September 2013 Column

  There is a major change in public education that has been occurring over the past 20 years. As technology has developed we have been able to analyze data and compare test scores of American students versus other world nations.Sputnik in the late 1950s was the beginning of an irreversible trend that American students are not performing at the same level as other students across the globe.  We can make arguments for either side only to become frustrated and come to no resolve. In my opinion, the world is just changing!  Students in today’s public schools know things I was never exposed to during my educational career.  I purchased my first computer in1986 after my fifth year of teaching.  The Radio Shack TRS-80 could do little except crunch numbers and serve as a primitive keyboard to type letters.Yet today, any 5-year-old child can manipulate an iPad with expertise. How often do we make the comment about a child programming our VCR/DVD/Blu Ray player? 
Children are exposed to a different world than the one I grew up in Tucumcari.   Although I am beginning my 50
th year in education – 33 as an educator and 17 as a student - the fundamental expectations are the same today as when I started school in 1963.
 Again,I hear adults reminiscing about youthful days spent playing outside after dark or at the park for a pick-up baseball, football or basketball game.  But parents are more concerned today about child predators than we were in the 1960s. During a recent “Safe Routes to School” meeting, parents were asked why they drove their children to school rather than letting them ride their bikes or walk. Most parents have serious safety concerns for their children, no matter what neighborhood they reside.   The odds may by a million-to-one that their child will be abducted, but that is not a bet any parent is willing to make.
 Education has taken the same detour as the health and activities of our children. Growing up in the 1960s, information was obtained from an encyclopedia, which everyone had in their house.  Research papers were created from monumental hours in the library searching through books, magazine articles, the ERIC system and micro film. Upon compiling the data, we then had to type the document on a typewriter.  Some of us paid money and had others do the typing to produce a more professional paper.

 Today the general public searches the Internet for the most basic requests. Google has actually become a verb in the American language. Through Google Earth, we can find any address on the face of the Earth.  Some of us can even see our neighbor checking their mailbox when they were caught by the Google Earthmobile.  iPhone has added Siri to our search for knowledge.

  As an educator, I get to spend time with America’s youth and I am convinced we are in good hands.  They are different hands than the ones we grew up with,but they are good!

 According to my father Rock ‘N Roll was going to be the downfall of America.  My father was born in 1909 and saw the world change before his eyes. He fought in World War II and felt it an American responsibility to serve his country. My father grew up without electricity, but was able to witness man landing on the moon. I honestly think my father believed championship wrestling was real but the lunar landing was staged.

  Through all the innovations little has changed in our approach to education. We continue to attend school for ten months – the same schedule we had when children were expected to help harvest fields in the summer. Teachers typically use a lecture approach, when we know it is more effective to have collaboration among students. Children are expected to be in certain grades at certain ages rather than advancing when they master a subject. I know the third-grade social promotion is a controversial topic. Research shows children who are not proficient by third grade have a much higher probability of dropping out of school as well as reduced personal income. There are just as many studies which demonstrate the harmful social impact retention has on children. We’ve got to do a better job of identifying children who have reading deficiencies, providing resources for those children and making sure parents make their children participate in the remediation.

 It’s time to have serious discussions about how our educational system is formatted and do what is best for the children rather than ensuring we have summer vacation time to see Mickey and Minnie.  Change is inevitable, but progress depends on whether we choose the proper path. It’s in vogue to criticize state and federal government.  I do agree theoretically with several current reform topics.  Let’s hope it doesn’t take another Sputnik or Bay of Pigs to wake America up to the importance of a proper American education. Today’s children require our leadership to address their needs in a manner different from the way most of us were taught.  It’s important for the children to learn historical values and equally important for adults to recognize we live in a world that has changed significantly since we were young.

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