December 16, 2009

What Ring Will We Chase?

"It's the tail that wags the dog." That's was that answer I was given when I began my first administrator job seven years ago. The question I posed to my principal was, "Why are we becoming so obsessed chasing after test scores and rankings?" I suppose that was my moment of clarity; the moment I realized what ideals administration was truly moving toward. I hated that answer. I hate that my principal was right. Chasing numbers (scores, magazine rankings, national rankings, international rankings, etc.) is the tail that wags this dog of education.

I never really bought into the "reform our education system for the sake of saving our economy" movement. New Jersey's Commissioner of Education sold us that bill of goods when she and her lakies pushed forth the NJ High School Redesign plan. They flat our told us that we need to design schools for the 21st Century for the good of global economic competition. I suppose that's true. But then again, I believe in Aristotle's premise of education - so I disagree with ed-reform for the sake of economic power.

I used to be a great fan of the video "Shift Happens". I thought it was very telling about the state of our nation's education system. Like many, I showed the video to parent groups and teachers. The music and imagery combines to create in viewers a sense of urgency, of curiosity about our national state of education, and prompts fear into the psyche that our children will face a world run by the Chinese and Indians if we don't inject technology, deep thinking, and creativity into our curricula. All valid points... but I think the film supports the idea that American education must chase numbers, rankings, and lists in hopes of furthering American economic power.

I am a member of the Shift Happens wiki. I enjoy the conversations people post about the video and the impact it has had on viewers. But then I came across this conversation. The most striking comment comes from the post:
[Shift Happens] advocates IT education as the panacea....for what, the loss of global dominance?. I can't help seeing that it is also logically flawed; how is training kids to use IT going to help if there are still all these "scarey" (just listen to the music) chinese and indian people willing to do the job for $100 a month.
I agree with the need to educate children in a more broad manner, but this video, while undoubtedly emotive, seems very much like the paranoid gasps of a failing empire. I don't make the connection between profound shifts in global power and having a wiki for my classes.
After reading that comment I had one of those moments - the kind where someone put into words what you believed but were never really able to articulate. It was like a validation. And while I still think the film has some merit, I agree that Shift Happens is shifting the thinking of people for the wrong reasons. Hence my initial question, "What ring will we chase?"

This video was also referenced in the post.


I watched and again I had that moment of validation.

As a principal, I now have the opportunity to provide an answer if and when a new administrator asks me, "Why are we becoming so obsessed chasing after test scores and rankings?" And, sadly, I will tell them that indeed, they are the tail that wags the dog. And it's not that we want it that way - it's that at the school level, we are recipients of state and federal powers that fail to see our schools as sacred homes for learning, sharing, and studying in order to create a more charitable, knowledgeable, learned, reflective society that honors values. Instead, we are directed and pressured to spoil our time with vain efforts of gaining favor and avoiding public shame by chasing numbers and making the mark in various think tank, agency, and global reports in hopes that we may be more productive. When that changes then I will believe that a shift has happened.