MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Gov. Jerry Brown blasted the notion of government-imposed standards for public schools, saying he opposed efforts from Washington and Sacramento to dictate education policy.
Using "data on a national or state level I think misses the point -- that learning is very individual, very personal," Brown said during an onstage interview with The Atlantic's James Bennet at a Silicon Valley Summit at the Computer History Museum. "It comes back to the teacher and the principal. The leader of the school is by far the most important factor."
When asked if he supported national education standards, Brown said, "No. That's just a form of national control." (Source)
The goal is to educate our kids, not train them. The goal is to help them become competent human beings, not just competent workers. Doing good work is a part of living a good life, but it's not the most important part, and it should be subordinated to other concerns.
Brown gets this, but I would offer one caveat to his point about principals: Principals can be an important factor (never the most important, IMO) if they are genuine educators, but too often they are not. There are some men and women who are very effective principals and school leaders, but most are not. If you know an experienced teacher, ask them how often they've been in a school where the principal actually helped them to do their job better.
In contemporary public school systems principals are more often middle managers more worried about test scores and performance numbers than they are about the welfare of their kids or their teachers. They are very often people who started off as teachers but didn't like it, or thought it was too small-time for them. They wanted more money or to be the boss rather than to work with the kids. They too often do not understand what motivates teachers because their own motivations are so different. They too often don't have a clue what the teachers are doing, so they rely on the numbers, and we all know that numbers don't lie, right?
The kids are the most important people in the school--everything about a school should be directed toward giving the kids the resources they need to become competent human beings. The teachers are the second most important people in the shcool, because they are on the front lines working with these kids. Everybody else in the system is there to support the teachers in their work with the kids. More often than not they would do both a favor by just getting out of the way. That's the way it should be, but it isn't. And if there is a problem with public schools these days, that's it. Could we do a better job of putting better trained educators in the classroom. Yes, but that's not what corporate education reform is ppushing for. The reformers want better trainers.
Learning is something we all want to do; it's something that comes naturally to us. For too many kids "school" is what kills that desire to learn, and it happens around middle school. And a big part of why that happens is that when kids begin to feel that they have their own sense of agency and freedom, they pick up on whether they are there for the system or the system is there for them. And a school regime of teachers and principals obsessing about meeting their numbers sends a pretty clear message about who's there for what. They see that they are being trained to perform for the system. And spirited kids know it's all b.s.
If you are reading this blog, chances are you are someone who did pretty well in school. That means that you were successful in giving the system what it wanted, even if you weren't particularly interested in the subject that you were being taught. You saw, or were made to see, that it was in your self interest to give the system what it demanded of you. You probably grew up in a world where giving the system what it demanded was continuously reinforced at home.
So it might be hard for you to imagine why some kids, especially smart, talented kids don't do well. "Why don't they apply themselves?," you may ask yourself. Well, why did you? Why did you bother, especially when it came to studying something you weren't particularly interested in? Well, it's probably because you didn't want to disappoint someone who was important to you.
But what if you grew up in a world where learning and academic achievement wasn't important? What if there was no one in your life who was a model for you of having applied himself and succeeed in giving the system what it wanted? What if there was no one in your life who is living the results of having applied himself and succeeded? What if there was no one in your life to help you imagine a better future or to give you the support you needed to get there? What if you lived in a world where all your friends thought that school was b.s.? What if since middle school you did poorly on standardized tests, which just reinforced what you already knew--that you and the system didn't match up well?
Well, if you're a corporate ed reformer, you don't think about the answers to these questions. It's much easier to blame the teacher for not doing a better job. Because the corporate ed reformer is only interested in measurable results. Poor results = poor teacher. Somebody's got to be held accountable, right? So he looks at the teacher as an assembly line worker, the kid as a widget, and tests as quality control to insure nothing defective is put out on the market. And when the corporate ed reformer thinks about improving the quality of teaching, he doesn't want better educators in the classroom, but better trainers, people who will more effectively train to the test, because the only thing that matters is getting a higher percentage of kids to pass quality control. This is all so dehumanizing, and that is why so many spirited kids hate school and don't learn anything in it. There are far more interesting things to learn on the street.