Just missed an interview on CBC which I could possibly have tied into this post, which was meant to be about refusing to focus on success according to standards that one deems unworthy. Probably not, though–the interviewee had written a book about how great it was to quit, which is not exactly what I mean, though it seems to be a similar sort of IN YOUR FACE attitude. I’m seeing so many folks in education, for example, trying to measure up to those hyped up, advertised, promoted, propagandized, peer pressured, internationally benchmarked, mandated, brainstormed standards of success, designed to get our young to the top of the heap, every last worthy one. One would hope not to be striving like the caterpillars in Hope for the Flowers, which climbed blindly over the backs of others, crushing all others in their paths, to get up to, well, I recommend you read the story. This is just a bit of (federally and regionally mandated) friendly competition (CASH PRIZES) among ourselves in which all of us (must) win (RACE TO THE TOP), and the ones who don’t, well, who they are depends on your inherited style of blindness; they would have brought it upon themselves to be crushed anyway. Practically begging to be crushed, right down into those cracks between the floorboards, and we can always vacuum, sand and refinish when the grit starts to squeeze out like little ant hills between the slats. But I didn’t mean to mention them–don’t even look there between those boards under your feet. Anyone can succeed in America, you just have to follow your dreams and believe in yourself, and don’t stay on welfare longer than you really need to, even if it means a cut in pay and deteriorating health.
My observations as a parent, substitute teacher, and district home tutor (who gets around, keeps her finger to the wind, keeps her eyes and ears peeled), as well as my research into these things, makes me think we need more everyday folks (defined as too busy or focused on other things, but still in agreement) to get with the radicals (haven’t we seen that opportunity before in history regrettably lost?) and resist reliance on common academic standards imposed from above (with assistance from corporate America). Not just for the reason that so far they seem to be pretty low standards, slapped together and expedited and skillfully networked down almost to the grass roots by savvy business people who have their own public relations departments, but faulty, and skewed toward digitally accessible and numerically testable knowledge and skills–surely a small subset of the world of worthwhile knowledge. Not just because they’re generating a wave of curriculum materials that aim to meet the standards without meaningful participation from teacher’s hearts and minds. Not just because they minimize important aspects of education such as mathematical accuracy, reading for enjoyment, discovery of personal writing voice, clarity, and the kind of critical thinking that leads to conclusions that might impede the workings of this great new, progressive, twenty-first century, economy-building machine. But I object to them because I’m considering the source: powerful people whose education and training (for the twenty-first century) occurred primarily on Wall Street or at the helm of an ice-breaking, groundbreaking private enterprise that now dominates that street.
But I still can still hold my tongue in the teacher lunchroom (barely–easier when the talk is all football or lunch recipes), and in job interviews (should I have one soon), about how the education of children is fundamentally the right and responsibility of parents, not the state. That local schools and their teachers have a delegated task, delegated by parents and community elders, not by the state. And personal choices in education, such as home schooling, unschooling, and of course non-state schools and community cooperatives, don’t even have to involve the state much at all. The best school districts understand that chain of command, and the most responsible parents don’t delegate that responsibility (if they do) lightly. But things get muddied by the way the money moves around. For this explanation I consulted my state’s summary of that, found here. A very interesting document, whose tab someone misspelled for a little humor. There’s a helpful “page intentionally left blank” right after the cover page so one can mentally prepare after reading the imposing title. Another one after the first subtitle page. Oh, and another, and…in total, there are–I counted them–sixteen, not including the ten additional pages whose content–titles and tables and contact information–could have been formatted into the previous or following pages. Perhaps for a little low impact “test” for the auditors of state school funds, to see if they notice that every “intentionally left blank” page printed costs $0.06, and is that being well spent? It might be worth paying the auditor at least that much to tell us the wasted total. Not to mention that of the additional typist time to vary the wording on some of the blank pages to “This page left blank intentionally.” “Blank” being inaccurate, and perhaps a staff writer could be called in to fix that–I suggest “This page contains only this statement,” to instill confidence in the accuracy and importance of the other information presented in the document.
Just as an aside: I have to say the document “Organization and Financing of WA State Schools “referred to above is a fine work. I myself would have enjoyed writing it, as I take pleasure in creating detailed, complete, organized accounts of how things are and have been done, with charts and graphs and beautifully written and edited sections and subsections. Although when I do, part of my conscience tweets that most of the time such documents are completely unnecessary where the doers themselves are wise and trustworthy. That would be the ideal scenario, since the creating of finance and budget documents is rather expensive, though great for job creation if the additional funding can be attracted from sources other than that earmarked for items that directly improve classroom practice. Perhaps that’s a grant proposal that could be submitted to the Gates Foundation as well as the Waltons, rather than allowing them to mess with actual instructional content like we do. Maybe Microsoft can even glean some helpful data points from the online habits of the “This page is intentionally left blank” writers while they work, leaving school children to key in their responses unobserved.
I am starting to sound a bit frothy, if not exactly flaky, no? Shall I give you my homemade granola recipe (yogurt recipe here) and call it a night? Then at least I can be useful to those of you of a practical and earthy disposition. I feel I’m that, too, though it might not show. Today I didn’t even curl my hair, and I only do so on week days because it helps me fit in so I can infiltrate the system. Besides, I like the smell of scorched keratin–brings me back to my teen days when I’d stand in front of the utility sink getting ready to board the bus for that forty-five minute trip, then fearfully walk the school halls as my blonde curls relaxed to their incorrigible straightness, which at that time was not fashionable. I wanted wavy hair, whiter teeth, and a curvaceous bust. My hair started to wave of its own accord in my thirties, and I can use bleach on my teeth these days, but apart from my eight years of breast feeding, I have had to accept that I will never have trouble with excessive bouncing when I run, or be able to float on my back and read, except in the Dead Sea.
I just said good day to a fascinating person, K, whom I recognized on entering as a woman I met on a local pebble beach a few months ago. With mixed feelings I recalled our meeting, and now that I’ve talked with her again they are still mixed. Remember the retired Vietnam pilot in “Independence Day” who claimed to have been kidnapped by aliens, then when they show up to conquer earth, he volunteers to be in the defense squadron and saves the day? Like that, except not an alcoholic, and those who are after her are her relations and the Mexican mafia. She plans to run for President as soon as she can, or get Canadian citizenship, since the Canadian government is the only one who is willing to look into the shadowy efforts of her relations and the Mexican drug mafia to disinherit her of her legacy of a twelve piece matched set of Tibetan prayer bowls and her writings. When I told her it sounded a little flaky, she assured me that it did unless one had the education to understand these things, and that ionized (or was it deionized?) water was the thing to make a person less susceptible to innuendo. Innuendo, as in do re mi; other word plays with musical and conspiracy allusions were listed. And that Hillary Clinton had already been in the White House as First Lady, and so it wouldn’t be right for her to have another term, nor Bill to get the First Gentleman (First Mate?) position so soon. And anyway, he can’t be trusted if he’d lie about sex. She was articulate, and sensible (except for the flaky stuff, but I acknowledge that could be my ignorance or blindness), and had pretty healthy social boundaries (on the extroverted side, of course). But we were talking loud, and when she went out to get another log for the fire, I apologized to the other occupant of the room for dominating the audio space, and told K I needed to do my quiet work now, so we signed off.
The fire is burning properly in the grate, dusk is falling, and all the interesting people who are coming in out of the misty street, who all seem to be acquainted with one another, are deciding whether to go watch the Sea Hawks game. I believe I’ve got more than the value of the price I paid for my blue bowl-shaped mug of latte and oatmeal chocolate chip cookie (same recipe I use–I’ll share that one soon, too). So, though the phrase may be under copyright, I have to murmur with a contented sigh as I turn for home, life is good.