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The Election is Over…So Where Do We Go From Here?

I was not neutral in this race. I see the re-election of President Obama as an important way forward for our students, preschool to graduate school. But the election is not the end. It’s the beginning of some very hard work.

First, we must pass the Dream Act. We must show compassion for the undocumented children who were brought here; who were educated here; who have stayed out of trouble and only want to work and study and be accepted in the only country many of them have ever known.

The issues of comprehensive immigration reforms are complicated. But I’m a teacher, and for me one thing is very simple: You never punish children for things beyond their control. The President did a very important thing in approving a change in visa regulations to allow a temporary safe harbor for the young “Dreamers” who would have qualified under the Dream Act, had Congress acted. But it is temporary. Congress must pass the Dream Act as part of comprehensive immigration reform. 

Next, Congress must see the importance of Head Start as an equalizing factor for poor little boys and girls coming to kindergarten prepared to advance, hand in hand with their more advantaged friends.

And Congress must see the importance of higher education for all students. And higher education means many things: Trade schools, technical colleges, apprenticeships, community colleges, universities… for a strong middle-class, the vast majority of our kids will needs something beyond high school.

And they’ll need a way to afford it. We’ve treated higher education as a commodity to be bought and sold instead of a human and civil right. When we ration higher education to those who can afford it, we ration opportunity to those who can afford it.

Finally, we must unleash the creativity and professionalism of our educators. In place of real improvements, public schools have been victims of Factory-Model school reforms with more and more rewards and punishments based on student scores on some commercial standardized test. Stop the insanity!

There’s an entire Testing Industrial Complex that lurks behind all this. This worship of the false god of higher test scores is worse than a meaningless game. It’s turned into the most corrupting influence education has ever experienced.

The voices of educators are now being joined by parents and civil rights groups and researchers more and more politicians, even those who originally supported what was sold as something called “accountability”.

They see how the high-stakes testing mania has shortchanged a generation of children.

But there has also been a generation of teachers who began teaching after the insanity began who have never known anything but being handed an officially approved textbook with a script aligned to a meaningless test.

I started teaching in 1980. Who knew the Glory Years would be during the Reagan administration? But those were the years I was trusted to design, intervene, invent, collaborate with my colleagues and measure what mattered.

I don’t propose going back, because I did most of those things without permission. I just did them because it seemed to make sense to me, and I was lucky to have a principal and colleagues who supported innovation and individual initiative over standardization. But luck is a lousy business plan. I want to institutionalize professionalism: Professional preparation, collaboration, design and intervention.

I want to be prepared to be in charge. I want the expectation that I will be in charge.

I want the authority to be in charge. I want to be held accountable for being in charge.

The president said something profound in his victory speech that educators must claim for ourselves, and we must demand the President support us in claiming for ourselves. He said that our country did not advance because of what someone did for us, but what was done by us.

Most of the bad ideas in education reform came from people honestly trying to do something “for” us. The only real reform will be by educators standing up for our own professionalism and demanding what makes sense for our students.

I will not wait for any politician to get this right. Nobody lives that long. Neither democrat nor republican can do this for us.

The path forward will be blazed by us; by educators taking charge of our own profession.

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4 Comments

  1. Linda Walcher says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of what needs to be done. Thank you for wording my own thoughts so profoundly! “The only real reform will be by educators standing up for our own professionalism and demanding what makes sense for our students.” Yes, Yes, and YES!

  2. Kirk Taylor says:

    Hi Lily,

    Kirk Taylor here. I am a 35-year 8th grade English teacher and dad of Graeme Taylor, 2012 NEA HCR award-winner.

    Your commentary “The Election is Over…So Where Do We Go From Here?” is brilliant. Each point you make is equally important: yes to the Dream Act, yes to Head Start, yes to higher education as a human and civil right, and yes to unleashing the creativity and professionalism of our educators.

    You went on to write: “the high-stakes testing mania has shortchanged a generation of children.”

    And you followed that with: “…there has also been a generation of teachers who began teaching after the insanity began who have never known anything but being handed an officially approved textbook with a script aligned to a meaningless test.”

    Exactly.

    Most of the colleagues I came in with in 1978 have retired. The new and newer teachers I work with now have no idea of what it was like before today’s soul-crushing testing-mania.

    Like you, Lily, I didn’t ask for permission to do what I did during the 80′s, I just did them because they made sense. And also like you, while I was lucky my innovations and initiatives were supported, luck is a lousy business plan.

    So you are right on with your thesis: “The only real reform will be by educators standing up for our own professionalism and demanding what makes sense for our students.”

    Let’s get busy and do just that.

    I’ll finish with two points of my own.

    One: When a teacher innovates and creates something new in his or her classroom, and it works, the intrinsic reward is off the charts. Do this often enough, and it becomes a way of doing your work, and a pathway to loving your job.

    Two: Creative teachers connect with kids. When sparks fly in a classroom, kids smile and are drawn to their teachers. And that’s when learning for life begins.

    Carl Jung said it best:

    “One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.”

    All my best,
    Kirk Taylor
    Ann Arbor, Michigan

  3. Riley O'Casey says:

    Lily:

    Kudos to your incredible and honest thoughts! I am totally on board with you and want to do everything I can to make change!

    GO FIGHT WIN

    Irish Riley (Prince William EA)

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