It’s easy to watch progress being made when a road is being built. You can look at the whole process as it unfolds through all stages. You can take a photo of what the land looked like before the road was built and what it looks like after the building is complete.
You can drive on a road as soon as it’s completed. Its use is immediately obvious. It’s plain to see where the money went, why it was spent.
It’s unfortunate that you can’t do the same with students. There are no before and after photos of the transformation in their thinking, in their knowledge, in their awareness of themselves, of the world around them.
There is no ticker tape unravelling as their minds shift to accommodate new information, a different way of being. There are no stock market type numbers to announce each day.
Which is too bad.
We live in an age where the highest value attributed to any accomplishment is measured in dollars. This makes it problematic to see and to show the value of what happens in classrooms.
Perhaps an extract from a Grade 11 student’s self-evaluation would help you to see what I see in classrooms? She wrote this at the end of a semester in my class:
When I came to the class and saw my enemy N I was so angry. We had been enemies since elementary school. I wanted to switch out of the class because I couldn’t stand looking at her miserable, lying face.
But I got up the confidence to stay because I had been looking forward to this class all summer and I didn’t want to blow it off over some girl who thought she was all that.
So, H and I decided to sit at a different table from N. But my plan did not work because the teacher moved us all into our Myers-Briggs personality groups and guess who was in my group? N! I got so frustrated and mad. I wondered how she could possibly share the same personality traits as me. I was completely shocked. I talked to my other classmates in my group and ignored her.
The second day N asked me a question about how to do an assignment. I was so close to just walking away but I answered her question and she thanked me! I was really surprised that after all the fights and arguments she had the nerve to ask me a question.
After that day everything changed. The teacher assigned more and more group projects and we would not only get marked on the quality of our work but also we would get evaluated on how well the group worked together. So this meant that if I wanted to get a good mark, I would actually have to talk to N.
At one point I wanted to ask the teacher to switch me or N into another group but again I decided to give it another try. Soon after this we all got together to prepare a skit and everybody got along fine including me and N.
A month into the course N and I were talking like we were best friends, I don’t know if I changed or if she changed but we never brought up the rumour or fights again.
This class doesn’t only help you to work better in academic courses, but it also helps to give other people a chance to express themselves. The more group work the class did, the more I found out about the strengths and weaknesses of everybody along the way.
If it wasn’t for this class I would not have had the chance to know a lot of cool people that I didn’t know before.
What is is worth to society when a teen can learn how to see her “enemies” as humans just like herself and learn to work with them? What worth is it to society when children learn empathy and learn to work collaboratively?
Whenever there is some crisis in the nation, and answers are sought, education is always in the spotlight.
High rates of divorce? Schools should teach relationship and communication skills.
High rates of debt and bankruptcy? Schools should teach financial literacy.
Huge demand for skilled trades? Schools should provide opportunities for apprenticeships.
Low voter turnout during elections? Schools should spend more time teaching the responsibilities of citizenship.
You task us with the preparation of our young for their roles and responsibilities as adult citizens who will take over the reins of society. We are to prepare them to fix what is broken; to sustain what needs to continue.
But you want us to do this with outdated resources and overcrowded classrooms. You want us to perform miracles when there is no support for students who have difficulty learning or who have mental health issues. You want us to somehow teach children who have not had anything to eat in days.
And you want us to do this for an hourly wage that is less than what you pay your babysitter.
Is that really what public education is worth to you?
If only students were made of concrete and steel that could be moulded into things like roads, bridges, pipelines or sports arenas for Olympic events. Things that would be seen to be worth it, a good investment of taxpayer money.
The Winter Olympics cost $7billion.
How much is public education worth?