Don't cement new laws to a flawed system

"Teachers, we suspect, would welcome an opening that would allow them to be players in the reform effort, rather than the obstructionists many in the public have come to view them as." (The Day, editorial, April 12.)

Well, it may be that The Day should talk to a teacher about the form of that sentence, gist-clear as it may be.

Less easily remedied, or reformed, if you will, is the wider problem represented by the prepositional caboose on that train of thought- the very nature of the effort that, (to reply in kind), teachers would like to be players in.

Wherever anyone stands on the chicken-egg issue, no one can deny that formal education begins in the moments of actual teacher-student contact in the classroom and/or through studies, homework, etc., generated by that contact. It seems likely, too, that no one will deny that the highest objective of this encounter is the development of habits of mind that will empower students to continue the process of education on their own for a lifetime.

There are other considerations, of course, some of them vocational, but, given that the future career picture is not always clearly forecast by present circumstances, the present, for today's kids, may be only a snapshot of the their parents' or grandparents' past, (there were no computer science courses for the pioneer whizzes, most of whom actually left college to create the industry). Even when there is augury, as when sputnik hinted at the resurgence of astronomical sciences, school authorities, administrators generally, not academics, often miss their cues and, as in Old Lyme, for example, dismantle their observatory instead of enriching their curriculum therewith.

The Day's editorial list of supporters for the revised education bill does not include students, neither does the governor's bill. For all the arm twisting, (the latest being the offer of "millions" to city schools), and tortured rhetoric, the bill still lacks regard for the actual process of education, what goes on during the precious and most creative hours of actual student-teacher contact in the classroom. And so, although much heat has been generated by the teacher evaluation issue, for example, the basis for that evaluation has sparked anger, not inquiry; how un-academic is that?

Granted that the effort may be inconvenient, theories of learning and cognition require more careful parsing for grasp than the language of the state Senate education reform bill which offers, to use the old Titanic trope in this 100th anniversary year of its sinking, little more than a plan for rearranging the deck chairs.

The lack of substantive debate on a range of critical issues, from teacher training to the K-12 model itself, has been striking, its yield downright depressing: instead of the details of teacher-training curricula, there is the "to be or not to be" generality of the master's degree requirement; absent a close examination of the variables within the learning environment, from social influences such as poverty, for one example, to the implications of recent research.

The confounding of the apples of administration with the oranges of learning can hardly be blamed on the complexities transforming theory into practice. New models that validate innovative curriculum design and teaching methods, (thereby, demonstrating the often underestimated potential of our kids), already exist in the state and around the country, awaiting due diligence.

Perhaps we could use a few lab schools where achievements can be studied and shared. One of the most engaging, and least expensive, examples of applied personal resources comes from two New York City "teachers of the year" who credited their success to "communication and collaboration." The nuts and bolts of that rubric might be of use before we plow millions into the vaguely defined "regionalization" or "rehabilitation" of anything or anyone.

The risk, if we don't respond aggressively, is that yet another layer of legislation will be cemented over the flaws of the present system, making the status quo even tougher to penetrate once denial is no longer an option.

J Ranelli, an occassional contributor
to The Day, lives in Old Lyme.


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