Whenever education comes up, those furthest from the classroom become experts in what should be done.
Generally, because we all have sat in classrooms with teachers while few of us have ever had to deal with those in administrative positions beyond the principal, we assume all problems in schools are the fault of teachers, and that the teachers are the ones that come up with the hare brained approaches to the subject matter.
Few know that the reason many teachers we knew as a good ones suddenly became ineffective is because they have been told to stop doing what they were doing that was working, and start approaching their classes according to some magic method the school board has paid thousands of dollars for to some "educational foundation" because some slick salesman convinced them it would solve a problem that actually did not exist. Money is spent, and the expenditure has to be justified.
I know from experience that when No child left Behind came into existence, a lot of people saw a new industry come into being, and "educational foundations” sprung up like dandelions in the spring.
Imagine being told to stop teaching vocabulary with a method that had had measurable success and was imitated by other teachers and other schools because the district had spent over $100,000 dollars on a contract with a “foundation” whose method had to be used. An effective method was just stopped while the method presented by a “foundation” run by a former central district administrator contracted by people with whom she had worked and with whom she was a friend was the only approach that could be used regardless whether or not it was relevant to the students’ needs.
The method was not effective, and the teachers who were forced to use it were evaluated as poor teachers because the method failed.
Another influence on education that a lot of people may not be aware of is the political one. This is rarely subtle, and is more interested in how one’s political position or belief is promoted than whether or not the students are learning.
In the 21st century Science is an important subject, and the better the students are with it, the better their chances in the future, and the better it is for the country as a whole. But imagine being a science teacher being told by the non-scientific what it is you are to teach in your class even if it has nothing to do with science.
Here’s a recent example which I hope never comes local.
There are new science standards that have been developed by 26 states called the Next Generation Science Standards. The intention is to make sure science curriculum is more uniform throughout the country and that this will guarantee students in every state have covered the same material as that makes academic competition more realistic.
Opponents have centered their objections on its inclusion of the theory of evolution and information about the human influence on climate change. These are seen as religiously objectionable.
In my experience, there was a state legislator who, with a large group of other conservative legislators, proposed a law that when these topics came up in class students could object to them on religious grounds, and if students were asked to explain the theory of evolution on a test, their refusal to answer that question on religious grounds had to be accepted and the question skipped, or stating that God created the world in 6 days, had to be accepted as a correct answer.
When the Kentucky Board of Education held hearings recently to get public feedback on the science standards before they were presented to the state legislature for approval, people like the Reverend Matt Singleton, a Baptist minister, claimed, “Outsiders are telling public school families that we must follow the rich man’s elitist religion of evolution, that we no longer have what the Kentucky Constitution says is the right to worship almighty God. Instead, this fascist method teaches that our children are the property of the state".
Reread the quote carefully while asking how the theory of evolution is a rich man’s elitist religion and how teaching this scientific theory attempts to take away a person’s right to worship God.
Another opponent claimed that the standards will make religious students feel ostracized, and went further by saying, “We are even talking genocide and murder here, folks".
States including Kansas, Maryland and Vermont have already adopted the Next Generation Science Standards.
Now, imagine being a science teacher in a state like Kentucky, or any state, even this one, who has to deal with this attitude while attempting to teach science if these objections are raised and prevail. And, imagine being that science teacher who has to adapt the science curriculum to make it more acceptable to people who think like these people.
Worse, imagine being the students who think they have been given a complete education and then go on to college where they will either have to relearn science, assume they can object to what is covered in class, or will have to compete there, and for future jobs against those who had a real science education.
There are even some state legislatures that have objected to teaching critical thinking skills either through practice or procedure in high school. How will those students stack up against the students who have learned those skills?
Who failed them? The teachers whose hands were tied, or those who tied the knots?
Look beyond the classroom and see what influences are being exerted on the classroom teacher by those who are not as concerned about whether or not the students are learning, but whether or not their agendas are prevailing.