On behalf of roughly 50 million children in the American public school system, I have a request: I ask you to join me in what I respectfully dub "The Attack." I use the term attack not in the sense of violent fighting, a military assault, or strong criticism; rather I use it as definition 4 in the Oxford American Dictionary: to begin vigorous work on.
In today's schools, like in any area of work, things happen. What defines us as educators, as individuals, and as a society is not what happens, but rather how we respond to what happens.
In education today -- with the advent of the No Child Left Behind Act, with higher standards and expectations for all children, with growing pressure for preparing our children for global competition, with the increasing need to address the issues and development of the whole child -- we need to respond. On the scale of responses, ranging from blind following to acceptance to indifference to questioning and even challenging, none seems to relay the requisite urgency or recall the appropriate need for action like "attack" does.
What, you may ask, are the targets of our attack?
Our children need, more than anything, to learn the basic literacy skills of reading, writing, and communicating. Even if we ignore for a moment that literacy is the cornerstone of every assessment program in America, think of the children's dire need to have those skills for the rest of their lives. Think of the written portion of the driver's license test, job applications, placement tests, medical forms, ad infinitum
[content block] Certainly each of us knows an individual who is functionally illiterate, and our hearts break at the idea of his struggles. In fact, according to the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy, only 13 percent of American adults possess reading abilities in the proficient range [www.nces.ed.gov].
At the school level, we can change that. You can change that. Dedicate your school to the teaching and learning of literacy; focus your discussions and budgets on literacy needs; give literacy instruction the time it requires, or more; and teach new teachers how to teach reading.
Albert Einstein is attributed as saying, "The mark of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
The definition of status quo is "the state of affairs as it is." [Oxford American Dictionary]
As educators, and as members of a greater society, it should be clear to us that our output is insufficient. The data don't lie: We have thousands of schools nationwide facing sanctions for underperformance; we are facing an epidemic of childhood obesity and health issues; we are in danger of short-sheeting our children's education in favor of numerous tests and shallow content.
The output data being clear, it is also clear that our input must be likewise insufficient. Argue for change, rock the boat, shake the tree. Greatness and growth are borne from change; in fact, they are intimately linked together. Change is the very nature of this business, so go create, innovate, contribute.
I share with you, as always, my mantra: always strive to be a better you.
There is no reason that every child in America cannot achieve at proficient and outstanding rates. Our poor and minority children are just as capable of succeeding and flourishing when given the same opportunities and exposure to the highest-quality instruction and rigorous educational experiences as our white and more advantaged students.
There are enough examples of schools achieving comparable proficiency rates to question the 26-point scaled score chasm between white 8th grade students and their Latino and African-American counterparts on nationwide assessments [NAEP reading test results, 2003].
We can do better, and every American child, in every American school, deserves better.
There is no ceiling atop one's dreams, and there should be no ceiling lowering one's potential.
How many of us have witnessed a colleague, a professional educator, throw up his or her hands and lament the circumstances of "these kids," the lack of parental involvement, the dearth of funding, the unmotivated youth of today, or some such hogwash, using it as justification for an inability to do the job? What do we do when we hear a teacher say, "I just teach -- they'll either get it or they won't"? Our inaction serves as fuel for the perpetuation of this destructive apathy.
Take heed to the words of Thomas Jefferson: "Determine never to be idleIt is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing."
Light fires to stimulate your colleagues.
Refuse to accept excuses for underperformance.
Don't just stand there -- get involved! I believe that's why we're in the business of education, because we care enough to act.
Let's not celebrate accomplishments that aren't adequately earned. Let's not allow the standards to be lowered so more students can be labeled "proficient." Lowered expectations just beget lowered performance, and then we congratulate ourselves for making the mark? I think not.
"Okay" is not good enough. A shrug of the shoulders is as effective as a day spent ill in bed.
The educational experiences of our children need rigor, and our standards need relevance. Raise the bar, expect more, shoot for the stars -- we all have within us greatness, and every child has limitless potential. Draw it out of them, and demand no less than excellence.
All told, what we say means very little. Words without deeds mean nothing unless we act appropriately upon them. What we do matters greatly.
And where is most of the "doing" done? In our schools, in our classrooms, in our school boards, in our district offices, in our universities, and in our homes.
As we embark upon a new school year, created with equal parts anticipation and trepidation, we must heed the call and corral our mighty forces.
Our children deserve a united front.
So, again I ask you to join me in the battle. Join the attack.
Always strive to be a better you, Pete!
Article by Pete Hall
Copyright © 2006 Education World