[Susan notes: A Portland teacher encourages Senator John Kerry to try to understand the complexities of teaching and learning.]
Submitted to To Presidential Candidate John Kerry but not published
I want to encourage you to look much more deeply at the implications of your public commitment to national education standards, what they would look
like, and who would benefit from them. I want to encourage you to talk to the teachers in Title I schools whom children of low-income backgrounds
respond to the most, and find out what approaches to learning work best with the kids.
As one of those teachers, I can tell you this: when I have a child in front of me who is a runaway, or who didn't eat during winter break, or whose stress level at home is increased because someone got out of jail and might
be coming to get revenge on a family member, the carrots of standards and tests don't mean a hill of beans. What matters is that my classroom is warm and loving, that there is a good meal waiting there for that child, and that the teacher in the room cares and listens. What matters is that I take the time to know the child, at the child's pace, and that I meet the child where he or she is, and bring things along from there. What matters is that I recognize the gifts, creativity, resilience, and expertise of each child -- that the focus is not on deficits. What matters is that my lessons are grounded in their worlds, that the experiences and knowledge the children bring to the room are used as scaffolding for new meaning. What matters is
that the uniqueness of each child is honored, that the gifts of each child are honored, and that the pace of each child is honored.
We all want the best for our children -- of course we do. I encourage you to shut out the noise of the business leaders and "Nation at Risk" readers who would have you think that our children aren't being educated for the 21st
Century, or that our schools don't measure up. If there aren't jobs for our children in the 21st Century, it will be because they have been shipped
overseas in search of lower wages and lower environmental regulations. If there aren't jobs for our children it will be because of greed. If there aren't jobs for our children it will be because we cannot think past a box that says someone received specific training in journalism, for example, instead of recognizing that skills can transfer from one experience into another.
I know that you are strong on foreign affairs, Mr. Kerry. My husband, who is Bosnian, was brought to tears when he looked up your speeches to Congress on the eve of the war that ripped apart his country and his life. You got Bosnia. You can get the complexities of education. I would be happy to help you understand this issue better.
You or your staff may contact me at any time for resources. Certainly our schools need help, but it looks more like this: all schools, and perhaps
especially Title I schools, need smaller class sizes. All teachers, but perhaps especially teachers of underprivileged children, need more time for professional development, parent and community outreach, and lesson planning and assessment. All schools need to be the most advanced and accessible buildings in the communities. Let's start there, not with nationalized standards.
Thanks for listening,