Life’s Math Homework

You can’t have more than the whole thing, even if you try infinity+1 times or give 110%. You can, however, have less than the whole thing.

Today I came across two blog posts that dance indirectly around the concept of the “Whole Child”. (Read more about Whole Child initiatives here.) There’s a difficult equation at play as folks wrestle with measuring educational outcomes (which are different from “learning” and “teaching”) as if these measurements were somehow beneficial to the child in his or her entirety.

The first, “You Matter: A Message, A Reminder, A Connector, A Mission“, seems a bit touchy-feely but is, in fact, central to the concept of universal K-12 education. In the U.S., we educate all children because they all matter. The problem with measuring educational outcomes as required by data driven accountability (No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core State Standards, etc.) is that “You Matter” becomes ‘Your Scores Matter’ and the fundamental driver for our educational system is gone.

The second, “Why It’s Time to Eliminate Class Schedules“, brings home too much of the mundane detail of what both teachers and students experience each day they go to school.

“How can we expect them to connect Hemingway, vectors, pottery, cells, and ancient Greece every day? It’s a disjointed nightmare—to which you might say, “deal with it, that’s school.” But what I see in my students is that “dealing with it” results in a lot of material crammed for a test and then forgotten.”

This does not say “You Matter”, does it? I’m not sure that eliminating class schedules is the solution, though a colleague once proposed an intriguing model where students choose their teachers, which does hold some appeal.

Most teachers are committed to the idea that each child matters, so where is the system breaking down?

My guess is that it’s the policy makers who have never taught in the classroom. This would include Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and virtually all elected officials, and then extends to state and local superintendents who have classroom experience but who cannot imagine how to do what they know is right in the face of pressure from above. Don’t forget that there’s pressure from below, too. Communities have bought into the test results mania, resulting in civic and business leaders calling for higher scores.

The only thing that’s whole anymore is the mess, and there’s no real sense of what needs to be part of the equation, never mind what the solution looks like.