I often find that news paints an overly dour look on events. Its like Facebook status updates on depressants. Instead of “Jill is happy to be off her feet,” we get “US kids’ scores fall below chimps on state tests ,” “Teacher unions stage nationwide non-violent coups of neighborhood lemonade stands to make ends meet,” or “Schools in worst shape since Julius Ceasar.” (Not real headlines, btw.)
But you can’t blame the media. They are doing their job, reporting the status of what they see as accurately as they can, more or less. Their job isn’t to daydream, it isn’t to identify opportunities and lead people toward them. No, that’s the job of our leaders, some of whom have taken that responsibility seriously and some of whom have, well, their own status updates: “Senator (fill in the blank) just one-upped his political rival. Ker-pow! Take that, you Nerfherder.”
Still, I sometimes feel like I should take up the Chicken Little “The Sky is Falling” song and dance to the streets. “Our schools are failing, our schools are failing. Run for the hills or your potential will be crushed by plummeting standardization and bubble tests.”
And just as I’m donning my beak and feathers, ready to hit the pavement, I remember something my pollyanna grandma used to say, “There is no shortage of ways to focus on the empty part of a glass, even if it is mostly full.”
The truth is, the system we have today, dented and bruised though it may be, still stands like Lady Liberty for billions around the world. Pick up a copy of Three Cups of Tea if you think we have it rough. Our system is built on the backs of the millions before us who wanted a better education for their children and were willing to work for it. What we have today, as a whole, is to be celebrated. Could it be better? For sure, and that process starts by identifying what could be improved.
It’s just that sometimes I need a break from all that improvement.
This week a student handed me a copy of Dear Mr. Rosenwald, by Carole Boston Weatherford. It tells the story a Rosenwald School, built sometime in the 1920’s or 30’s in the south through a collaborative effort between Julius Rosenwald (of Sears, Roebuck, and Co.), an African-American sharecropping settlement, and the larger white community the sharecroppers inhabited. Though it is a simple picture book, narrated by a young girl in prose poetry, it is a moving tale. Representative of the more than 5000 schools Mr. Rosenwald helped build in 15 states in the south, it illustrates the great lengths communities went to to ensure their children had basic (and I mean BASIC) education.
Today’s expectations for students, teachers, schools, and policy makers stand in stark contrast to those humble days of yore, and we should be proud of that. So, even though we have a lot work to do, we’ve come a long way.
Perhaps for today our national Facebook status update should read: The USA is feeling the urge to improve its schools — people gradually getting off their heinies to do something about it.