Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Skip Manhattan just give me that Countryside

My misspent youth involved a number of unhealthy pursuits. As a matter of fact I sit here tonight in a anti inflammatory haze brought on by a lifetime of too many sports played with too little finesses...but I digress. My youth also involved copious amounts of 1970's sitcoms and if you catch me with just the right amount of whiskey in my system it isn't long before I can slip into soliloquies from Barney Miller, Bewitched or Hogan's Heroes.

Many of these shows prepared me for my future career as an educator, as the first item you need to pack ever morning when you head to school is a sense of humour. There isn't too many days that I don't look out at the pageantry that is my school when I can't hear the Skipper in the back of my mind saying...Gilligan!

An "old" friend of mine used to say that the modern school experience could be viewed as the 70's TV show "Green Acres" writ large. The more I see, the more I think my friend was right.

For those who may not be familiar, in Green Acres a Middle Aged man (Eddie Albert) decides to eschew Manhattan and takes his new Bride, some heiress from an Eastern European royal family, to the county to live off the land. When he arrives he soon finds that the entire village is insane and his wife fits in just fine. The town, named Hooterville, was ridiculous and I can't be certain that my memory isn't failing me but I believe that the mayor of the town was a pig. But the genius of Green Acres was that everyone in the town thought that Eddie Albert was crazy as he was the only dissenter, it is true that in a world gone mad only the sane seem crazy.

Right now there is a website in Australia where you can see the test results of 8 year old children. Their marks are graphed and averaged against the rest of the country and of course compared to students of similar socioeconomic indices. Can you imagine? I have seen the tests they are quite ridiculous, students are given an hour to answer about 10 questions; most finish them in 3 minutes and sit around for 57 torturous minutes staring at the ceiling. The questions do not revolve around any particular content nor are they diagnostic to any large degree but if you can distinguish the words bare and bear - hey your on easy street. The seriousness with which there instruments are taken is hilarious. Measured over time the test will reveal almost nothing but minor statistical variations in the data are puzzled over. Only 75% or our students know the answer to 2+2! (um yeah - except only 4 kids took the test and one child spit his gum on the question and couldn't read it)...insightful!

I have sat at one too many meetings where such hot topics are debated and discussed until there is no fun left to be had. Occasionally I make an offhanded, "witty" remark in an attempt to see the humour in this noble pursuit of 8 year old accountability, only when I look up all I see are the characters from Green Acres looking at me as if I am mad. Their looks are generally followed by long sighs and a quick glance over to the "hog" in charge to be given direction. Yikes.

But it all goes in cycles, especially in education. Tomorrows leaders having grown up with this nonsense will surely do away with it and inevitable bring back some other antiquated educational philosophy, if for no other reason than something must be tried.

Alas back at it tomorrow.


  1. Well you see it's important to link student achievement to educator compensation. It's all spelled out nicely by the Gates Foundation (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_30/b4188058281758.htm).

    Give the fans what they want -if they want home runs then assembling a suitable pitching staff is the best way to make the fans happy.

  2. Thanks for reading Gil. Some guy makes a few dollars on a bit of middle of the road software and all of a sudden he's an expert on life, the universe and everything.

    I say to all the pundits that pontificate on education... put down your word processors and stand a post in a classroom... this school thing aint a spectator sport.