What should they learn?

Did the subject of “Waiting for Superman” come up at your Thanksgiving dinner table? What about the deplorable state of American schools?  What about the problems of fixing the schools?  What about Ms. Black, the proposed but rejected chancellor of the New York City schools?  What about Michelle Rhee, or the KIPP schools in New York?  What about local reform efforts, or reform failures?

My family was particularly discouraged.  They offered all sorts of prescriptions, ranging from “fire bad teachers” to “more accountability” to “Teach for America.” They want me to be a great teacher, but they have suspicions about all (ok, maybe not all, but MANY of) the rest of you, and are not particularly assured of your competence after all the rhetoric and discussion and acrimony this past summer and fall.   They’re frankly disbelieving that all the reformers are wrong, and all of us teachers have anything important to add to the discussion.

I hastened to assure them that I work in a model school, with dedicated colleagues, interesting students, and a supportive administration.  Because I do, and I think the world of my colleagues, and they’re awesome.

But I managed to shift the conversation to other subjects by asking two simple questions:

  1. What should students learn to be successful in the twenty-first century?
  2. Who are we going to hire to teach that?

And it turns out that the non-teachers didn’t really have good answers to either of those questions.  And it upset them in ways that are difficult to quantify or explain, but demonstrated that there’s a lot of momentum behind the “Reform” movement, but not necessarily a lot of action steps beyond “make school better.”

THis is kind of like the New Yorker cartoon where two mathematicians look at a blackboard full of equations and one says, “be a little more explicit in step two, here.”  Where it says…


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