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Public Education Is ‘Dumbing Down’ America
We don’t need to know how to spell, calculate simple math equations, write in cursive or expand our vocabulary, do we? We have computers. If education in America continues on its current track, students will be reduced to nothing more than computer operators with limited thinking skills and the inability to function without them. The evolution of the brain and our abilities to think and communicate are being thwarted by a system that seeks to create a society with restricted measurable skills, in affect, dumbing down individual potential.
Powerful leaders through history have known that if you can control how and what people think, you can control the masses. Programs like No Child Left Behind and now, Common Core strive to produce group results not successful individuals.
Why do you think there is such a great importance on standardized testing? The public is led to believe that it is to provide concrete proof of learning (or lack thereof) and guide educators to improve student performance. Face the fact: Testing only measures a very limited, specific result. It does not measure thinking skills, creative problem-solving and is not an honest indicator of a learning disability or poor educational environment.
The goal of our current public education system is to limit students’ abilities to be creative in both their thinking and problem-solving skills, restricting their knowledge base and reducing their abilities to explore their unique individuality.
Don’t blame the teachers. Their hands have been tied for years. Look to the leadership. Ultimately, the road map is being sent down from the state and federal levels.
But, that’s just the way I see it.
I Am the Captain of My Soul
I was having a conversation with my parents today that bounced from life to travel and politics to education. We don’t talk on the phone often but when we do, we’re usually all over the map as we catch up and try to solve all the world’s problems. After I hung up (Do we still say that with cell phones?), this phrase popped in my head:
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
My fourth grade teacher, Mr. Hill made my class learn the whole poem and recite it, day after day, in class until we all had it memorized and could repeat it by memory on our own. It was the first thing I can recall being asked to memorize and I spent hours at home reciting it from the tattered mimeographed page we’d been given.
Before I looked it up, besides the above phrase, all I could remember was something about a gate and the line, ‘black as the pit from pole to pole’. I’m not even sure I ever knew the title of the poem until now. I just remember Mr. Hill telling us we should live our lives by this. That, we were in charge of our lives and responsible for how we lived.
Mr. Hill was a big, strong African American man teaching elementary school in Florida in the 1970s. I’m sure that, in itself, had its challenges. His larger-than-life presence was enough to scare us at that age and he was the only male teacher I had until middle school. He was both nurturing and warm but he had the ability to scare the bejesus out of you with his intensity. He was also one of the best teachers I had in all my years of public schooling.
I remember he loved math. He taught us well — not to memorize numbers and equations but to understand how and why the equations worked. He made us all feel, no matter how much we struggled, that we could all learn. We were all individuals and our feelings and our experiences mattered. He never treated us like a bunch of bothersome kids he was stuck with for an entire year.
Mr. Hill taught us our subjects and he also related them to life. Which bring me back to the poem.
The poem is William Ernest Hensley’s Invictus. As it turns out, it is not only considered to be one of the best poems ever written by many, it is also considered highly controversial in some circles.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
— William Ernest Hensley
Choosing that poem for fourth graders, is pretty extraordinary by today’s standards. Even though I didn’t understand the whole poem then as I am able to do today, I did understand that last phrase. It has popped into my thoughts repeatedly throughout my life.
Today, we undervalue the importance of true learning in the classroom. Students aren’t taught how to think. We undervalue great teachers that go beyond the rigid curriculum to teach students morals and responsibility. Most of them are gone now.
Today we simply medicate unruly kids that need focus and guidance. We discourage the question why — or any original thought. Individuality is frowned upon. Just do it has replaced how and why we do it. We aren’t relating studies to real life. We definitely aren’t nurturing life-long learners.
That’s not education.
I guess I was lucky.
May I Return To The Beginning?
It’s three in the morning. The birds are chirping like crazy, there’s the sound of a train in the distance and across the street the meter man is ticketing cars parked on the wrong side of the street. I guess it’s just some of the benefits of sitting on my front porch and living in my little acre “forest in the city” I’ve created. Mostly tranquil, it’s a great place to relax and reflect.
I love my yard, loosely landscaped– some parts manicured, others untamed. It’s a lot of work to maintain but I love working outside and getting my hands dirty. It gives me time to reflect on life and dream of the future as my mind unwinds all the knotted and pent up thoughts stored away from the stressful activities of everyday life.
This is a year of milestones. I turned 50 in December, Michael and I celebrate our 20th anniversary in September and my career is taking an unexpected turn that has yet to be determined.
At school, the colleagues I’d worked with for fourteen years all retired. Together, we’d built a musical program that I’m extremely proud of. For the past year though, it was hard to watch this beautiful thing come to an end. I just didn’t know how final it was for me. Now, all of us are gone and the future of the program is completely unknown. It’s a bittersweet ending to a very stressful but extremely rewarding chapter in my life.
Over the years, the musicals have taken us from back alleys to exotic lands. We conjured up hope and laughter, tears and sorrow– celebrating the joys of life and the difficult challenges of the human condition. Live theatre is like nothing else.
There were some years we knew exactly what musical we wanted to do next but more times than naught, it was an organic process that just felt right. This year, we did Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat — and perhaps not so coincidentally, it was the 30th anniversary (for me), directing it as my very first show in 1983.
The final number in the show, Any Dream Will Do, asks the question, “May I return to the beginning?” I got it– a milestone and the end of a collaboration. It was a time for reflection and of celebration.
This the 7th time I’d directed the show– each one, somewhat unique. I’ve never tried to duplicate a previous production but it has always been important to me that one element remain: the magic.
That 1983 production was magical. Nearly every person involved in that show went on to have, or had a career in the visual and performing arts. The right group of people brought together at the right time, in the right place can make magic and somehow we did. We were all novices then– unseasoned thespians full of passion and youth.
That was my beginning.
In 1995, I directed a production that was inspired by the Donny Osmond version that had become wildly popular. Every kid out there knew about Joseph, had seen it or been in it. This year was totally different. None of the students knew the show or were necessarily excited about doing it, so it was my challenge to bring that excitement to life.
After so many productions, you’d have thought this one would be easy. Yet, time and time again I found myself second guessing my choices and vision and tried to keep the overall focus, while allowing elements of the show to evolve naturally as rehearsals progressed. It was a true collaboration of thoughts and ideas that really made the show work for me. Being such an ensemble show, it was fun seeing the cast’s excitement build and all their hard work and determination pay off in the end.
Then it was over.
The show, a fourteen year collaboration of an amazing creative team –and as it turned out, the end of my time at Bartlett High School.
May I return to the beginning?
I’ve learned a lot over the years about the importance of reflection. Though I don’t feel like I live in the past or want to actually re-live the past, the lessons learned only move us forward. I’ve had the privilege to work with, and learn from, many wonderful people. Teachers, parents and most of all– the students, have inspired me and taught me in so many different ways.
Do I actually want to return to the beginning? No. It was a marvelous, wild ride while it lasted. I wouldn’t change a minute of it. Now it’s time to move on.
I think it’s a huge mistake to live in the past, yet there is so much to be learned from it. It’s nice to look back from time to time at where I’ve been. It often helps put today in perspective and helps guide my tomorrow.
I’m on my second pot of coffee now, the sun is coming up and sounds of distant trains and chirping birds is slowly being over taken by that of garbage trucks beeping and other people starting their day.
A new beginning.
GOODBYE, BARTLETT HIGH SCHOOL!
Goodbye, Bartlett High!
Today was my last day as AV Director & Auditorium Manager after thirteen years and ten months of service. I just found out late last week and have only told a couple people until now.
This was not my choice, the district stated that BHS wanted to move in a different direction with the present position. As a non-union employee, I always knew this could be a possibility.
That said, I’ll blog all about it at some future point in time. Let’s just say, the past five to six months have been utter hell for me. At least now I can move on.
I’ll miss working with the students and watching them grow and discover themselves most of all. I’ve made many friendships that I hope with continue to grow as time goes by.
For now, I wanted to share a few parting images that will forever remind me of BHS. Odd, little things that most people wouldn’t even notice.
There’s No ‘I’ In Teamwork… Or Is There?
How many times have you heard the phrase, “There’s no ‘I’ in team“? The sentiment is certainly effective but is it, or should it be the case?
As one of those obsessive people that fully commits to a project, I’ve realized that I still have to set perimeters. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve felt used or taken advantage of in the end. I tend to give too much physically, emotionally and sometimes financially. At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, “Was it really worth it?”
The last thing you want to hear when you join a team or project is: “It’s only _____ (a game, a concert, a school dance)”… meaning that whatever it is, doesn’t require a strong commitment or dedicated effort. I have never understood why anyone would commit to do anything, if not to do it the best they can in that situation.
I’ve found students especially guilty of this, over committing themselves either to feel self important or out of the feeling of obligation. I still live by the adage, If it’s worth doing… it’s worth doing well (or right). Why commit to something you know you aren’t passionate about, or have no intentions of fully supporting?
This afternoon we will have our first production meeting for the 2013 Spring Musical at Bartlett High School. I’m excited to be stage directing for the second year in a row and extremely proud and honored to be a part of such and amazing, passionate team of professionals. It is bittersweet because this will be the last year we will be working together. This is the our fourteenth year together for three of us… the last year for my two partners in crime.
Over the years our team and program have grown and evolved. One original member retired several years ago and we gained a very talented younger member of our team four years ago. We’ve had our share of ups and downs, laughter and tears and beyond everything else, we’ve become a family. So, seeing them go on to new endeavors as the curtain falls on the final show this coming April will no doubt be an emotional time.
I could probably write a whole book about what I’ve learned and experienced through this collaborative experience but the most important thing I’ve learned, is this: Sometimes there must be an ‘I’ in team. I know this somewhat contradicts the very definition but when a team of individuals is strong and in tune with one another, it is possible to put yourself first, when you have to and still have all the pieces come together flawlessly.
Teamwork can take many forms. Individuals can have their own responsibilities that are pooled together in the end for the final result or it can be completely collaborative from the beginning. Usually, its a combination of the two. Teamwork doesn’t rely solely on the efforts of one individual but instead takes the combined knowledge and experience of all the members to successfully reach its goal. Two people can have two different visions going in to a project and together they can create a third new, entirely different one.
A solid team is built on trust and understanding. In the case of our musical team, we can usually predict how the others will react in a specific circumstance because we know each other so well. Sometimes we surprise each other but in most cases we know where our buttons and triggers are.
Here’s where the ‘I’ comes in. Sometimes you have to know when to step up or step back. You have to be able and willing to say, “I can’t…” or “I don’t have it to give…” and know that it will be okay. A good team is intuitive and can often anticipate when they may need to step up and help another team member succeed. You can’t forget that everyone has a life beyond whatever project it is you are trying to create. Sometimes your focus needs to be elsewhere… and a good team can compensate for that.
I think that one of the biggest issues in team building and probably the biggest struggle in establishing roles is trust. Young teams take time to build that trust and to understand everyone’s process. Without that knowledge, the ‘I’ can come across as selfish and uncaring, when in reality it’s nothing more than self preservation. You have to be empathic to everyone’s needs.
In the past few years, there have been more than one occasion when our team has needed to adjust our roles to help each other out. We have been able to do this successfully, not only because of the trust we’ve built but also the knowledge that we all give selflessly. Sometimes the person needing to say ‘I’, doesn’t. If you are intuitive enough, you may have to do it for them.
Of course, some people are just incapable of being part of a team because they are unwilling to try. In most cases though, with a little time and experience, people can learn to work together with great results. What everyone has to remember is that where there is negativity or resistance… there is a reason for it. It might not be obvious either. A good team will work through any issue and realize the importance of ‘I’ only makes them stronger as a whole.
You Are What You Eat – Body & Mind – Part Two: Mind
It’s pretty easy to understand the relationship between food and our bodies but what about how we are feeding our minds?
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we become who we are, how we live and how we think. There’s been many studies on how the stimulus young children receive establishes who they are. Though I think this is really interesting, I think overall it’s a little shortsighted. We frequently hear, you can’t change someone or people don’t change… but I don’t believe that to be entirely true. People can change but only if they really want to… or are forced to change.
First, I want to talk about the mind food we don’t ask for… the stimulus we receive from others and from our environment.
I think we can all agree that how we behave is closely related to how we think. Take education for instance. Because we think differently, we also learn differently. Most schools are not equipped to accommodate different learning styles. They have one set way of teaching and you either learn it (temporary memorization, in most cases) or you don’t. This has a direct relationship with our behavior. Some students seem to absorb information easily and others require hours and hours of studying. The third group are those that don’t even seem to try. This third group is made up of students that either don’t want to learn or more likely, are unable to learn in the style they are being taught and just give up. I can’t even being to tell you how many students I’ve met that have brilliant minds but are labeled ADHD or special needs because they can’t be forced into the strict mold our education system requires of them. Their brains just work differently.
Words, actions and events have a huge affect on us. Our interactions with others, intentional or not, mold who we are, or at least how we behave throughout our lifetime. I wrote a little about this in a past blog post. Negative input tends to cause stress, a lack of self confidence or self worth or even cause people to shut down. Harsh words from a teacher… the boss who tells you, you can’t do anything right… the experience of a tragic event… all are stimuli that can have a profound impact on us. Unfortunately, we can’t control these types of experiences from affecting our brains and they can have life changing results.
What about what we choose to put in our minds? We are able to make choices of what we do, who our friends are and what we read or watch for the most part. We can also choose to experience positive activities that will have a major effect on us. Our attitudes are shaped by what our mind consume. This, in turn, can change us.
I believe our spirituality is the essence of who we are. It is our inner path. Our spirituality is the most important part of our character. Religious beliefs can be an important part of our spirituality but it should not be misconstrued as the only part of it. Many people wear their religion on their sleeve like a badge, yet when it comes to who they really are, it may not be quite as visible. Our histories can cause us to put up walls blocking the world from seeing our true selves. When I hear someone referred to as an old soul, I think of someone that has moved beyond those barricades and is unafraid of revealing their inner self. It’s a gift to be able to live without fear and to look beyond the facade of others and see the true person that might be hidden behind layers of hurt, anger and betrayal.
Feeding the Mind
We are surrounded daily by negative mind food. Especially in this political year, the news is bursting with negativity. It’s important to at least balance the negative content we absorb with positive thoughts and behavior. We can’t find positive solutions when we focus on the negative. Unfortunately, our society loves to complain about all the problems that surround us but seldom take action to find solutions. If we’d focus on the solutions, we might actually be able to make some progress.
I see too often that people say they don’t like negative people, and then they surround themselves with them. Some people like to wallow in negativity. It feels good to vent frustrations but we all have to be willing to take the next step towards resolving our issues.
Our survival relies heavily on the strength of our body, mind and spirit. We tend to overlook the latter and that have serious implications on our overall health. Focusing on diet and exercise is only the beginning. We also have to feed and exercise our minds. Having a victim mindset is unhealthy. We must strive daily to look for the good and conquer our problems. With a positive outlook– reconnecting with our spirituality– we can overcome any obstacles and live healthy, meaningful lives.
Back To School… Back To Class
Back to School
The 2012-13 school year is well underway and as usual, there’s always something new to make things interesting. I have a new boss– my seventh since I’ve been at the school and I’m starting my fourteenth year– which is pretty hard to believe. Three of the teachers I work with the most are retiring at the end of the school year, making this year bitter-sweet in many ways.
Over the summer I started painting the auditorium. It was looking pretty drab and I’ve been wanting to paint the proscenium walls since I started working there. The original fifteen-plus year old paint was really looking dingy and outdated, plus it reflected a lot of the stage light. The new grey actually ties all the colors together and has a more modern feel.
Our fall play has been pushed out of its normal time slot in October, to the weekend before Thanksgiving– by an outside organization in a disappointing and unprecedented move by the school and district. Reportedly, the group is going to ‘make a donation’ and this was the reasoning behind allowing this to happen. I think it is a
dangerous move to start giving priority to non-school-related events over student activities in order to make a buck. Especially when all of August and September were wide open. Once again, the arts get pushed aside.
Back to Class
I’ve decided to take more classes online to further my education. It has been a year since I finished my Masters and I’ve found I really miss class. Currently, I’m taking two classes, with a third starting next week. We’ll see if I can keep up with all the work. The structure is slightly different from my past studies but so far all is going well.
I’m taking the classes for FREE through Coursera.org. It’s a great opportunity to take a wide variety of courses from major institution around the world.
Imagine taking a course with over 26,000 students from around the world! That’s the enrollment in my Introduction to Sustainability class offered by the University of Illinois through Coursera. One of the drawbacks of this type of learning opportunity is that its hard to get to know any of your classmates. One of the pros is that you get unique perspectives from students of all ages from all over the world.
I’m also taking a course in Securing Digital Democracy offered by the University of Michigan, and Monday I start Networked Life offered by the University of Pennsylvania.
Many, but not all, result in a certificate of completion form the institution offering the class. Grading can be different from course to course and most classes provide all the study materials needed with optional texts that can be purchased from major online retailers. Many different courses are offered year round, though they do have specific timetables for starting and completion. They also can range from a few weeks to a full semester in length.
If you are looking to expand your knowledge or perhaps a career change, you might want to check it out.