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Re: “Teaching for America” by Tom Friedman

November 21, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

In his November 20, 2010 article, Tom Friedman makes the case for a new paradigm of teacher recruiting. Among his suggestions are a trio of critical student skills deemed essential by Tony Wagner of Harvard University.

  1. The ability to think critically and problem solve.
  2. The ability to communicate effectively
  3. The ability to work in collaboration.

As a core trio these are truly essential skills. How great is the challenge to acquire these skills? Friedman’s article gradually asserts the importance of better teachers and vigilant parents to guide their children to a better education. In light of these suggestions and the challenges associated with their inspiration, it is helpful to drill deeper and consider the root cause for these issues. In other words, I agree with Friedman’s suggestions but feel he has failed to properly consider the cause of these issues. Friedman notes the problem but let’s root out the causes.

Cause One: The need for better teachers.

How do we define a quality teacher? Herein lies the inherent confusion of locating quality teachers- we simply don’t have a rubric to define the concept. The use of test scores unfairly punishes teachers who work with less-skilled students. Evaluation on the quality or production (ie student learning) is ideal, but too often we compare Student A in the classroom with Students B to Z in the nation.Until we understand the definition of a quality teacher we cannot recruit better teachers.

In my mind a quality teacher is one who advances the individual student’s comprehension at the individual level. In my definition, each student exists in a bubble and is measured from year to year on the level of growth. The educator’s job is to advance that student’s level of interest in learning, understanding of material, or life functioning. Note the critical factor here: academic advancement is not the single measure of success. In my system, if an educator increases a student’s passion for knowledge or ability to function in society then a success has occurred and the teacher is a success.

Cause Two: The need for more vigilant parents

We exist in a society in which parents expect public education to craft a functioning member of society. While this is a function of the education system, the burden of responsibility is a shared one between government and parent. Both entities need the individual to function correctly and are charged with the task of crafting an ideal citizen. As a culture we need to recognize this shared burden and respond accordingly.

Culture change is hard, if not impossible. If as a society we shift our responsibilities from the individual to the government we launch our proverbial crafts on a burning river of disaster. We cannot function in a system and it is the responsibility of our elected leaders to establish these boundaries. A failure to lead establishes this system. Here again we find a lack of clear distinction. What is leadership?

Leadership is not the provision of supplies and support. Leadership is keen awareness and guidance. Modeled on our cultural archetypes, our ideal politician is more military general than charitable CEO. We are in need of support, but if we fail to recognize the realistic factors of our world we lose connection and distort our perspectives on the real. Fantasy land is fun but leads only to a tragic end.

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