Traditional but Good?

I finished reading “Whatever it Takes” and I found it truly fascinating because it challenged a lot of my thoughts on the education system. It’s hard to argue that the Promise Academy isn’t a wonderful thing: it’s educating children in poverty and helping them get into college by staying on grade level. However, Canada’s primary measurement of success is entirely based on standardized testing. Kids are drilled for the test. There are early morning classes and afterschool classes and even Saturday classes all aimed at further test prep. The book talks about how test prep during the school day started to squeeze out time meant for things like the arts and projects and physical activities and the biggest supporter of these programs, the first middle school principal, Terri Grey, was eventually fired because her priorities didn’t align with preparing students for the test. 

This method of schooling goes against pretty much everything I’ve come to believe about education. I think assessment is important – this is how we get feedback and measure progress – but, the traditional methods of school assessment, such as grades and standardized tests, are no longer measuring the right outcomes of schooling. To truly be prepared for college and beyond in today’s world, a student needs more than the ability to memorize information and control anxiety and focus long enough to take a four-hour long test. Students need to be critical and creative thinkers that know how to solve complex problems on diverse teams. They need to know how to network, present, research, listen, empathize, and take agency just as a start. These skills are not measured on standardized tests, so if you only teach to the test, how do you develop all of these other skills? I don’t think it’s possible. As Grey hinted at, these are two very different education paradigms that would be paradoxical to co-exist. 

Sure, soft skills were mentioned from time to time in “Whatever it Takes.” It seemed certain teachers tried to incorporate soft skills in their classroom, but these were often minor lessons about being polite and talking and listening in a professional manner, and these are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of important soft skills to know. There was no mention of collaboration or giving presentations or complex problem-solving or anything to that caliber. 

Now I understand that, as a new charter school, Promise Academy had a duty to perform. They had to do well on standardized tests in order for the city to let them continue with their charter. Furthermore, while I don’t think standardized tests should be the ultimate measurement of success, I can’t deny that they do help measure basic knowledge (ignoring the elements of test anxiety and being distracted, etc). For the students in Harlem attending Promise Academy’s Middle School, the vast majority were below grade level. I can understand how it might be hard to think beyond, “We need these kids at grade level on these tests,” and going into testing bootcamp mode is one solution to this problem. It’s hard to spend time on projects and developing soft skills when there is the hugely apparent obstacle of kids lacking basic math and reading skills. I can empathize with this train of thinking, but I can’t accept that teaching to the test is the best method for preparing students for college and beyond even for kids who have “fallen behind.” But I also can’t deny that Canada was successful. His methods got underperforming kids up to standard and even off to college. 

That in itself is still pretty remarkable and that’s exactly why this book has been challenging for me to read. It’s made me wonder: how can a school that to me is focusing on all the wrong things, also be doing so much good? And while struggling with this question for past few days, I think I’ve finally come to an answer: it’s because traditional schooling is not inherently bad. Traditional schools can still help kids learn, be a safe environment, be supportive, help kids get to college and be a place alum are proud to come home to. Traditional schooling isn’t all bad, it’s just that it needs an update – the core principals of our education system haven’t changed in the past century since it’s founding, but we live in a very different world now. 

Our world requires more of employees now, like the soft skills previously mentioned. We’ve learned that our students can do more now, like contribute on community projects no matter how young they are. Our colleges expect more now, like participation in the arts, extra projects, and sports. “Whatever it takes” has made me realize that most of the time when I’ve thought about learner-centered education, I’ve a – mostly been discussing high school students, and b – not given a lot of thought to educating underperforming students. But most of all, this book has reminded me why it can be so hard to convince skeptics of learner-centered education; it’s because some traditional schools are in fact doing good for society, but the thing is, now it’s time to be doing even more.

Starting a Story

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I had completely forgotten that I would not have Wifi for the week of Christmas while I was up at my family’s cottage in Pennsylvania. Therefore, I was sadly not able to blog, but I was writing down ideas through out the week so now it’s time to catch up!

It was weird not having wifi because so much of what I would typically work on, when I finally have time, requires the internet: blogging, twitter, reading articles, researching things, etc. However, it was kind of nice to not have the internet because it forced me to just relax with family since there was no way for me to do that kind of stuff. Plus I got to spend a while reading, which I haven’t really gotten to do in a while!

I love the feeling of finishing a book, especially when you have another already waiting to be read. With it finally being winter break I’ve actually been able to read just for fun for the first time in forever!!!

Back in the summer, which feels like so long ago now, I had started a rather easy book called “Kingdom Keepers” which is about Disney World after hours and these 5 kids that have to battle evil Disney villains. I started the book because it looked interesting since I love Disney so much, and over the summer I had been reading a lot of “thinky” books as I call them because they were those kinds of books that you can only read for so long before needing to stop and digest, so I wanted to read something fun and easy that didn’t make me think so much.

However, I started the book so late into summer that I didn’t get a chance to finish before school started, and then I didn’t have time to read my fun easy book. But once winter break started, I decided I would read nothing else until first finishing that book.

 And I did.

 In 1 day.

(I did say it was an easy book… Those last 150 pages I had left felt like nothing.)

After finishing that book (which is actually the first in a series, so I really want to start the next one…), I decided to start The Great Gatsby since I need to read that before school starts again. Reading this book is actually the only “assignment” I have for the winter break. The funny part is that I self assigned it along with Kat for our AP Lang course. We both wanted to read the book because everyone is always talking about it being a great book, so naturally we got curious as to what the big fuss it. Plus many English teachers often end up assigning it, so we thought it was a book that we definitely needed to read.

When I started reading the book I actually thought the main narrator was a girl. I don’t know what lead me to this belief, but it wasn’t until about 3 pages in that I finally went, “Wait a minute. This guy is a guy. This changes everything!”

My instinctual conclusion made me wonder if we naturally assume a narrator is like ourselves; therefore, in my case that would make this narrator a girl at first. I mean the role of the narrator is to help move the story forward and converse with the audience. They are the one character that always is breaking the 4th wall and typically they can be played by any type of person. This is because who the narrator is, is often less important than what the narrator is saying. So it makes sense that we would naturally want to relate with the narrator as much as possible.

However this isn’t always the case. Some stories have the narrator being a person who is actually in the story, making every narration like a mini soliloquy where the character tells you about how they were feeling on the inside, during or after a particular situation occurs.

The type of narration can really change a story because it changes the perspective in which you hear a story from. When you change the perspective you get an entirely different story. That’s why stories like Malificent and Wicked are so popular, because they tell you an old story from a new perspective, which changes the story in ways that make you question what is the “truth”.

The beginnings of stories fascinate me because in those first pages you can discover what type of book you are about to read based on the perspective it is told from. In The Great Gatsby, the narrator is also the main character, Nick. Right from the beginning you are able to tell that this story will be a reflective piece about a time in Nick’s life where exciting and life changing events took place.

However, not everything about the beginnings of a story is so great. In fact, they are often long and sometimes drag on without much excitement for a while because the backstory has to be set before the story can really get interesting.

The Great Gatsby has been one of those books that hasn’t gotten too terribly interesting yet. I haven’t reached that point where I can’t put it down until I finish it quit yet. So I am still on the hunt to figure out “What’s the big deal about The Great Gatsby; why has it become such a staple in high school literature?”

It is the nature of the world to be Secret

Today was a lay back and relax kind of day. I woke up late, ate, read a lot, made cookies, and now I’m blogging. Nothing too exciting went on here, but I did finally finish reading Wicked.

(Plus, it was a choice for a summer reading book this year which was nice since I was going to read it anyway.)

With the end of the book there was more talk about the whole “good versus evil” thing, so I figured now would be a good time to bring that up again. This one paragraph specifically caught my attention:

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This excerpt didn’t change my opinions on the topic (in the idea that words are powerful and difficult to define), but I really liked the way it was worded, and the idea of a secret.

 It just goes to show how humans don’t know everything and we never will, but that doesn’t stop us from wondering and imagining anyway. (“It is the nature of the world to be secret”; time, water, good, evil, words…)

Also, shout out to my friend Marisa ( http://alltheplanets.wordpress.com ) who recently wrote a really good post on perception as well. (And also talked about Wicked; great minds think alike!)

The Power of Perception

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“The power of perception is infinite.”- Annabel Soutar

Yesterday, (tear that I forgot to blog then), I saw Maleficent, and it was amazing! Don’t worry there will be no spoilers for today at least. I just always get intrigued by this style of theater. Wicked my favorite non-Disney musical, is MIND BLOWING, because it makes you think and question everything you already know about good, evil, and the world. Then the creators of Maleficent realized how great of an idea it is to create an entire movie from the “villain’s” perspective, so they did too.

If movies and musicals can become great hits by just taking a story and telling it from a new perspective, imagine what could happen in life if everyone took the time to examine situations from other perspectives. As shown by Wicked and Maleficent, we would probably come to learn that everyone is not what they seam, and sometimes a “bad guy” might not be all that bad.

Then this brings up the whole debate about “what is good and bad, and how can we define the difference?”

I don’t think there is a “good” answer to that question. (I don’t know if you actually found that funny, but I really crack myself up sometimes!)

Words are all relative, and they always will be, so maybe this debate isn’t worth having. This is why words can be so powerful.  It truly comes down to how you interpret stories and what situation you are making an opinion about, but there is definitely a special power that comes with being able to examine stories from multiple perspectives.

It makes you more likely to question the nature of things. And, change always starts with a question.

I’m having one of those moments now where I don’t really know where I was going with this yesterday, but at the same time this is one of those topics that may not need be taken any further right now. Instead, I will ponder more about the ideas of perception, good, and evil, and maybe some day I will come back to it if I have a new thought.