It’s all a matter of focus

Okay, I guess I can’t blog about anything other than education, because that’s all I keep thinking about.

Yesterday, I met the supervisor of the English department of the private school that I went to for high school. We talked a lot about differences between our two schools as well as what I’ve been doing specifically over the past ten years as a teacher of English. The thing that really stuck with me from the talk was just the general focus of our respective schools.

Mine being a public school, just take a look at all that is happening to public schools in New Jersey and you’ll see what we’ve become focused on: test scores. Students test scores, teacher test scores, just pure quantifiable data. There’s very little focus on WHAT each department should actually be focused on or HOW the subjects should be taught other than to make sure we, the teachers, are basically covering everything that is assessed in the upcoming state tests. (Again, I am writing about public schools in general, not any specific school, including my own.)

The private school just had a full faculty meeting at the end of this past school year to discuss a new way of constructing their report cards around eight major categories: critical thinking, engagement, creativity, risk taking, responsibility, cooperation, initiative, and curiosity. (I may be remembering these a little incorrectly, but the gist is there.) Notice what is NOT on there: getting all the right answers. This school has become focused on learning for the sake of learning while the public, government-run system has become statistically oriented. In other words, the goal of the private school is to teach students to never stop learning while the public schools’ final goal is to teach students that learning stops when you get your final score.

This leads to the next step — college — where those who know how to learn will learn more and those who see it all as job training will find themselves too narrowly focused and may never realize that there is a whole world around them beyond their cubicles.

Which form of education would you prefer?

I will say this in defense of, at least, my school. How we approach our subjects as teachers is still within our own control, so the good teachers in my school — and there are many of them — do foster the ideas of there is no one right answer (except in math, of course) and that thinking is more important than just getting a right answer. To question, to seek, to strive to know more is the goal, not to just get an ‘A.’ It doesn’t always work out that way, but we put in the effort with the hopes of it getting across to at least a few of our students.


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