As I write this, most schools are entering the homestretch of the year. Major state assessments are being administered, graduation plans are being finalized, administration is working hard on final evaluations, and plans are being created to make next year even better than this year. April and May are in the heart of Spring. It is a time of new growth, new birth, new life. It is not just the end of the year. It is also the beginning of the future. This is a great time of year to reflect as well as to plan. It is a time to wrap up as well as begin again. This is the time of year when we can examine what has really been going on so that we can trim the excess, apply the weed prevention, and add the necessary nutrients for healthy growth going forward.
If you watch the media, or listen to a lot of our politicians today, you will hear that a lot of people believe that our K-12 public education system is broken, that educators are not doing their jobs, that kids are leaving the systems unprepared for the workforce, and that as a result major overhauls are needed. In my current state of Michigan, over the last two decades, we have lost more than a million students of school age, yet the number of public school buildings has almost doubled. We have a teacher shortage impacting every district in America and as a result have more accountability measures in place, driving even the best teachers away. In our quest for differentiated instruction and individualized learning, the average student in America today spends twenty days of the school year being assessed, typically not to plan for instruction, but instead to predict future assessment results. The truth of the matter is that our schools are not broken, they have a DISease.
Many of us have never looked at the word DISease before and broken it down into its root and prefix. This word does not necessarily indicate a virus, a germ, or mutation is present. It literally means a lack of ease. It indicates things have gotten too complex. It describes a state in which there is no balance, no equilibrium, and a lack of systemic focus. Our schools today often suffer from a disease, not because of a lack of quality, but because of a lack of ease. We have made things way more complicated than they need to be. In our attempt to solve the problems, we have created such a sense of misalignment that we have often just made the problem worse.
So what do we need to do to solve the problem? Well, contrary to popular belief, I would argue we need to simplify things and stop getting lost in all the weeds. We have too many programs, too many gimmicks, too many people whom proclaim to be experts, too much compliance, and not enough simple teaching, loving kids, and facilitating their passions and innovative mindsets. We are taking too many “pills”. Before kids are of school age they are curious, questioning, and playful. As they enter our systems we make them compliant, rule following, and often silent. As teachers enter the profession, they are inspired, hungry, and ready to change the world. As they continue through their career we often have the same impact on them making them compliant, rule following, and silent.
To cure the DISease, we do not need more rules, more programs, more assessments, or more accountability. We need to bring back the ease. We need to encourage teachers to embrace the art of teaching. We need to allow teachers to be creative again. We need to develop programs that focus on the interests of students. We need to make sure our kids are happy, supported, and inspired. It’s really that simple.
So, no, our schools are not broken, but they are DISeased. If we want to fix them, the answer isn’t more charter schools, more accountability, and more complex analysis of curriculum requirements. The answer is to bring back the ease. If we want to fix our schools, let’s get back to the basics. It’s not just reading, writing, and arithmetic; it’s about trust, love, passion, compassion, and innovation. That’s the cure.
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