June 5, 2010

California Loses A Great Teacher

The economic cyclone that started over two years ago continues its devastating path across the country, with public services increasingly in the path or already sucked up into the funnel itself. I just got a letter written by an old compa of mine, revolutionary poet Joe Navarro, explaining why he feels he has to take an early retirement offer from his teaching job in the Hollister, California, public schools.

I hope those who have never met Joe will get a sense from his letter just how serious a loss this is for the students of Hollister. He is a concerned and gifted educator whose ability to teach has been all but destroyed by the crisis-fueled policies being imposed on the system.

Before Joe's letter, here is a little context. And let it serve as a damn wake up call to those in states where the budget crisis is still festering and hasn't erupted into the open running sore that it is in California--the eighth largest economy in the world, state officials used to like to brag.

A three minute Google search turned up an AP article from yesterday on schools in San Jose, whence this ugly excerpt:

The library at Silver Creek High is open for only an hour a day. The career center is closed. There is no more summer school. And student athletes must pay $200 each.

State budget cuts will make things even worse next year. The school will probably have five fewer classroom days and lose three of its four guidance counselors and three of its four custodians, as well as its health aide, mental health coordinator and student activities director. The future of student government, clubs, pep rallies, homecoming and prom is in doubt.

Though there was no mention of it in the alarming article, there are doubtless teachers, good experienced educators, right at Silver Creek High making the same agonized decision that Joe Navarro has.

Dear Friends,

I have come to an important decision. I have accepted an offer to take early retirement from my school district. My conscience is at a crossroad. I can no longer deliver the methods of instruction as prescribed by my school district, the state of California and federal mandates.

Teaching has been my passion and my calling. I started late, at 40 years of age and my starting point was a student and parent advocate.

When I began teaching there were still ideals that included teaching to the whole child, bilingual/bicultural education, content mastery, equality, quality education, developing children into problem solvers and critical thinkers. Since then, the language has been hijacked by politically conservative think tanks and politicians. Now, the quest for quality teaching has been replaced by the quest for best test scores. Scripted lesson plans, rote memorization, English-only education, drill and skill instruction and overzealous test preparation now dominate teaching.

The carefully crafted wording for education reform has tapped into the righteous sentiments of people of color who want education to be equal for all nationalities. Phrases like "tougher," "more rigorous," "higher," "run schools using the business model," etc. have fooled people into believing that the only problem with education has been that we have gotten too soft on kids and cannot compete internationally.

One major problem with these arguments are that rote memorization and drill and skill instruction do not amount to higher quality learning. Another problem is that if you look at high performing schools in affluent communities they teach critical thinking skills and problem solving, while people of color and poor people receive higher doses of rote memorization and drill and skill instruction.

The U.S. produces huge numbers of scientists, engineers and intellectuals in comparison to the rest of the world and cannot be compared to countries that do not have the same multinational characteristics as the U.S. The reason that work for scientists, intellectuals and engineers are being exported to other nations is not because there are not enough of them in the U.S., but that scientists, intellectuals and engineers in the third world work cheaply.

Current standards in the US are high. The problem is that there is a double standard of how education is delivered to schools, from teacher preparation, to policy makers, to administrators and teachers. No one wants to deal with issues like underfunding poor people and people of color; racist policies like zero tolerance; eliminating bilingual/bicultuaral education; or whitening the curriculum. Paolo Freire argued for critical pedagogy where you create an education system that not only teaches children how to read, write and do math, but also to teach them to be analytical, critical thinkers and grow up to improve society.

I have argued this point, written letters to the editor, joined in the letters to Obama, written to my congresspersons, shared my research, argued with my administrators and defied policies by teaching critical thinking skills, art and culture. My hands are tied in the classroom.

I don't know what is next. It's a bitter-sweet reality for me. I am sad and feel relieved at the same time. I am also uneasy now that I don't have a job. What's next? I don't know.

Best Wishes,



Tony Ward said...

Would you please mind if I posted this on my website: www.TonyWardEdu.com

Dennis said...

Be my guest, Tony!