Monday, March 15, 2010

Adult Agendas = Students' Loss Part 2

There are other adult agendas that sabotage children's learning. In an admirable attempt to to convert our 60 year-old school building into a modern, energy efficient space, every classroom window is being replaced with double-paned storm windows, every light fixture is being upgraded with energy efficient bulbs, and insulation is being poured into the dead space between the ceiling and the roof. There is nothing wrong with this. Who would argue with a school's attempts to go green? But there has been serious fallout in terms of instruction.
No fewer than 12 school days per classroom were or will be completely lost or significantly sabotaged due to the fact that each class has to pack up every single object in the classroom that is not nailed to the walls, floor or ceiling and move out to a portable building for six to eight weeks so the greening of the classroom can be realized. Since I have just been through this process, which occurred during parent conferences and spring testing, I can attest to the astounding loss of instructional time and the undermining of the standards-based curriculum we teachers are required to follow.
Asked why the upgrades could not have occurred in the summer months when there are no classes, we were simply told the contractor could only upgrade four classrooms at a time. So?! Why not hire more contractors or have the current contractor sub-contract in order to get the job done in the summer? Other construction and remodeling projects with time constraints do this all the time. Once again, an adult agenda supersedes the children's agenda. The result is another loss for students.
Here is another example of good intentions gone wrong. Our district participates in a science
kit program whereby very well stocked science unit kits rotate between schools on a set schedule. Although
the materials are top rate and the curriculum challenging, the curriculum itself is scripted and disjointed.
It's obvious that the authors of the kits opted to prioritize coverage over depth and lifelong learning. But
many of us tolerate that because the kits are so materially rich. Because of this we do not have to spend our
weekends or prep time gathering science materials. There are two things, however, both driven by adult
agendas, that go a long way toward making the kits not worth receiving.
The first is the fact that teachers have no choice regarding which kit they will receive and
when they will receive it. The kits are not sent on a schedule that is convenient to students and teachers
or timely to the study, say, life science as opposed to physical science. They are instead sent on a schedule
that is convenient to the adults who stock and distribute the kits. In other words, my class, had no choice
but to study life science in the middle of the winter simply because that's when the life science kit was
delivered to my classroom. This is definitely NOT the time I would have preferred to teach life science.
Winter would have been a better time to teach physical science since many life forms are dormant and
unobservable in the winter months.
The second reason the kits may no longer be worth receiving is the fact that teachers must
return the kits when the return date arrives. This sets up situations where many teachers are half way through
a science unit but have to turn the kit back in simply because the arbitrary due date has arrived. This hard
and fast deadline reaches a level of absurdity in the spring when ALL science kits have to be returned to the
distribution center by April 28. Never mind the fact that school doesn't get out until May 28. And never
mind the fact that many class lost hours and hours of science instructional time due to the standardized
testing in April. That loss put our class at least a month behind. Add that to the fact that we are forced to
turn in the science kits one month before school gets out, and you have a net loss of TWO MONTHS OF
SCIENCE INSTRUCTION! And this is all because the school district wants to make life easier and more
convenient to adults.
These examples are just the tip of an iceberg of adult agendas that undermine student learning. There
are plenty more. But I think the point has been made. Until policy makers and non teaching educators
make the shift from focusing on their own agendas to focusing on those of our students, we will continue
to be our own worst enemy in our attempts to give our students a high quality and meaningful education.