18 07 2005

The big story in Nashville lately is the school budget and the need for a tax increase to fund it. The backstory on this is that Dr. Pedro Garcia came to Nashville promising to raise test scores, and it hasn’t happened.

Now, the first thing I think about this is that it’s a bit of hubris to think you know how to raise test scores, even if you are superintendent of schools. There is a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle pressure these days to keep people as stupid, uninformed, and distracted as possible. They make better consumers that way.

But I digress. I’m trying to get to the root of the Nashville schools situation—that’s what us radicals do, is go to the roots of problems where they can be solved, rather than bat at their hydra heads forever like a bunch of Democrats. I start my analysis with two considerations: the notion of defining academic quality by standard tests, and the function of school in our culture.

Root one: defining academic quality by test scores, now mandated nationwide by the so-called no child left behind act, which i think is about the stupidest thing Teddy Kennedy has done since he drove off that bridge in Chappaquidick. Defining academic quality by test scores is a very mechanical/industrial way to look at schooling: Children are empty vessels sent in to be filled with facts, and their ability to repeat those facts on demand indicates whether their teachers are doing a good job.

Teachers I have talked with are troubled by this interpretation of their occupation. They report that they now are compelled to “teach to the test”most of the time—that is, the academic curriculum is defined by what is on the standard tests, leaving very little room for individual initiative on the part of teachers or students.

This leads into the second root of the Nashville public schools question: what are we sending our children to school for? To be able to regurgitate facts on demand? It’s not much of a life skill. I was very good at taking tests in school, always scored well, but I have yet to find a paying position that involves answering multiple choice questions.

The question of what we are sending children to school for is partially answered by “to prepare them for adult life,” which according to what the schools are doing, will involve increasing levels of surveillance, regimentation, and rigidity, and less time for creativity, relaxation, play and experimentation. Did you know that the art supply budget for Nashville’s primary schools, according to a teacher in the system, is only $1.50 per student per year?

From a Green perspective, not only Nashville’s but our nation’s educational priorities are all wrong. We are spending billions to prepare our children for a future that will not exist as it is being visualized. The world is changing faster than we can imagine. We need to spark creative thinking in our children, not just as in art projects, but as in problem solving. We need to teach them the scientifically circular nature of the world—we are in a closed system in which everything that happens affects everything else. We need to teach our children to know themselves and speak their truth, and to be tolerant of the differences that arise among honest people. We need to make sure every child has some kind of hands-on experiential skills—how to make, grow, or fix things. We need smaller schools, local schools, where parents and students and teachers are part of a real community—a community of people who live, work and play together.We’re a long way from doing that here in Nashville. We could start heading in that direction by electing a school board that will raise thoughtful hell with the status quo, and I think you, dear listener, might just be the person to do it. Go out and run for school board. Talk to lots and lots of people about how it is and how it oughta be and how to get there from here. Go for it. You can’t win if you don’t try.




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