Do you need a quick headline in the media? Attack public education. Do you want to gripe about something in government? Attack public education. Do you have a business venture that needs a cash influx? Attack public education. Attacking public education is becoming a hobby to some and a profession to several others.
I have been critical over the years of many things in public education. From lack of focus or poorly defined goals, disagreement with curriculum, to self-serving unions in DC. However, I have always tried to do what my mother always advised, “If you are going to criticize, offer a solution.” Teddy Roosevelt blatantly made it clear, “It is not the critic who counts,” but rather “the man who is actually in the arena.”
It's not uncommon for people to criticize ideas, individuals, or society without offering constructive alternatives. There will never be a one-size-fits-all model for public education and no single academic model can work in a diversified population in a state or nation. That is why it is critical to have collaboration among educators, parents, citizens, and businesses to transform education at local levels based on the needs of each community. That is real local control.
Students will always need to learn basic skills such as reading, writing, and math. Education stakeholders and policymakers must help students understand the changing world around them. That will mean many different things from community to community, and state to state.
There is no debate that evolving technology is changing how we teach and learn. No single method can accommodate all student learning needs. Through technology, we can enable educators to provide to the unique needs of individual learners based on their readiness levels and student ability. This simply expands direct instruction to a more flexible and personalized approach to content delivery. All instruction, including differentiated instruction, must be structured, sequenced, and led by teachers “directing” the instructional process.
A broader student-centered strategy built around personalization should increase the learning growth of all students. The one-size-fits-all or teach-to-the-middle approach, expecting all students to do the same activity, work at the same pace, do the same homework, and take the same test hurts a significant portion of our students, especially when students lack the prerequisite skills. In addition, personalization better serves the best and brightest students in our classrooms. Technology must be an ally for modern educators in classroom instruction.
A degree in education does not make one an expert in public education. However, too many critics of public education are focusing on the wrong things, using faulty information, or lacking complete information. More importantly, many critics are treading into areas in which they know little to nothing, except by hearsay. This is a dangerous method to create policy.
That does not mean that public education is free from faults or should not continue to transform and change. In his poem "An Essay on Criticism," Alexander Pope warned that being overly confident or proud when it comes to one's own knowledge or skills is detrimental.
Pope uses the phrase "too vain to mend" to describe those who think they are already perfect and have nothing left to learn or improve upon. In fact, he talks about the importance of humility, continued learning, and a balanced approach to criticism and self-assessment.
It's natural for people to have differing opinions, and healthy discussions can lead to better understanding and more effective solutions. All citizens should root for the success of public education if for no other reason than 90% of the children in our nation are educated by public schools. We want our children to succeed and our economy to flourish in this changing world. That message would make for much better headlines.
JC Bowman is the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee