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COMMUNITY VOICE

Abandon current focus on failure, let teachers lead students toward success

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 - 1:36 pm

With the Legislature in session, one sees an increase in both guest columns and letters to the editor on the topic of K-12 education. I don’t normally think much about them as the vast majority tend to simply argue for nothing more than minor tweaking of the system or finding some person or group to blame for the current state of affairs.

The latest debate on “Common Core” is a good example. In an article by Joyce Pullmann, an education research fellow at the Heartland Institute, she states: “Apparently Indiana policymakers are not ready to embrace research showing education standards are a big waste of time because they have little or no effect on how much children learn.”

Both policymakers and the gullible public seem to feel that heated debate on trivialities will actually change things for most kids — but it will take major renovation, not trivialities, if we want a system of education that is responsive to the needs of our culture.

I just finished a thought-provoking book on this subject by a local author that I wish all the letter-writers, educators and particularly policymaking politicians would read. Mel Hawkins, using local experiences as a parent, probation officer, businessman and substitute teacher, boldly proclaims that the system is beyond repair and tweaking and will push more and more students into an ever-widening pit of failure and despair.

His book, “Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-first Century America,” identifies 33 steps that would effectively change a system from one that pretends to meet the learning needs of its students to one that would actually meet those needs.

Hawkins joins an ever-growing chorus of notable people who equate the success of our efforts to educate our young to the very survival of our culture, and he suggests that without identifying the real issues and solving the real problems in our educational system, survival is iffy at best — debating Common Core just doesn’t do it.

“The schools are failing our children,” some say. Hawkins argues that the problem is neither bad schools nor bad teachers but rather is the result of a cultural disdain for the importance of education on the part of a growing population of American parents. In the meantime, according to Hawkins (and I would agree), we allow policymakers to continue to tweak a system that is focused on failure, not success; on image, not substance; and on the vested interest of those in power, not on the critical needs of the students we pretend to care about.

Most of us find it easy to criticize, and that’s where most of us stop. However, Hawkins sets forth specific strategies that give responsibilities to each and every member of American society. He suggests we need to abandon the current system’s focus on failure and its structure based on outdated principles; reject our reliance on standardized competency exams and compulsory education and replace them with a structure that places teachers in a position where they can teach children how to be successful. Hawkins suggests we must also challenge all parents to accept responsibility for the education of their children.

His concepts should be explored in a variety of venues. He is not a “professional educator,” and the fact that he bases many of his suggestions from personal experience in practical problem-solving would suggest local educators might profit from his insights. If I were teaching prospective teachers at the local university, both at the graduate and undergraduate level, I would use his work as challenging food for thought in my course.

Policymakers need to read some entrepreneurial thoughts on learning and change. It would surely take the discussion up a notch and perhaps force us, through our elected officials, to face the real issues that are harming our students.

In the past 40 years I’ve read countless books, articles and studies on American education and was a bit reluctant to read Hawkins’ book — after all, “there’s nothing new under the sun,” right? Well, yes, there is, and in terms of fresh ideas for American education, this book is it.

Ron Flickinger is a resident of Fort Wayne.