More isn’t always better

I didn’t start teaching until I was 37 years old. While I pretty much knew I wanted to be a math teacher when I was about 15 years old, I also knew I would not have been successful had I stepped into a classroom at 22 years old. So, life went a different direction for a while.

For the nine years immediately before I started teaching, I worked in the golf business…mostly as an Assistant Professional and, for the last bit, as a Head Professional. During that span I helped with golf shop inventory, running tournaments and outings and giving lessons to people ranging from complete beginners to people that were actually better than me. The current trend of the corporate reform movement reminds me a lot of my former students of the golf swing.

The first time I would meet with a new student, I’d usually spend the entire first lesson just talking to them about where their game was and what their goals were. Depending on how that went, I might have them pick up a club but usually that wouldn’t happen until the second lesson. If the person happened to be a complete beginner, they wouldn’t even start trying to hit a golf ball until the third lesson. We would build slowly, starting with the grip, stance and posture. Once they could do those statically, we would start building the golf swing, starting with short chipping/pitching swings, but always returning to the grip, stance and posture. With already accomplished golfers, we would work on some small tweak (club position at top of swing, perhaps, or a swing plane adjustment for a different ball flight).

After a week of independent practice, they’d come back to me. Almost without fail, a small change that we had worked on the previous week had morphed into something completely ridiculous. When reminded where I wanted the position to be, the student invariably said something to the effect of ‘well, if a little was good, more must have been better’.

A similar thing seems to have happened with the education reform crowd. The charter school movement started out as a reasonable experiment, offering what could have been a legitimate way to try out new methods in pedagogy. But it is now threatening the very existence of public school. Simple guidelines of what a student should know at the end of each school year have been bastardized into multi-paged documents written in a language most people (even educators) can barely understand. This, in turn, has created a the standardized testing monster that we currently have.

The fundamentals of public education are sound.  We have a legion of dedicated professionals that go into a classroom every day to make a difference. Does public education need a couple little tweaks? Of course. To claim otherwise would be disingenuous. But these huge changes…CCSS, charter school takeover of public school spaces, standardized testing…will do far more harm than good.

More isn’t better.

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