A small volume, The Blue Book of Ancient History, sits on my shelf. Published in 1927 by the High School Study Bureau, it is, oddly, a paper example for learning much like the computer so often used in today’s classrooms. It asks questions, then gives the correct answers with an explanation for the correct answer. Thus, much like today, a student can learn on her own, at her own rate, by the system developed by Socrates. Looking through the blue book, I find question number 251: Describe the political, religious and economic conditions in Europe that led to the colonization of America. Now, hold that question for a few minutes.
So much is written and discussed concerning our public schools. We have school boards all over the country that are elected by citizens, making each board a group of politicians who appoint a superintendent, making her a politician. The food chain, as one follows it, becomes composed more and more of elected officials until we get to the elected ones of the entire country. Even they, politicians at their best in Washington, D.C., make policy for our classrooms. Our educational system has evolved into a politically managed one, but where are the teachers?
The politicians, even the local school boards, are unlearned in the art of teaching, and only see school, which is the large and politically powerful topic. They, seeking to satisfy everyone but the ones too young to vote, manage the buildings, fields, the superintendent and her front office, programs for special needs, attendance, and set meaningless rates for success. Oh, and approve the yearly tests. However, their feet are never on the classroom ground day in and day out. Yet, their constituency has given them authority over what they do not know, or, in the few cases of past teachers becoming policy makers such as superintendents, they have forgotten the ground they did walk on. We have a politicized system of public education and that, as we have known for years, does not work.
Of course, any system such as our public schools needs some managers. However, the number of managers needs to be reduced, and the teachers must be allowed to teach without fear of being micro-managed. Each school and school system can benefit from a good manager, but she needs to be politically free. She needs to be able to work with her teachers to devise the best educational plans for their local students. Even in a small educational district, the needs of students will likely vary, and no large, fit-all system will be of benefit.
Quality teachers teach in order to share with learners. Of course, they need to have a salary, but they are more interested in the sharing taking place in an environment that encourages learners to ask and question and expand. They want autonomy. Given the responsibility for the education in their school (if she is the principal) or the classroom for each teacher, real learning will happen because these un-elected people know the needs of their children. They know the principles that will help their children learn. They are not concerned with the standards set by the elected officials because standards such as passing rates and graduation rates and multi-quess standard tests, are, at best, misleading and often false.
Good managers build a team that shares in their given task. If we must have school boards for each local level, then free them to be less political and more educational. They can do that by allowing their principals, superintends, and especially their teachers the freedom to do what they do—teach the student, not the system. Let the local school boards build the necessary infrastructures and equip them, but then back out and allow the teachers to teach and apply principles for measurement, not false standards.
If we give that autonomy, then our system will be free to again ask such questions as