Thursday, November 21, 2013

Knowledge and Experience have the power…don’t they?

The Huffington Post article, “These 11 Leaders Are Running Education But Have Never Taught,”, has grabbed hold of my brain and won’t let go.  For two weeks, the material in this piece has made a home in my subconscious jabbing it a few times a day for kicks and giggles, and invading my dreams during the night just to be perverse.

Although, like Elvis, I have left the school building, any insight or activity that benefits teachers teaching and students learning will always fuel my passion.  The downside of the coin-and everything positive has a flip side, are people who become involved in the world of education for political or monetary gain, or who are on power trips. Any policy that keeps young people from becoming lifelong learners or that doesn’t support the teaching profession just fuels my ire.  The problem with this article is- it does both.

I have an issue with people who have never, ever spent a day trying to motivate, inspire, cajole, manage and discipline a room full of children to jump off the curb and join their teachers on the Learning Path pushing their policies on those who have walked the walk and talked the talk.

About a week into my first teaching job after college, I realized that my professors did an A+ job preparing me in my subject area and in how to plan and create lesson plans, but a C- job in showing me the realities of the classroom.  Why? They had probably never taught below the college level and were theory-smart but reality-lacking.

The eleven headliners mentioned in this article experience the same Ivy Tower vs. Classroom Reality complexity. Most of them hold post-high school degrees, although not in any areas touching on education. All of them are politically savvy, and some of them reside in the financial stratosphere. Like the majority of people in this country, they care about the education of our children-our future. That’s laudable. Education needs all of the support and all of the sincere concern that it can get. Any concepts, perceptions and perspectives that will support teachers, teaching and learning should be considered if children are to succeed academically.

But…but… these directives should not be adopted and pushed on school districts just because their originators and compatriots are a part of the Who I Know Club instead of the What I Know League.
My parents raised me with the understanding that What I Know would prevail.  Even when a comment by the president and CEO of a coal company, the father of one of my best friends, stomach-punched me with the comment, “Oh, Connie, this is a Who you Know world. What you know is secondary-at best,” I refused to bury my belief. Call me naïve, but I have always let knowledge be my guide.

During my career in education, I never strayed from teaching the components of secondary English: literature comprehension, all types of writing, grammar, vocabulary and oral speaking. Did I try to teach history because I have spent years talking with my M.A. in History husband about historical issues? No.  Did I try to teach any area of math? Now that would have been an audacious joke since Math and I have never understood each other.  

The House of Comprehension cover
My writing successes have stemmed from What I Know as well as the hours, days and years that I have spent transposing my thoughts to paper.  Well, this is slightly untrue.  A Virginia politician and a former student’s media-connected sister and her friend have aimed a spotlight at my book, The House of Comprehension, but only after they expressed their beliefs that it had merit.  Now, though, I need to develop an understanding of marketing techniques, if I want that light to shine. Once again, the What I Know, or in this case, what I don’t know but have to learn, comes into play.

Why, then, can people whose college majors, and whose professional lives, though brilliant in many capacities, but who haven’t sat in a classroom since high school be allowed to impact teachers and students so strongly? Why should those who, if at all, have only experienced teaching realities through the work of parents or spouses hold such sway over the careers of those on both sides of the desk? Does their concern about education give them the power to dictate what teachers should teach, as well as how and when they should communicate the material? Shouldn’t the thoughts and opinions of those who have been successful in the classroom trenches year after year after year have more value?

If an interest is all that it takes to be influential, than I should be a surgeon because I love learning about the body, what ails it and what fixes it, and as a child, I spent many a happy hour studying the body and all of the overlays (skeletal, muscular, etc.) in my parents’ encyclopedias. Or, I could be a Supreme Court Judge because I have strong opinions about many subjects that are based in constitutional laws.  Why shouldn’t I start at the top instead of grabbing onto the lowliest rung of the Influencing the Lives of Millions of People ladder as these eleven have done with educational matters?

Why not? Because I would be undermining  the grueling hours of learning to earn the degrees necessary to become a doctor, a judge, a teacher, or anyone whose career depends on the knowledge and understanding of specific material. Mere interest and opinions that could be detrimental instead of beneficial to others should not wield more power. 

Why not? Because I believe that book knowledge + on the job experience are crucial criteria if one’s policies are to affect millions of people.

Why not?  Because I will always stand on the principle that What People Know should always trump Who People Know in decision-making situations.

Is this naïve of me? Yes.

Would I rather the doctor I trust to diagnose my symptoms or the judge passing laws that affect my life have the knowledge, understanding and experience to walk the walk and talk the talk? Yes.

Do I believe that these views that I hold are the realities that we live?

No. And that bothers me.

Until next week,