Valid email addresses are required to post comments. If your comment is not posted, I will send you an email with an explanation.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Reflective Nesters and Aggressive Testers

The school district's Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) met last evening in their first meeting of the school year. They are an extremely helpful group comprised of caring parents with the goal of making a  positive difference in the future of the members of our learning community. I encourage all parents of Green Island to become active participants in the efforts of this fine organization.

Among the various topics they addressed as they moved through their agenda were two that particularly attracted a closer examination - recess and the fine arts. The absence of a playground, together with an apparent misunderstanding of the parameters of recess, has left the children without regular opportunities to enjoy recess. The only available area adjacent to the school is a fenced in vacant field that is used for athletic practices. Placing any playground equipment in it deprives sports teams of using the field and would prevent us from offering options for our athletic teams.

Also, there has been a mistaken impression among the elementary teachers here that recess can only be offered if a certified physical education teacher supervises the activity. Actually, whomever explained this, or however the explanation might have been misinterpreted, left the elementary teachers with a misguided belief. The only reason that the intervention of a physical education teacher would be required for recess is if the school wanted to use recess as a means of supplementing any shortcomings involved with meeting the state education department guidelines mandating 120 minutes per week of physical education. In that case, elementary teachers could follow lesson plans approved by the physical education teacher to implement activities designed to fulfill the time requirements. However, Green Island already meets that requirement through regularly scheduled physical education classes. Therefore, teachers can take children outdoors for recess an its many forms. Recess often produces activities that promote caring and sharing, fair play and sportsmanship, cooperation and competition, and many other skills or experiences that promote life-long benefits.

Interestingly physical education and the fine arts are too often victimized by school budget cuts precipitated by difficult economic constraints. In large part, the driving factors in determining the values of subjects when money is insufficient to sustain all programs are related to the absence of standardized tests in physical education and the fine arts that are commonly used to measure learner achievement. That very fact implies varying degrees of worth among disciplines with regard to associated assessment instruments.

I would argue that physical education (particularly at a time our society is grappling with an increase of children experiencing rather significant weight problems) and the fine arts (an arena fertile with opportunities to exercise problem solving and other higher order thinking skills) are extremely valuable in encouraging expanded learning opportunities for children.

I'm pleased to say that our discussion at the meeting reaffirmed the value of recess and the fine arts. We explored options that resulted in a desire to fund the purchase of many different items for use during recess - hoola hoops, frisbees, kickballs, bocce, nerf balls, rubber horseshoes, and many more games and playthings. These items can be distributed and then collected so children can enjoy recess without permanent playground equipment and return to class, leaving the field available for after school athletic practices. Also, the PTO is actively supporting the school's effort to promote and expand the fledgling elementary chorus that last year secured a bronze rating in regional music competition in their first year of competition.

This line of thinking has caused me to resurrect an essay I wrote that was published several years ago by the Capital Area School Development Association. Here it is:

Reflective Nesters and Aggressive Testers

The image of jet airliners smashing into the towers of the World Trade Center on that fateful September morning has been indelibly embedded into the conscience of America. We now realize there was so much more that collapsed that day than the steel, concrete and glass structures that entombed countless people. Our idyllic sense of invulnerability also buckled. No foreign power had ever struck and incurred the number of fatalities upon our soil in one day.

In the years prior to that horrible event, one could sit ensconced in their easy chair and occasionally hear of American casualties from distant lands too difficult to pronounce with the same mild surprise we have when learning of the death of a very ill elderly person. This was different however. It was here, and it was as unexpected as the death of a youngster. The planes penetrated our collective psyche every bit as much as they did the walls of the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon. The tragedy prompted many of us to review our personal priorities as we came face to face with the reality that our homeland was not immune to acts of terrorism.

One afternoon, approximately seven months after That Day, I listened to the public radio broadcast of a National Press Association luncheon. The guest speaker was an executive with the American Stock Exchange. Along with the outpouring of statistics, the fearless economic forecasts, and the rally for regulatory policies to thwart another debacle like Enron, the speaker indulged in a bit of self disclosure and volunteered that his life was altered on September 11th. The distance between the Trade Center and the AMEX building was measured in yards. Suddenly, there were many buildings and organizations in the economic nerve center of the country that listed their addresses as “Ground Zero.”

The presenter proudly admitted that he had changed his work habits and hours in the months since the tragedy. He was no longer routinely leaving his house at and returning home between and . He was re-evaluating his purpose, his meaning, his values… As well he should, since his family clearly did not have many opportunities to interact with him while he maintained such lengthy work days. He is to be commended for recognizing the imbalance that evidently existed in the manner in which he spent the precious, non renewable resource of time. Perhaps he understood the call of that adage, “Make sure when you climb to the top of the ladder that it’s leaning against the right wall.” We would all benefit if that clarion proved as tempting and alluring as the Sirens of the Titans in Greek mythology.

He is just one of many who have paused in the wake of the terrorist acts to reflect on their mortality, their individual legacy, and their sense of being and worth. The net effect has been for people to take a deep breath and examine whether they are making a living or making a life, and, more importantly, understanding the difference.

Sociologists now categorize this return to the home/family as “nesting.”  The “hunker down with family, stay close to home” trend has been so sweeping in nature that it has negatively impacted the economy. Families are playing board games, taking less distant vacations, and enjoying more meals at home. They appear less likely to exercise their discretionary time and spending habits in the form of dining out, attending the cinema, or visiting Mickey Mouse.

It is ironic that many of these people, sparked by an epiphany and induced by introspection to anxiously discover a life worth living, are among those who vigorously wave the banners and loudly herald the trumpets for increased standards and higher test scores in schools across the land. Children as young as six years old labor each day to meet ever rising expectations and superfluous benchmarks that are irrelevant to them – without relief or appropriate perspective accorded by the “reflective nesters.”

Wouldn’t it be appropriate now to question the manner in which children spend their time at school in the same vein that their parents have reviewed the use of time at home? Shouldn’t we examine the priorities collectively pressed by a demanding public upon our schools in the wake of this tragedy? Why is it accepted, even considered commendable, for adults to boast of rearranging their personal goals and values while imposing a stressful and nearly overwhelming level of expectation and academic rigor thrust on our youth at the untold expense of their emotional, social, and psychological development?

It appears a bit inconsistent and hypocritical. The twisted logic of one who believes problems are measured by their distance from the person assessing it. We have perhaps all been exposed to the selfish and myopic “not in my back yard” perspective. It is reluctantly tolerable to accommodate a waste management plant or nuclear reactor in a nearby town in unknown environs within our county, totally unacceptable for the same business to locate in our town, and absolutely unthinkable for it to plop down in our own neighborhood. 

Schools could benefit by shifting from a testing attitude to a nesting attitude. A mission oriented community based on a philosophy anchored on how children learn and develop, within an environment that cultivates potential and promotes effective and productive relationships. A school where the adults nurture the hope and feed the dreams of children and provide them the skills and experiences to reach individually desired destinations.

In closing, we should take note of the research findings of Collins and Porras (Built to Last, 1994) who state:

      A central characteristic of corporations
       that achieved outstanding, long-term
       success was a core ideology emphasizing
      ‘more than profits.’” (p.48)

It would be wise for policy makers and school leaders to recognize the significance of the contention that -  
      companies that emphasize values beyond the
       bottom line were more profitable in the
      long run than companies who stated their
      goals in  purely financial terms.” (p.48)

If we think in terms of testing results which are often misconstrued as the “bottom line” or as “profits” then we should reconsider our frame of reference. We should focus instead on an operational definition of schools around values of character, communication, community, and consideration to redirect us toward long term success and a prosperous future. 

1 comment:

  1. Really, enjoyed reading this posting!!!