Too Many Cooks Spoil The Truth

The adage above seems to be appropriate (to me, at least) in view of recent discussions regarding next year’s state budget educational funding section, and connections to Common Core Learning Standards.

It seems, if I understand things correctly, that along with the budget vote, legislators are discussing that Common Core be placed on hiatus for a period of time and results of tests administered this year not be considered when making decisions in student promotions or retentions. My first question is, do they still retain children who may not show the mastery of skills necessary for promotion to the next grade? I know from about the middle to the end of my career, retention was not considered much at all, even after recommendation by classroom teachers. I have an idea in my head why, but was never really told outright the reason why this practice was not an option anymore. So where did this statement that the tests given this year would hold no bearing on whether or not a student may be retained come from?

My second question is, do these legislators, the ones making these decisions regarding education, have education degrees, or experience in the classroom? It seems to me that this is like someone who’s never cooked before walking into the kitchen of an exclusive four-star restaurant and telling the head chef how to prepare an extravagant, lush, rich, satisfying meal.

Legislators who make educational decisions might just be out of their area of expertise. Do lawmakers bring their cars into the shop when it’s leaking oil, then proceed to tell the mechanic what to do to fix it, or do they rely on the expertise of the mechanic to fix the car to the best of their ability?

If everyone can fix their own plumbing and heating problems, plumbing and heating experts wouldn’t be needed. If everyone can diagnose and fix their own medical problems, we wouldn’t need doctors, nurses, technicians, hospitals, clinics, etc. If everyone’s an expert at teaching, the world would be full of home-schooled students and we can close down schools, eliminating the need for all educational personnel, from teachers to paraprofessionals, to cafeteria personnel, to custodial and maintenance staff, to administrators, to school nurses, to psychologists, to bus drivers, to anyone else who works in school systems today. Now, I know many children are home-schooled today, and I think that’s a very legitimate alternative to public school education, if parents choose, and if the “schoolers” are qualified to do that. I’ve encountered many children who’ve been home-schooled and they have succeeded wonderfully in their futures.

Back to “legislators in education” though, my biggest concern is when legislators, whose jobs it is, at times (and somewhat rightfully so), to reduce their decisions to a dollars and cents level. In doing so, though, emphasis seems to favor financial over educational, and then they attempt to make educational decisions which should best be left to those teachers who’ve been trained, who’ve made the commitment, educationally and in dedication, to do their very best to try and help students reach as close to their full potential as possible.

Everyone can be a mechanic, but not everyone is one. Everyone can be a plumbing/heating expert, but not everyone is one. Everyone can be a person in the medical field, but not everyone is one. Everyone can be a teacher, but not everyone is one. That’s why we need experts in those fields and we need to rely on the judgment, training, and expertise of those “specialists” and let them do their jobs without some, with little or no expertise in those areas, telling them how to do them.

Does this mean all mechanics, plumbers, medical persons and educational persons are all exceptional to the same degree? Obviously the answer is no, but the chance of the car being fixed, the new pipes being installed correctly, the operation being successful, and the student succeeding with their education, is better going with those with experience/expertise, than from those reading it out of a do-it-yourself magazine. And let’s remember that education today goes beyond reading, writing and arithmetic. Schools are being asked to teach more than subject matter, they’re being asked to teach what probably should be taught elsewhere, and when they accept that onus, there are some who want to tell them how to do that too.

Not everyone agrees with what everyone else does, and there are many people who do not like the personalities, styles, expectations or consequences of every educator, be they in classrooms, or in offices throughout districts, but it’s the job of schools to help students do well in life, and in life there will be personalities, styles, expectations, and consequences that some won’t like, or agree with, but to get a job, keep a job, pay our bills, and raise our families, we need to learn to adapt to those personalities, styles, expectations, and consequences in order to survive.

I’m reminded of a story I heard on a televised PBS feature by the late Dr. Leo Buscaglia, who said he had a large fenced-in yard with some shrubs and trees, and there was a time when he let his dog out to do his business, and when he came back out to call the dog in, he couldn’t find him. He then went out into the yard expanding his search, walking gingerly to avoid, often unsuccessfully, the many deposits his dog had made in the many times he let him out for that purpose. He went to the farthest corner of the yard, calling his dog, and even walked through the thick shrubs and trees, until he saw the dog, lying down in front of the most beautiful flower, Dr. Buscaglia said he’d ever seen. He said he didn’t even know it was there. He related that at that moment he realized this was a life lesson, that sometimes you have to walk through a whole lot of “poop” to find something beautiful or valuable. Sometimes life offers dealings with things/people we don’t particularly agree with or like, but tolerance and adaptation might result in something valuable.

Life is full of things we don’t like, and schools are full of things that kids don’t like, but the kids, their parents, and even legislators need to let the educational system try to offer the best education they can based on their experience and judgment of what is best for each student placed in their care. They know what they are doing. Yes, they will make mistakes, after all, a lot of what everyone does is trial and error, until we find what works best. Educators try not to make mistakes, but they’re human beings. I’ve yet to meet anyone who was or is perfect, so let those who have been trained, do their jobs. Communicate with them? Yes! Discuss and share with them? Of course! But recognize their expertise and support them in their efforts to help students as much as they can. Let the educational “chefs” do their job and hopefully the “meal” will be a success.