Ensuring Our Children Don’t Fall Between Education Cracks

At a time when information is more readily-accessible than it has ever been in the history of the world, we are more data-driven than ever. With every proposed policy, initiative, and plea for support, we find ourselves saying, “more data.In a struggling economy where unemployment is still on the rise in some regions of the country and the cost of living increases fail to keep up with the rate of inflation, I can’t say that we are not justified in wanting more compelling arguments for parting with our money.

Sadly, it’s no different when it comes to making decisions to fund education in this country. In fact, the funding of K-12 education has become quite the hot button issue as school districts across the nation start to buckle under the weight of the torch they carry to educate the country’s next generation of leaders and world-changers without the necessary support and resources. While both taxpayers and our government hold tightly to the reins of accountability, educators have become increasingly pressured to commit themselves to prescribed curricula that will produce rigid outcome guidelines intent on measuring students’ knowledge of siloed subject areas but offer minimal opportunity for life application.

But in our haste to comply, I often reflect upon those who must travel along that path, willingly or not. I worry that our children will get to be my age and feel ill-equipped to articulate the passion that burns within their hearts or worse, that they will feel disempowered to engage and share their perspectives at the risk of giving the “wrong” answer. In this “teach to the test” culture we’ve created in our classrooms, I’m afraid that we are raising a generation of individuals who will overwhelmingly shun risk and creativity and embrace security and predictability.

We tell our young people from birth that they can be anything and do anything they want, and then fail to equip them with the critical thinking and interdependence skills needed to affect change in the societies that they live in. We limit their education and encourage them to measure themselves based on superficial, subjective labels, tests, and numbers, and then call them self-absorbed, detached from reality, and ill-prepared. If they are any of these things, then it’s because we have failed them.

So in the spirit of collaborative problem-solving, I offer two proposals for collectively ensuring that our children are being educated to be true leaders and problem-solvers.

Challenge your children at home to be critical thinkers instead of rote doers.

I’ve always firmly believed that learning begins at home. Encourage your children to critique, to the level that they understand, the world that they live in. To make it relevant, start with a current issue that is happening in their school. Is there a problem with cliques or bullying? Are there too few text books to go around? Ask your child what she thinks of that and perhaps ask as a follow up, “If you could do anything in the world about it, what would you do?”

As educators work to address the needs of fast growing multicultural populations across the country, pedagogical theories such as cultural relevance teaching has been gaining much traction. One of the leading researchers in multicultural education and culturally relevant pedagogy is Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings. In her groundbreaking research she articulated three principles that rest in the foundation of effective culturally-relevant curricula. One of which is that you challenge students to “develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the status quo of the current social order.” The scenario described above is the start of doing just that. No degree in education is needed.

Become knowledgeable about education policies and funding laws for education in your state and get involved.

Don’t be fooled. You don’t need to be a politician to get involved in informing legislation that impacts education. There are many advocacy groups that function locally, regionally, and nationally and are made up of parents, legislators, educators, and just concerned citizens who share their stories and lobby for improvements in education. Attend school board meetings as often as you can and stay informed about what’s happening in your district. To get started, check out the National Education Association’s website at www.nea.org and search for your state’s affiliate organization.

Never leave the future of your child’s education up to someone else. You have more tools and resources at your fingertips than you realize. Help our children realize that they are more than just a number on a score report. If we are to raise anything, let’s raise the bar on the quality of education that our children receive so that instead of producing competent test-takers, we instead usher in the latest generations of avid life explorers and game changers.

Christina holds degrees in higher education management and English from the University of Pennsylvania and Millersville University respectively. A passionate education advocate, she currently works in higher education and is one of the founding members of the Central Pennsylvania Educational Collaborative advocacy group. In addition to freelance writing and consulting, she writes for her blog, The Post-It Professional, a resource space for up and coming community movers and shakers. www.twentythirtyenterprises.com.