have the art and skill of teaching perfected to a degree that it won't ever need improvement. That's not going to happen, we'll never be perfect at this.

We start in elementary school by learning that words are important, and to increase our vocabulary by picking the right kind of words to show what we mean. Let's use words like "improve" or "move forward" or "enhance" or "progress" to describe our schools and avoid lazy, negative words like "fix" and "broken" to describe what we are trying to do in schools.

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