Nourishing Minds

March 15th, 2009

This will likely be my last post on any commentaries by David Brooks. I had been pleasantly surprised by his chiding of his party for being the ‘Party of No’ during the new administration’s early attempts at reorganizing an entire government based in corporate boardrooms. Unfortunately, he just can’t leave it on the field next to Rush L. In his latest column, “No Picnic For Me Either,” we see the Bush administration’s unfunded mandate for education (No Child Left Behind), touted as the keystone of Obama’s push to improve the educational system. I imagine few survivors of the vast number of failing students are ever consulted about their opinions (educated opinions, I might add, in terms of experience) of the educational system. So I posted my views as a former educator:

March 13, 2009

“No Child Left Behind” was so limited by its focus upon test scores, that school districts were driven to water down the consequences of low scores or risk losing all funding for the effort. Test scores don’t rise in a tide of classroom drills or replace an emphasis upon the development of critical thinking skills. The Bush plan was absent any supports for the ‘relationships’ between adults and children that you mention are important to learning but available in charter schools. However, there is no longer enough money in the budget to throw towards charter schools when those funds are needed to turn public schools into institutions of equal promise for all children. That will happen if Obama’s broader agenda succeeds..

Charter schools succeed because of low pupil teacher ratios which reduce discipline problems and maximize visible student engagement. Charter schools permit teacher flexibility in deviating from curriculum strait-jackets and traditional teaching strategies which do not work for many children. One in six now show signs of a developmental disability. That is a threat to any educational process which depends upon standardized testing to show results in any setting.

Yes, parental attention is key but rarely available as homes are lost and multiple jobs become a basic way of life. Low wages, absent benefits and shifting schedules keep workers commuting, rather than communing, with their kids. While the job sector recovers, it is the non-traditional programs which will support learning. School meal programs and food stamps; home nurse visits and universal health care; early education programs and teacher training and merit pay, which can also be seen as ‘paid overtime’ for teachers – these are all essential. Increased job opportunities with decent wages and benefits for parents will shore up home efforts to support the learning process. Not a lot of encouragement and tutoring can be offered between second and third shifts.

I worked in special education for over twenty years in some tough urban settings Sometimes, sending a bag of groceries home on the bus with a child was even more important than the considerable amount of time I spent outside of school hours preparing my lessons. You can’t nourish a mind with a number two pencil and a sheet of computer paper.

— Barbara Rubin

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