Letter: Get Students Engaged
To the Editor:
Diane Ravitch, education scholar and research professor at NYU, spoke recently at Dartmouth. A strong supporter of public education, Ravitch described what she considers to be the many hoaxes in the current reform movement, and argued forcefully that racism and widespread poverty are at the root of the problems in our schools. In her criticism of current reforms, however, I feel that she gave something of a free pass to school administrators and teachers.
I have taught at the high school level for 49 years and have supervised beginning teachers in a good number of public schools. For anyone interested in school reform, I suggest the following activity. (I have done it several times.)
∎ Shadow a teenage student for a full day, preferably two consecutive days; attend all of his or her classes and school appointments. No coffee breaks. All day.
∎ Clock how many minutes the teacher talks and the student sits. And focus not on the teacher; observe the other students.
∎ After each class and at the end of the day, ask the student, “Why? Why were you there? What was the point of the lesson?” (Expect a lot of blank stares.)
My guess is that you will discover what I have learned during my observations — that in many (not all) of our classrooms, despite the many committed and dedicated teachers, the students are bored out of their minds and the curriculum lacks meaning or relevance. More than boring, the experience can be numbing, both physically and mentally. And sadly, the programs that might really engage students and involve some kind of experiential learning (robotics, music, art, design, drama, sports) are being cut back or eliminated in many schools.
Those of us within schools must more critically assess ourselves and examine our curriculum and the ways in which we seek to engage young people in learning. Only by bringing about change within our curriculum and our profession will students develop the skills and attitudes and gain the knowledge they need to succeed in the 21st century.
Let the conversation and the debate continue.