In a few short weeks, impossibly, my youngest child will graduate from Montclair High School following the footsteps of his brother and sister and closing a seventeen year journey with the Montclair school district for our family.
My sister once said, jokingly, that she wouldn’t have any more children because she wouldn’t want to do PTA again. Many of us can appreciate that sentiment, but I cannot regret any of the hours I have spent reading with kindergarteners, cooking for class projects, hosting Toasts for Teachers, running book fairs or participating in the endless fundraisers to buy books for the library or send kids on field trips.
Perhaps most significant were several years I spent on the School Action Team at MHS, where I found I could be actively involved, make my voice heard and hear others’ voices. We effected real change. Partnering with Principle James Earle, a school administrator committed to working for excellence and to hearing about what works and what doesn’t, we were able to start slowly turning the tanker in a better direction, and I believe the students at MHS are getting a better deal than they did five or six years ago.
But oh, how far we still have to go. And oh, how unlikely it is that we will get there, unless the teachers, administrators and parents work together.
Somehow in the last few years we have come to a strange place where we look at each other as adversaries rather than collaborators. Yet education is nothing if not a collaboration between adults to figure out what our children need to learn, and how to teach them.
I like Common Core. I hope that didn’t make some turn the page or click to the next article. I like the idea that we could reorient our approach, take another look at what we are delivering, and how. It seems absurd to me that an educational system based on one developed by the British Empire with a primary goal of delivering good clerks is one we want to hold on to. We have to think about the skills and knowledge needed in the 21st century and how best to present them to children.
I don’t like standardized tests. Never have. I hate that time of year, and relished those years my kids didn’t have to take them. But I also understand that it is impossible to make any kind of educational policy without them. It is impossible to understand systemic problems without data. They are, in our world, a necessary evil. So why don’t we work on making the tests good ones, and as infrequent as possible?
I love our teachers (I was one myself right out of college, and it was the hardest job I have ever had). But I will never categorically support all teachers. My children have had teachers of the “change your life” variety. They have had teachers who were on their way to becoming hugely successful. They have had teachers who needed lots of support and supplemental learning. And they have teachers who should not be in the profession.
We all know this is true. And those teachers who are changing lives on a daily basis need to know that we all understand the difference and support those who are or one day will be changing lives.
Isn’t that ultimately the goal of education? To offer a young man or woman something they cannot get anywhere else — knowledge. Book knowledge, yes, but also life knowledge, knowledge about how to learn.
On Monday night two Board of Education members, Shelly Lombard (former president of the Board) and Leslie Larson attended their last meeting. They each spoke eloquently to these issues and the discord we have in this town. Leslie said that “to resist efforts to create positive change or to pursue innovative new ways to change the often dire status quo – particularly when this resistance is motivated by fears that are not about the kids – is simply a terrible thing to do.” She is so right. If we are not constantly innovating and changing what we do we risk complacency, or what Shelly called “peace without progress.” As she said, “Are we willing to make hard decisions or are we more interested in appeasing adults than taking care of the children who go to school in our town?”
We cannot afford to remain where we have arrived after two years of acrimony and accusations. We must all put aside our poison pens and sarcastic remarks, and start listening, and responding to what is actually said. We have to put away slogans and pre-conceived ideas and recognize that everyone at the table in Montclair has a place here. My point of view is no more sacred or right than yours, so I’ll listen well.
How about a declaration of Peace, so we can have some Progress? Who will join me?
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