Need a quick headline in the media? Attack public education. Want to gripe about something in government? Attack public education. Have a business venture that needs cash influx? Attack public education. Attacking public education is becoming a hobby to some, and a profession to several others.
I have been critical over the years of many things in public education. From lack of focus or poorly defined goals, disagreement with curriculum, to self-serving unions. However, I have always tried to do what my mother always advised, “If you are going to criticize, offer a solution.” Teddy Roosevelt blatantly made it clear, “It is not the critic who counts,” but rather “the man who is actually in the arena.”
Too many people want to simply condemn ideas, people, or society and offer nothing realistic in return. Let’s be clear, there will never be a one size fits all model for public education and no single academic model can work in a diversified population in a state or nation. That is why it is critical to have collaboration among educators, parents, citizens, and businesses to transform education at local levels based on the needs of each community. That is real local control.
Students will always need to learn basic skills such as reading and writing, and education stakeholders and policymakers must help students understand the changing world around them. That will mean many different things from the community to community, and state to state. There is no debate that evolving technology is changing how we teach and learn.
No single method can accommodate all student learning needs. Through technology, we can enable educators to provide to the unique needs of individual learners based on their readiness levels and student ability, which simply expands direct instruction to a more flexible and personalized approach to content delivery. All instruction, including differentiated instruction, must be structured, sequenced, and led by teachers “directing” the instructional process.
A broader student-centered strategy built around personalization should increase the learning growth of all students. The one-size-fits-all or teach-to-the-middle approach, expecting all students to do the same activity, work at the same pace, do the same homework, and take the same test hurts a significant portion of our students, especially when students lack the prerequisite skills. In addition, personalization better serves the best and brightest students in our classrooms. Technology must be an ally for modern educators in classroom instruction.
A degree in education should never be the basis for deliberating public education or offering an opinion. However, common sense must prevail. Too many critics of public education are focusing on the wrong things, using faulty information or do not have complete information. More importantly, many critics are treading into areas in which they know little to nothing about, except by hearsay. This is dangerous.
That does not mean that public education is free from faults, or should not continue to transform and change. We must avoid the condition described by Alexander Pope about being “too vain to mend.” All citizens should root for the success of public education if for no other reason than 90% of the children in our nation are educated by public schools. We want our children to succeed and our economy to flourish in this changing world. That message would make for much better headlines.
JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.