By Angela Grant
WHAT is the ROLE of EDUCATION?
Today, children are suffering from a lack of human guidance. They exist in a virtual world of texting and social networking sites. Their role models live in cyberspace, doling out advice, instilling cyber-values and their own beliefs. Cyberspace is an exciting world where anything can happen. Unfortunately, some have used this space to exploit others.
What is the role of our educational systems in supporting these children as they navigate the problems of self, community, family, teachers, Internet and cell phones?
And the follow-up question is, “Are children receiving the best education to prepare for the challenges of life, people, and education?”
These questions resonate loudly among government agencies, educators, health care providers and parents. I believe the core of this debate centers on defining “education and the role of schools.” The role of education has always been to prepare the next generation’s workforce, to sustain our economy and to keep the government going, among others.
This is an area of great interest to me, the emphasis being on upstream interventions, and the universal promotion of health and well-being in schools.
So what is the role of education?
The answer is fundamental to education reform. The lack of a unified vision to this seemingly simple question is a clear sign of the growing discomfort with the status quo. However, so far, most suggestions have been different versions of the current system of trendy packages.
What is wrong with evaluating teachers’ performance? Nothing! It *is* necessary. In the public school system, there are many teachers harming our children because of incompetence and bullying. On the other hand, there are many phenomenal teachers. The latter are not the problem, and, unfortunately, very few of them teach in disadvantaged communities.
Incompetence comes in many shapes, which makes it imperative to find meaningful metrics for evaluating teachers’ performance. Teachers are crucial role models to our children. I believe that teachers need more diverse toolkits to accommodate the ever-enlarging repertoire of communication and learning styles in a culturally complex, global world. Cultural incompetence is a major obstacle to meaningful and productive communication and learning.
Our current system is replete with teachers whose cultures are vastly different from their students’. That’s okay! However, I find it outrageous that many teachers and educators have no awareness or understanding of their students’ culture, norms, values and beliefs. That presents a challenge in building trusting relationships, and positive school climates, since language reflects one’s culture. In other words, children are not grasping all they can and should because of ineffective communication due to lack of cultural competence.
Another major problem with education is the lack of cultural inclusion or variety in our textbooks. Textbooks should be tailored to the community. Children should see their own faces in text books. Those faces should be leaders, not always bystanders. Children should learn about THEIR own cultures in the history books.
Instead, textbooks have further marginalized ethnic groups and reinforced stereotypes propagated daily by the media. Many disadvantaged children are taught the teachers’ values, norms and beliefs. In other words, they are taught to ASSIMILATE to Anglo-Saxon Western Culture. From an early age, the system dismisses minority cultures by not recognizing and valuing its people and their contributions. No wonder these social programs don’t work! Their approach often crushes an entire communities’ values, norms and beliefs. To make education relevant cultural competence is imperative.
A couple of the myriads of problems facing our educational system. What have we done? What we always do?
We have wasted tax payers’ money on Standardized Testing and on evidence-based programs based on Western data and values. Standardized tests are useful certification and competitive tools. However, these tests are given to children whose brains are still developing without cultural considerations, severely limiting their (tests) utility to predict future cognitive abilities. How easily can the obsession with testing, interpretation and big data morph into Social Darwinism? I doubt these tests serve much purpose except employment for those who benefit from the system, and to jumpstart labeling and stereotyping processes.
Standardized Testing is a technical fix that will never solve the adaptive problems within our educational system, such as the achievement and educational gaps, or break the vicious cycle of poverty. These and other problems are creating a growing groundswell of dissatisfaction among students, parents, teachers, educators, politicians, and businesses.
Ron Heifetz’s books on Adaptive Leadership provided insight and appreciation of the differences between technical problems and adaptive problems. The latter involves cultural and behavioral changes, a daunting, time-consuming process where discomfort and conflict are necessities. Many evidence-based programs are useful in the contextual environment under which the studies were performed; here lies the importance of fidelity on implementation of these programs, and also in damning them to failure because each community is different with different priorities and belief systems. A one size fits all solution does not work. Many schools implement evidence-based programs without any metrics to define success in their unique socio-physical environments. Instead, evidence-based programs often get misused as some sort of proxy for the above-mentioned outcomes and other evaluation metrics.
Metrics gauge the success of programs guiding future strategies, as well as early indicators on what works and what doesn’t. Currently, educational metrics do not seem to capture the information we need to educate all children.
Parents’ failure to listen and to participate – especially parents living in disadvantaged neighborhoods – will mean more of the same and even worse. Parents, trust your instincts! Trust your knowledge of your child’s educational needs over the advice of the so-called “experts.”
What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice. – Carter G. Woodson