How Do We Make America Smart Again? Stop Educating the “Hole” Child

If you listen to media and political hopefuls, America has, like the commercial from the 80’ says, “fallen and can’t get up”.   There is a lot of media attention and discussion about common core, testing, recess, Physical Education, and the general idea of a decline in American education.   We are constantly hearing that other countries out perform us, we are constantly hearing that our global domination is being threatened by our inferior systems and the superior intellect of other nations.   We are constantly told that our educators are failing our students.   The answer thus far for the adults:   let’s berate teachers,  pay them near poverty level wages, increase accountability, increase access to charters that are held to a completely different standard when it comes to enrollment and student population make-up, and increase job insecurity.   For the students: eliminate recess, cut back on elective offerings, focus on core content areas, increase expectations, and decrease resources in both the quantity of those who want to become educators and the quality of candidates who want to become teachers.

Sounds like a good plan, right?

In a very enlightening article in the May 19, 2015 edition of Education Weekly, author Lawrence Baines describes how our current educational systems and practices resemble those of Imperial Japan.  After we decimated Japan with nuclear weapons we then went about rebuilding the country, from the inside out, including their education system.   Baines quotes Gen Douglas MacArthur who states in the forward to The Report of the United States Education Mission to Japan that the plan is “a document of ideals high in the democratic tradition”.   As Baines cites, the authors of the report found that Japan’s system was inherently flawed, specifically that:

  • It presumed “a fixed quantum of knowledge to be absorbed, and tended to disregard differences of ability and interest among students.”
  • It established that “the measure of efficiency was the degree to which standardization and uniformity was secured.”
  • And it “lessened the opportunities for teachers to exercise their professional freedom.”

The Report went on to say that:  “A system of education that is dominated by preparation for examinations becomes formal and stereotyped; it makes for conformity on the part of teachers and students. It stifles freedom of inquiry and critical judgment.”

Sound familiar?

The answer, according to the report from 1946, was to do the following:

  • Appreciate the differences among students;
  • Teach the child, not the curriculum; and
  • Give teachers the freedom to teach.

 

How is Japan doing compared to us academically now?

The above principles are not familiar, but, I can assure you,  are inspiring and refreshing to most American educators.   Don’t believe me?  Ask a teacher how they feel about it, the response should do the trick.

In 1918 the leaders of the NEA established the Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education, the first of which was health.  The other cardinal principles were command of fundamental processes (reading, writing, and mathematics), worthy home membership, vocation, citizenship, worthy use of leisure time, and ethical character (Parkay, J, & Haas, 2006; Schumacher & Queen, 2007).  Both health and leisure time focus on the well-being and habits formed by children early in life.  The focus of the authors of this report was to encourage schools to educate all children for “complete living”, not just those bound for college through academic subjects.  In the 1950’s educators shifted this focus due to the space race and the increased emphasis on science, math, and educating the gifted, and in 1959, the President’s Commission on National Goals solidified the emphasis on the gifted students, on science and math, and recommended that testing be implemented as early as first grade (Ornstein & Hunkins, 1998).

When did educators stop knowing what is best when it comes to educating kids?   When did the business world start knowing better than the educators?

For all of the testing, accountability, and robotic rhetoric associated with testing we have traded the joy, inspiration, and innovative spirit of our children; we have pawned our character to pay for the party. 

I, like many educators that I know, am not opposed to common core in principle; we should hold our students to high standards and value innovative ways of solving problems.  We should strive for conceptual understanding, not rote recitation.   What we should not do is hold our teachers to blame for 15 years of teaching to a test that has been forced down the gullet of every educator in our country in the name of getting a high letter grade in the newspaper defined by a test with questionable validity and reliability while simultaneously punishing our children through the denial of access to electives, recess, and physical education.

When did we stop running our own race and start running the race that other countries dictate to us?  That is not the American that I knew as a child, not the America that I read about in school, not the America that stood up to the unfair monarchy of Great Britain in the 1700’s nor is it the America that defeated Nazi Germany and Japan.   No.   The America that I knew believed in freedom, in the inalienable right to pursue happiness, and we didn’t just say that because it sounded good, we acted on those beliefs because we were defined by those beliefs.  We gave the world the telephone, the iPhone, and “The Clapper”.   What we lacked in “achievement” we made up for in innovation, grit, and the fortitude to stand on our own.

As educators, heck as human beings, we know what is right for our children.   When my kids come home from school I want them to have learned academic content, to be able to read, write, use technology, understand conceptually how to solve math problems and creatively problem solve across the curriculum.   I also want them to have learned about winning, about losing, about conflict resolution, about the benefit of being active, about their value as human beings; a value that does not correlate solely to a test score.   I want them to have recess and Physical Education daily.   I want them to have the opportunity to learn music and art.   I want them to be whole people, not “hole” people. 

When I say I don’t want them to be “hole” people, I am referring to children who attend school but aren’t a part of school.  I am referring to children who have strong recitation skills when it comes to information, yet cannot apply knowledge to problem solving.  I am referring to children who are so focused on achieving academic success that they have not been taught about nor do they appreciate the beauty of a Picaso nor heve they been moved by Mozart.  I am talking about the children can recite the latest rap song word for word, without understanding what they are saying and at the same time fail spelling tests every week and are labeled “at-risk” for lack of performance.

We are on the brink of a crisis in our county, and I am not talking about our upcoming election, ISIS, or Ebola.   I am speaking of obesity.  I am speaking of creating “hole” children.  As former Surgeon General Richard Carmona said in 2006, “Obesity is the killer within, it is destroying us from within, and if we don’t do something about it, it will dwarf 9/11 or any other terrorist attack against our country.”  According to a Washington post article in 2013, you are between  5882 – 23528 times more likely to be killed by obesity than a terrorist.   One out of every three children born in the year 2000 will be a Type II diabetic by the time they are 18….if we are attacked, our population will be too overweight and out of shape to fight back.  In a study done by Dr. Cooper in 2009, 78% of 4th graders in the state of Texas were cardiovascularly fit, 20% of high school seniors were.   There is a plethora a research that demonstrates that active, healthy, well-nourished kids yield superior academic scores compared to those who are not healthy, active, and well-nourished.   It makes sense, right?  Yet, almost 33% of school leaders have eliminated recess in America’s public schools to provide additional time for academicsand the number is increasing.  Additionally, in 2006 75% of high school students in the nation’s schools were not enrolled in any physical education classes (Haskins, Paxson, & Donahue, 2006).  While some educators and community leaders over the course of the past nine years have influenced many school board members to return physical activity into the schools, it is not enough.  Forty-nine states now require physical education in school; however the requirements vary greatly; there is great disparity between what is considered as structured physical education and the less organized student physical activity.  As cost and academic achievement have been of great concern to school leaders, many have opted to adopt policy related to recess and physical activity instead of Physical Education.  This shift can be likened to playing golf with your college buddies while getting advice on how to improve versus taking lessons from Tiger Woods (in his prime Tiger was number 1 in the world for 683 weeks!).

The variance in requirements and legislation regarding recess, physical activity, and Physical education is immense.  For example, in Arkansas, the state legislature “urges” school districts to allow for 10 minutes of physical activity or recess in the morning and in the afternoon (Smith, 2007) while Texas state law requires a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity on a daily basis for students in kindergarten through grade nine (Nelson, 2009).  In Arizona, in a bold move to maintain a focus on the education of the whole child, the legislature passed AZ HB 2257 which would have forbidden school districts from eliminating or reducing instructional time in Physical Education, the Arts, and Vocational Education coursework unless financially required to do so, Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill (Anderson, et al., 2008).  The legislators in New Mexico have enacted NM SB460 (New Mexico Legislature, 2007) which requires that in order to graduate high school students complete one unit of physical education.  While the intended outcome of the passage of federal  legislation was to undue years of failure to educate the underprivileged and inner city children of our nation (Noddings, 2005) the focus has moved the emphasis of education of the whole child to the production of higher academic test scores.

The fundamental problem with the legislation contained in high stakes testing was in the failure of proponents to address the basic cornerstone to the educational establishment of America:  What is the purpose of education in our country?

Current trends indicate that our purpose is the creation of the “hole” child.

For those who are trying to make change, those who are attending board meetings, signing petitions, striving to change policy, keep it up, your voice is needed and is valuable.   Citing research on the topic seems to have little effect, although it is necessary.   At True North Pedagogical Solutions,(www.truenorthpedagogy.weebly.com)  we believe we have the answer and it is not as complex as you might think, and here it is…..we don’t have to choose between a well-rounded child and high levels of academic achievement.  Our team consists of the only principal in Arizona to ever win the Gold with Distinction Award from the USDA, a college professor who has written and implemented a course that teachers future teachers how to do this, a principal of a high school with a 99% graduation rate, and a retired college professor and former department chair who has written over 100 books and trained educators in over 10 countries.  We live and work in the trenches, know the terrain well, and have led our organizations to outstanding levels of achievement.  We have experience in poor Title I schools, highly impacted by poverty, in districts with high levels of income, and the college classroom. As experts in this field, here are the five outcomes / solutions that we can deliver:

  1. Recess for every student, every day (30 minutes) through flexible scheduling and a commitment to the whole child.
  2. Improved, tasty, nutritious options for students in school meals on budget.
  3. Improved culture on school campus promoting the education of the whole child.
  4. Integrated lesson plans that combine physical activity with academic content.
  5. Improved academic achievement.

We have a number of different pricing options and various levels of service we can offer from tele-coaching, to onsite PD, to a complete course and textbook on the topic.  Additionally, we can offer professional development and coaching on classroom management (www.ResponsibleClassroomManagement.com), staff health and wellness (yielding potential decreased cost of employee health insurance and a decrease in staff absences), and provide guidance in building community partnerships to facilitate the attainment of these goals.

Our goal is simple, to flip the current trend of educating the “hole” child on it’s head, to reinvigorate teachers to connect to their core purpose, and to leave our world better than it was when we arrived.   Join us, become part of the movement to rediscover our True North, to empower teachers and students, and to educate the WHOLE CHILD.

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