At our Midwest Leadership Conference in Schaumburg last week, we heard a Harvard-educated ‘advocate on educational equality’ speak, and it was extremely troubling. Many of us have severe reservations about the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, which in theory would benefit the most needy students, but after hearing Jonathan Kozul speak one could easily vote to banish it altogether.
Kozul recounted a few of his numerous (and continuing) visits to inner city schools around the country, lamenting the ‘teaching to test’ phenomenon and citing the ‘hopelessness and total absence of fun’ that he regularly encountered. He spoke of schools that had reduced or eliminated recess, presumably to increase ‘learning’ time, despite the fact obesity is widely regarded as the most significant health problem today for young people. We also heard about schools with no art work or poetry on their walls, no ‘time to dream or just be a kid’ any more, and it was totally depressing.
One particularly memorable (and humorous on one level—sad on another) moment was his account of a school visit where the mission statement was prominently displayed for all students and visitors to see…something about ‘giving future leaders the tools necessary for competing in a global marketplace’ he recited…at an elementary school. Huh. Wonder what skills a 2nd grader really needs to match wits with a Chinese importer or Third World energy executive? (sorry, got caught up in the moment, it’s easy to do…)
However, even in his so-called ‘NCLB-driven darkness’ that is most inner city schools, the ray of light (and hope until the NCLB is altered or repealed) was teachers who refused to give up or/and engaged their students with stimulating activities on a regular basis…often in outright defiance of the edicts from above to focus almost exclusively on test-related instruction.
By the way, negative implications of NCLB as interpreted by Kozul are not exclusive to ‘inner-city’ environments, as all public schools are covered and therefore subject to its reputed ‘teaching to test’ result. It would be interesting to hear from a teacher or administrator who has been around long enough to see both sides—before and after the NCLB was enacted—as to how things are different now.
Regardless of your opinion on NCLB or his comments as paraphrased above, I would encourage you to do a Google search for John Kozul and read up on his work. His most recent book entitled ‘Letters to a Young Teacher’ is reportedly inspirational and enlightening, and I intend to read it soon. We can compare notes later on…