The New York Times Book Review was particularly full of articles relating to all things educational. From Jewish mother’s values to a diary of a substitute teacher in Maine and even a back-to-school coloring section, the complexity of learning, woven in the tapestry of nations around the world and revealed almost threadbare in our schools can leave one uncertain about the state of education and how to improve your country through your school.
And while we are on it, can we improve our country and our schools given that the home serves as the primary school of influence? In “Multiple Choice,” Alejandro Zambra examines the compliant nature of standardized testing in Chile. Of course the military dictatorship of Pinochet guided the use of standardized tests but they are the perfect vehicle for dictatorships, aren’t they? When testing demands students to re-examine their learning, we might approve, but when the re-examination forces students to think of Borges as a series of time-line events instead of the beating heart writ large, how are we educating students to think? And after we send our students to their work places and the complaint comes back that the students cannot think for themselves, why are we surprised?
In the Bridge to Briliiance, Principal Nadia Lopez says, “I was part of an educational system that, despite its best intentions, only reinforced their failures.” In ADHD Nation, Alan Schwarz quotes one clinician saying: “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.” And in the Gardener and the Carpenter, Alison Gropnik provides “scientific validation that there’s not much we can do to help or hinder our kids.”
Lots of criticism of the ineffectiveness of education does not mean there are no paths to a renewed sense of reform in an effort to improve our country. But these leather-bound viewpoints do point to renewed efforts at defining the problems that already exist in our society and a needed re-doubling of our policy efforts to change the environment of schools to better match the complexity of those we teach. Perhaps the title of the book review, “Tough Lessons,” plated upside down on the front cover of a book, could serve as a visual admonishment that if we don’t understand the tough lessons of who are kids are now, where they come from and the wiring already constructed in their brains in this post modern society, we will not be able to muster a reasonable set of policies to improve their lives through education. Our county’s improvement depends on getting this right.