October 6th, 2010

Learning Through Experiences, Not Test Scores

As a teacher of high school students and a leader of the network Accomplished California Teachers, I know how much we rely on parents and community members to support our work.  I don’t mean support  strictly in a financial sense, though obviously that’s an essential part of the issue.  But beyond the allocation of dollars, we need to the allocation of good will, the validation of our work and our institutions.  We must earn the confidence of the community, and where we succeed, we need that confidence on display, broadcast loud and clear.  I’m excited to be working with Educacy, as a teacher and a parent.  I’m hopeful that we are joining together as advocates who value public education in California, who appreciate its successes, and who will fight to strengthen the system in times of need because we know that a high quality public education for all is the best path to a peaceful and secure future for all Californians.

If you think back to your childhood and your schooling, what do you recall most vividly?  What experiences had the greatest impact in shaping the person you became?  I’ll bet that whether you’re recalling positives or negatives, you’re thinking about how someone made you feel, or something you learned to do for yourself.  Feelings of intense shame and bursting pride are likely to stick with us.  Opportunities to build something or perform something, opportunities where we could have failed but ended up a success – these are the lasting lessons of our younger years, recalled with ease even when all the facts and formulas and grades have faded from memory.

If you are a parent, what stands out most vividly about supporting your child in school?  I’ll bet that whether you’re recalling positives or negatives, once again, you’re thinking about how you or your children felt, or what they learned to do.  That’s the way we operate.  Grades and test scores are ephemeral, while that which touches our humanity remains with us, sometimes for years, and with startling clarity.

So how did we get here, to this juncture in education history?  Why are we measuring our children, our students, our teachers and schools with numbers when we talk about education in the public arena?  In the present era, we have access to previously unthinkable amounts of data and information.  We push aside our most powerful experiences and forget our own learning.  We choose instead to gather the data, revere the research, and make a fetish of percentiles and indices.  Acronyms assume meanings, labels take on lives of their own, and we give them power by speaking their names over and over.

The Latin root of “education” is “educare” – which means “to pull out, extract.”  As a teacher, that etymological lesson is a reminder to seek what is inside my students.  I build a safe and stimulating environment to coax out of them the willingness to take a risk, the energy to care, the personal drive to learn, to make meaning from everything around them and derive knowledge that can only come from within them.  The test of this education doesn’t come at the end of the year; it comes every day thereafter, when we see what students can do with whatever has been “pulled out” of them.

Some observers suggest that this philosophy is fine for certain students, privileged and successful, while other students are so deficient in basic skills that we must address that problem first. By subscribing to the “empty vessel” theory, they see education backwards, and argue that teaching is about putting something in – facts and formulas, “value-added” – rather than pulling something out.  By being in touch with our own best and worst educational experiences, we remind ourselves what it meant to us when schools and teachers helped something new and wonderful emerge, and what it meant to be bottled up or shut down by people or systems that failed us.

Let’s join together to bring about a new phase of education debate and advocacy, one defined by a shared vision about the purposes of education, rather than splitting ourselves into factions, exaggerating our differences and gravitating towards ideological encampments.  In fact, it is the lack of a unified vision about educational goals that many of us feel hampers the debate and stalls much needed broad systemic reforms.  When we don’t agree about why we’re educating students, we see our discussions devolve into arguments over means and methods without a mission.

To articulate this mission and achieve it, we need the whole community of parents and students, educators and researchers, business and citizens.  We need to maintain a vision of our best selves and our students’ best futures, talk about who we are, who we will be, and what we will do.  We need to listen to each other with appreciation, and trust each other enough to ask and answer questions that refine everyone’s thinking.  To paraphrase John Dewey, we must care enough to provide for every child the education we most valued for ourselves, and want for our children.  Let’s hold ourselves, our educators, community members and policy makers to that standard, and good results will follow.

Fore more information on InterACT, please visit our website:  http://accomplishedcaliforniateachers.wordpress.com

From the Teachers
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October 3rd, 2010

The Young Human Blues? The Call for a Teacher Hippocratic Oath

On Monday mornings, does your child awaken eagerly anticipating school?

It’s a simple question. Yet, the answer has powerful consequences. Your child’s attitude towards school affects your entire family–one “bad” school year can poison family peace for years to come. Ask any parent who has trouble getting their child out of bed—it is a repetitive and hellish battle.

This “I-Want-to-Stay-in-Bed-Itis” can turn into a dis-ease that needs monitoring like any high fever.  If it continues without treatment, it can psychologically scar your child beyond adolescence. The most common causes can be sorted roughly into three categories: teacher/student, peer, and child/parent relationships.  I will be addressing only the first today. Too often, there is an unspoken but real mental battle between the teacher and student. The child may not be able to verbalize it, but it can work something like this:

“My teacher really doesn’t get me. She is judging me by a skill I don’t have or a personality trait I do. I try to do the work as best I can—I really try to pay attention—even when she is boring.  But sometimes my mind slips somewhere else, and she calls on me and…I don’t feel worthwhile. I feel like a loser. I don’t always get what she is trying to teach—even though it’s probably simple for others.  It is hard to feel like the good person I really am.  After all, my teacher is a smart adult, and if she doesn’t think I am good enough—maybe I am a bad and stupid person.  And, if I am bad and stupid, that puts me in a bad mood.  I don’t want to keep going to school to repeat that failing feeling—not just as a student, but as a person as well.”

Imagine if you had to survive your work in that mental state each day!

Here’s a question I’ve asked hundreds of adults: how many teachers do you remember dearly—teachers that had a strong influence on you? Most people answer only three or four. If you have been through college, you have had approximately 150 teachers since kindergarten.  So, the truly memorable ones are a mere three percent at best.

What made those teachers so special? There are many reasons, but there seems to be a common denominator.  Bottom line: at a deep level, you knew that teacher was “pulling” for you–believed in you even if you didn’t.

Most every child knows if their teacher(s) really care for them or not.   Consciously or unconsciously, they just know.  Sadly, they may not be able to express their conviction in words, or defend their convictions logically.  That’s why it’s necessary for the adult to “discover” the child’s feelings by deciphering what their body language, comments, and actions mean.

In twenty years of teaching, I have never met a teacher who deliberately made a child feel bad.  Why, then, does it happen so often?

Sometimes, teachers, being human, let their personal belief systems cloud their ability to see and understand differing beliefs.  For example, imagine you are a neat, even fastidious, person who highly values your appearance.  And, every day, “Sloppy Joe” walks into your class with shirt out and jeans torn.  What are you to think?  Actually, there are many choices.  Perhaps, this child is poor or without a mother.  So, instead of judging, you would naturally regard this student with patience and compassion.

What about more subtle beliefs?  The ill effects of a teacher’s unexamined, unconscious belief system can be devastating to students.  Fortunately, I have done my best teaching with students that I had little, or no, immediate rapport. It is easy teaching and being with kids you like.  I needed to check myself to make sure I didn’t judge students who exhibited behaviors I didn’t appreciate.  For instance, take a student I perceive is self-indulgent. In my mind, whether accurate or not, that child is being analyzed, judged, and executed in a mere second. And, it will take numerous counter examples for me to change my mind if I remain unaware.  These snap, unexamined judgments are often written as gospel on a child’s permanent record—the ones that follow him until high school graduation. And it just may be a projection by an adult with a different background.

Perhaps, there should be a Teacher Hippocratic Oath.  It would go something like this:

“As a teacher of young ones, I have the sacred duty to treat each child with loving kindness and the utmost respect–since we are equal at the highest of levels. My greater experience and knowledge is only temporary. May I not simplistically label this child.  And may I be wise enough to do what’s in this child’s best interests.”

This is a crucial issue.  This is an issue where, literally, millions of fledgling imaginations are ever so gently bent, inadvertently broken and eventually mutilated. It happened to me. At 12 years of age. I believed Mr. Meltzer’s (my seven grade English teacher) analysis of my poetry.  I bought his theory for the next twenty years hating any writing assignment. Then, I found myself almost-magically writing for a living.

This vital skill of teacher self-reflection is rarely, if ever, taught to prospective teachers in college. Would-be teachers are trained to reflect on the success of individual lessons.  Being taught to effectively reflect on their relationships with their students is at least as important.  If it exists, it is far too scarce of a commodity.

As the brilliant educator, Parker Palmer, understood: number one, you teach who you are, and everything else is second.

And so, in this era of teacher evaluation–just like so many standards, measurements, and inspections in school, we are trying to measure all the wrong things.  Will you, your child, and your entire family be the next ones to pay for this lack of consciousness?

Mark Gordon is founder of Kinesthetic Academics—learning academic skills through movement (in half the normal time, he can teach nearly anyone how to write a clear, five-paragraph essay by playing ball).  He has been Executive Director of an innovative learning lab, The AHA Center. His book, If Einstein Ran Our Schools, will be published next spring.

From the Teachers
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September 22nd, 2010


Hello and welcome to the Educacy website! Kay Louie and I, Co-Founders of Educacy, sincerely hope that you find our site a useful resource for educational tools, information, facts, news, and voting information, as well as an inviting place to continuously share ideas and views with other parents and community members who are concerned about the state of public education in California and are committed to reform.

We were individually working on education advocacy issues in our respective communities (I in Evergreen in San Jose and Kay in Redwood City), and understood that the most impactful way for us to spur change was to join our communities and involved members together as a single force. Each of our school districts, likely similar to yours, was facing extreme budget cuts that had resulted in teacher lay-offs, increased class sizes, and the elimination or reduction in critical programs and services, such as libraries, guidance counselors, and buses. While some districts are able to implement successful fundraising campaigns and/or pass parcel taxes that are critical to mitigating district shortfalls, they are short-terms solutions that cannot be sustained. What we need is long-term reform that brings more money to public education, ensures that the money that we do have is spent efficiently and wisely, and that our children are provided a well-rounded curriculum supported by a highly trained and properly compensated teacher pool.

Only through a strong, powerful parent network will we make it possible for our children’s voices to be heard and rise above the noise of politics and bi-partisanship. We look forward to your ideas, your commitment, and your engagement on all topics related to public education. Please join both our Discussion Board and our Facebook group, and let other parents know about our organization.

And don’t forget to visit our newly launched website!


Steffanee Taylor, Co-Founder, Educacy


September 15th, 2010

My future is the future of California

Junior year is just starting for me, and I can assume what might happen for the rest of the school year at Silver Creek. Major budget cuts have obviously affected all the schools in my district, and I know it will not be the same. I was fortunate to experience a wonderful freshman year with some budget cuts, but it didn’t affect me or my peers as much as it is now. My perspective, however, changed my sophomore year. I saw that my classes were getting bigger and heard that playing in a sport team in Silver Creek required a “donation” of $200.00. Right off the bat, I knew something was out of place. Why is the athletic department charging so much to be in a team, and why do I not see some teachers from my freshman year? More budget cuts…

The financial crisis in the state of California plays a big toll to our education, now. It’s stripping educators of their jobs and their passion to teach. It’s taking half of the counselors from Silver Creek away; leaving us with less time and guidance for the path we choose after high school. It makes a table for 8, a table of 12. A room can hold so much, and I feel like California is squeezing students into a classroom trying to make a perfect “fit”.

Also, as an ASB officer last fiscal year, my officers, the leadership class and I had to deal with the possibility of losing our Activities Director (AD). I believe this job is so important when it comes to creating social lives in the high school environment. We already have to deal with homework, and I believe everyone needs a boost to keep them motivated to stay in school. ASB events that are held in or outside of school bring more friends together and create a lasting memory. I’ve joined Homecoming, attended all the school dances, participated in multiple clubs, and involved myself in FANTASTICS. These organizations and activities have shaped me for the better and for my future. I cannot imagine going to school without looking forward to a lunch rally or a club meeting that week. These extracurricular activities keep me coming back to school with optimistic and ambitious thoughts.

Luckily, the district came around and thought hard about the AD position. However, now that our AD, Mr. Bjorn Berg, is teaching an extra class, his time is very limited to the leadership class. ASB officers had to deal with being notified that three of our five school dances had to be removed from the calendar. We now have to place our annual Civic Auditorium (Downtown, San Jose) event, FANTASTICS, back to Silver Creek’s gym. It’s obvious that the students have to cut back after school social events. However, we are lucky to keep our Inter-Club-Council (ICC) which is a student- run group that is in charge with the status of all the clubs in our campus. Without this organization, I wouldn’t be able to join the Filipino Student Union, California Scholarship Federation, and National Honor Society. As you can see, clubs and ASB events play the biggest role in my social life at Silver Creek.

Our school held two Club Days last week, Thursday and Friday, and there were so many new clubs! I was happy to see all the different interests our students had. A new club in our campus that I signed up for was Educacy. This club was formed after a real organization led by an Evergreen Parent, Steffanee Taylor. I was a part of that organization by participating in a photo shoot and commercial shot that informed all residents of California that their vote is very important, especially to our education. After being active in this event, one of my ASB officers, Amanda Schmitt, took the initiative to create a club with the same motive and the same name. I believe this club and organization will help our district come up with some money, and hopefully repair some of the cuts they proposed. It will also push students to encourage their parents to “Vote for Their Future.” This is a theme that the club and the non-profit group live by.  I believe it is our duty, as California students, to stand up and have the ones voting for us hear our voice. Registered voters don’t always have the same perspective that learning students have, and if we can have our parents vote for the future we desire, we can win this financial battle.

If you are a registered voter, if you’re qualified to vote (go register!), and if you care about my future and the future of the fellow students of California, I want you to vote this November! I’m not telling you who and what to vote for, but I can tell you that one vote, your vote, makes a big difference in the end.

Jim De Ocampo
Junior at Silver Creek High School
2011 Associated Student Body Treasurer
Proud member of Educacy

From the Students
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