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Every child wil excel--a grassroots reform motto

Ohanian Comment: Lynn Stoddard asks critical questions, giving a wonderful example of how many of us experienced, able teachers used to teach. Now, few teachers, particularly those in schools in poverty zones, can get away with it but are ordered to stick to the script sent out from McGraw-Hill and other publishing/testing conglomerates. It is imperative that teachers and parents do what the community of Hill Field Elementary School did--one by one, we must take back our schools.

A personal anecdote about very young children's desire to contribute to family and school life. My father operated an emergency ambulance service and I grew up knowing the importance of being available to answer the phone 24 hours a day. We never went anywhere all together--because someone had to answer the phone. When I was 2 1/2, my mother was out in the yard when the phone rang. I answered and when the caller asked for my mother, I said, "She isn't here but she'll be right back. Please leave your name and number. I'll take a message." I "wrote out" the message and gave it to my mother. I remember my disappointment that she couldn't read it. Her friend called back and my professional phone demeanor became somewhat of a local legend.

by Lynn Stoddard

It's time for Utah to decide the future of public education. Next Year the No Child Left Behind law is scheduled for renewal. Has this law had a beneficial effect? Do we want to continue with it?

Over the past three decades, popular mottos leave a trail of unsuccessful government reform efforts. "Back to Basics," "Nation at Risk," "Goals 2000," "Higher Standards" and "No Child Left Behind" all show the dismal results of politicians and business executives trying to improve public education.

  • There is no appreciable increase in student achievement.

  • There has been a drastic lowering of teacher and student morale.

  • There has been an increase in charter and home schools.

  • Many dropouts are turning to drugs, sex and crime.

  • Unfortunately, Utah's core curriculum and Utah Performance and Assessment System for Students (UPASS) system of accountability are based on the same philosophy as NCLB. Our culture believes that student achievement in curriculum is the main goal and purpose of public education. We are caught in a curriculum trap. We have become so obsessed with curriculum we have forgotten what it is for. Student achievement in curriculum has become a false goal, and end in and of itself.

    During the last two years, I've made an effort to show the State Board of Education and the Legislature's Education Interim Committee that there is a better path to follow. It's a path started by teachers of Hill Field Elementary School in Clearfield when they decided to interview parents to learn their priorities for the education of their children. Because we were concerned about the need for a bigger jail in Davis County, we decided on a new mission for our school: Develop great human beings to become contributors, not burdens, to society--from kindergarten all the way through to graduation and beyond.

    The teachers found the ability for a child to be a contributor depends on three primary needs:

    1. Feelings of self-worth. This depends on children being recognized and honored as individuals and developing their unique talents and gifts.

    2. The ability and attitudes of respect, love, caring and communicating with one another.

    3. The chance for a child to magnify curiosity, follow personal learning needs and learn how to ask powerful questions.

    These needs came to be known as the three dimensions of human greatness: identity, interaction and inquiry. They became the main goals of the school.

    The teachers found that even young children can understand ways to contribute to their school and family, and that it is more satisfying to contribute than to be a burden.

    When curriculum is taught for the purpose of helping students grow as contributors, it is taught and learned differently. A case in point is the way Beth Moore taught her first graders how to read--for the purpose of developing identity, inquiry and interaction. It is in sharp contrast to the "drill and kill" methods now forced upon teachers by the NCLB philosophy.

    Every day Mrs. Moore would invite students to make a picture of something important in their eyes. She would then ask each student to tell her about the picture and she would type or write their words beneath the picture. Phrases were as simple as "This is my dog." Or, "My family, I'm the one in the middle."

    They were the first words that students learned to read and write. Students learned to read and write faster and better because they were using their own words. Students learned writing by later labeling their own pictures and writing their own stories. The process was amplified when some fourth graders invited everyone in the school to mail letters to each other in a school post office they invented as a way to stimulate interaction.

    Teachers, parents and students invented strategies for accomplishing the mission. The Great Brain Project resulted in students doing self-chosen home-study rather than homework and learning curriculum in a broader, deeper way because students were searching for answers to their own questions. When we developed a way to assess student growth in identity, interaction and inquiry, a different kind of report card was used for discussion in assessment meetings.

    If you can sense the importance of using curriculum as a tool to help students become contributors, perhaps you will consider adopting a different motto to guide a genuine, bottom up, teacher guided reform effort--Every Child Will Excel. Such a motto recognizes students as individuals with unlimited potential. It opens the door for us to cultivate curiosity, creativity, compassion, communication, courage and character. If we want to attract and retain good teachers, if we want parents to become meaningfully involved, we will give them a better purpose and reason.

    For these things to happen, teachers and parents must have control of curriculum--for each child in each classroom. Curriculum should be a tool, not a goal. Every child needs a chance to excel in something, not only in conventional, state approved ways. We must stop trying to standardize students and start to "value and nurture positive human diversity." The "phd principle" recognizes that people are meant to be individuals. For graduation, a student can be expected to lay out his or her plans to be a contributor and the preparation he/she has made to do it.

    Every Child Will Excel is a motto that calls for a different kind of reform. It means that teachers can be held accountable for things that are possible. If we focus on helping children discover and develop their innate talents and gifts, instead of trying to make them alike in knowledge and skills--if we focus on helping students develop the powers of inquiry--and if we emphasize genuine, caring communication, we will produce more contributors and lessen the number of people who need to be supported in jails.

    — Lynn Stoddard


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