I am not a teacher and cannot comment on the way public education is being ‘run’ in 2015. I’m over a decade out of touch with secondary education, and I’m quite sure that most of what I was taught in high school is now being taught in middle school and that many arts and social studies programs have become obsolete due to funding issues.
However, I just read a letter from an early-retiring Syracuse-based Social Studies teacher that struck a chord with me. He’s retiring early (just two years from being able to collect his full pension) for a host of reasons, most; I’m sure have to do with the unrealistic, robotic expectations of the APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review).
In his now viral resignation letter, Mr. Conti states:
With regard to my profession, I have truly attempted to live John Dewey’s famous quotation (now likely cliché with me, I’ve used it so very often) that “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” This type of total immersion is what I have always referred to as teaching “heavy,” working hard, spending time, researching, attending to details and never feeling satisfied that I knew enough on any topic. I now find that this approach to my profession is not only devalued, but denigrated and perhaps, in some quarters despised. STEM rules the day and “data driven” education seeks only conformity, standardization, testing and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core, along with a lockstep of oversimplified so-called Essential Learning. Creativity, academic freedom, teacher autonomy, experimentation and innovation are being stifled in a misguided effort to fix what is not broken in our system of public education.
So, Mr. Conti is receiving a TON of positive feedback from other educators. I actually found the link to his resignation letter on one of my friend’s Facebook pages who is an educator. She says something like “Finally, someone has it in them to say it!”.
I actually take issue with some/one of the statements he makes in his letter. “STEM rules the day and ‘data driven’ education seeks only conformity, standardization, testing and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core.”
Mr. Conti – I can’t claim to know what it feels like to be part of a devalued social studies program, but what I can say is that STEM is the very CORE of what we need to see improve in our U.S. education system. The fact that you’re complaining about STEM taking over in your high school brings a smile to my face. Because, sir, I love the idealism of John Dewey’s quote, but when your students leave high school they must have an education and skill set that is relevant to jobs in the U.S. market. Those jobs are overwhelmingly STEM related. Even worse; we have a deficit of talent to fill these roles. Our only hope to grow a weak economy rests in a regeneration of interest in STEM education so that our high schoolers can grow up to fill the widening STEM skills gap. Based on your letter I know how much you care about the welfare of your students – do you want them to enter the workforce without the skills to excel in our new – highly tech-based economy?
Education is both preparation for life and life itself. It has to be. High school education should be focused on teaching practical skills to students, educating them in career options, and ensuring they can read/write/communicate.
I don’t want to undervalue education for education’s sake. In high school I was actively involved in our music, arts and performing arts program. I obtained my B.A. in American Studies (advanced social studies) because it provided a curriculum that I loved to learn about. However, when I entered the workforce I had no idea who I wanted to be or what I was going to do because my degree was not directly applicable to a profession. I am thankful that I found my niche, but I was lucky to do so before the financial collapse of 08/09. Students since have been forced to grow up quickly and must know what path to take before entering the workforce because jobs are sparse (except in STEM) and companies can no longer afford to gamble on someone who is arbitrarily exploring their career options.
If you’d like to read more about STEM education, read one of my earlier blog posts here.
Cold. Hard. Truth.