When I first moved into my fixer-upper almost five years ago, I had a long-lasting stand-off with rodents. They were intruders, squatters who violated my space. Friends said they were "only" mice. Well, if they were only mice, then they would have fallen mindlessly for the humane plastic traps filled with crunchy peanut butter which gave their captor the option of banishing them into the wilderness. But these things were cunning; my roommate swears that he saw one jump on top of the plastic trap as the vermin threw him an obscene hand signal. So, by virtue of their behavior, I called them rats. But unlike the filthy, manipulative intruders I experienced in my home, according to tradition, the Rat appears in the Chinese Zodiac as an animal which bears prosperity, charm, and order. Some also say it brings with it death, war, and pestilence.
As thoughts from the Western New Year fade away and the lunar/Chinese New Year approaches (Feb. 7), ushering in the year of the Rat, I wonder whether this year will indeed bring prosperity and order to education, or pestilence instead. I really want to be optimistic and believe that all the hard work policy-makers and educators do in the interest of kids will make a significant difference this year. However, the way I see it, things are not looking all that rosy right now, especially in California, where hopes of a "Year of Education" have vaporized with the reality of California's budget crisis as reported in the San Jose Mercury News. Also, many schools continue to languish in the bottom percentage by standards defined by NCLB with no clear changes expected to this legislation in the near future. Many teachers are even considering leaving the classroom as they feel less and less supported by educational environments that are less concerned with authentic learning and more focused on testing.
And then I remember my work with kids in South Central LA 13 years ago when I first started out in education: kids like Richard, scrawny, often hungry and unkempt, wheezing through the halls because as he shared an inhaler with his brother. And there was Yolanda, a sixth grader barely reading at a first grade level because she had spent most of her young life moving from town to town, living in a car while her classmate Monique fought to survive physical abuse at home. Yet somehow, these same kids had the ability to start and end a school day with a contagious smile. They remind me that for many school kids - especially in the poorest areas of the U.S., be it the Appalachians or Watts--there is so much more going on than what tests or grade level expectations can explain.
So as we continue to evaluate the direction our lives are taking early this year as they are affected by our personal decisions, political events, government policies, and so forth, I say that we not let The Rat dictate the outcome of this year. Instead, let us hold on to our promises to kids - for California, to really make this the "Year of Education," for the U.K. to encourage others to make this the "National Year of Reading" - and stop for a moment and make a resolution to see education as something beyond the books, classroom lessons, and homework assignments - to see the face of real children whose lives affect us and are affected by us. Let's make this year, perhaps this era, one for the prosperity of our children and youth.
Tags: classroom instruction, reading instruction, education reform