A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

Waking From the School Reform Nightmare

One of the recurring themes of this blog has been my conviction that the so-called education reform movement with its focus on test score accountability has severely narrowed the public school curriculum to subjects easily measured by standardized tests to the exclusion of learning activities designed to prepare students for daily living and citizenship. A corollary of this theme has been that the over-focus on easily measurable academic outcomes has over-burdened many students, robbing them of important aspects of childhood. As a student once told me, “Without my grades, I’m nobody.”

I’m back to that theme this morning for a couple of reasons. This morning’s New York Times has an article about a new course at Yale University, a psych course aimed at teaching the elite students of Yale how to enjoy life. Dr. Laurie Santos, the creator of the course, thinks it necessary because “…Yale students…in high school…had to deprioritize their happiness to gain admission to the school, adopting harmful life habits that have led to what she called ‘the mental health crises we’re seeing at places like Yale.’” DEPRIORITIZE THEIR HAPPINESS! What a great way to talk about the grade-grind that we pass off as education.

I’m also thinking about the painfully negative effects of what we have done to children in the name of education reform as a result of a conversation I had with several members of our local school board who appear interested in reviving an alternate education program for students at our high school for whom neither the academic program nor the social environment of our high school hold any attraction. We used to have a pretty good program, a program that beyond any doubt saved some lives. We abandoned it along with the children it served when the state increased its graduation requirements to the point where there were no longer any times in the school day to work with students on the psycho-social issues that barred their academic success. Now, their numbers have apparently increased, causing our school board to look for a program to hold on to these kids. “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”

I’m actually hopeful that we are waking up from the nightmare of the latest school reform movement. When an elite school like Yale publically recognizes a mental health crisis in its student body and one fourth of that student body signs up for a course about how to enjoy life, we may be witnessing the beginning of a trend to once again anchor our education of children on what we scientifically know about child development.

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