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BOOKS – Pie in the Sky?

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by B. L. Fish

Those of us who understand educational theory can clearly see the foundations on which the new book, Educating for Human Greatness by Lynn Stoddard (Peppertree Press, 2010, $18.50) is based. None of the ideas is new. The ideas are synthesized from many great thinkers of the past, but who listens to great thinkers? People either write them off as eccentric (if theyâre rich) or crazy (if theyâre poor).

Lynn Stoddard weaves seven priorities -- identity, inquiry, interaction, initiative, imagination, intuition, and integrity into six principles â supporting human diversity, drawing forth potential, respecting autonomy, inviting inquiry, supporting professionalism, and community action. He tells us that we should work through the current system to create schools that are inviting to our youth; schools that are meaningful, relevant, and exciting to them. He encourages our parents and teachers to stand for what is good and right for our children.

Pie in the sky!

In a conversation with Mr. Stoddard, he told me that he wants to put this book into the hands of every teacher, school administrator, parent, and legislator. I don't blame him. He has some really good ideas. He collaborated with world renowned educators. The book even includes plans to put the ideas into action. If you are over forty, you probably did go through the traditional pre-80's school system. We hold on to our traditions. Heck! We went to those schools, and we turned out ok. Right?

But since the early 1980's business leaders blamed the schools for our economic downturns. Shortly after 1983 when the National Commission on Excellence in Education made public its report, "A Nation at Risk: The imperative for educational reform" things began to change dramatically. Business interests began to focus on the schools.

We no longer developed citizens, we began developing workers. Big business used modern promotional tools to condition the American people to believe that schools are the cause of our nationâs woes, and argued for more rigorous curricula, more accountability, and a return to the basics to build a solid foundation for our children. Our children now needed to know the things that are important for business and future employment -- to be able to read on grade level (whatever that means) and perform complex math functions.

So where did that take us?

The decade beginning with 1990 saw the beginnings of the "standards movement" in our schools. With it, we saw increased emphasis on reading and math skills to increase our children's performance on standardized tests. Also in that decade, we witnessed the highest juvenile arrest rate for violent crimes. Heroin and cocaine use among youth climbed almost 300% when compared to rates in the 1970s and 1980s; drug abuse for the American youth jumped to13 times the rate of 20 years before.

Certainly this information is evidence about how "back to the basics" emphasis did not work for our children. It sounds like rebellion to me; the harder we pushed our children into the mold, the more they rebelled.

Stoddard has created a plan. Having been an administrator, he speaks "administrivia" (administrator talk). Maybe he can convince them. He also knows that our children desperately need to find their identity when they are young. The overemphasis on academics in preschool and kindergarten is robbing our children of initiative, inquiry, and imagination. The developmental theorists, Erik Erickson and Jean Piaget told us that these attributes are human and that they develop early in a child's life. Do you think that the business interests are trying to kill these instincts before they bud, thinking that the people will be more docile and trainable if they are all alike? A fellow name Adolph Hitler tried that, and it almost worked.

Social psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, taught that children learn though interaction with each other and grown-ups. Through guided play, children learn not only the academics but caring communication, cooperation, and courtesy. As children grow and begin to accept life on life's terms, Lawrence Kohlberg tells us that they develop a sense of morality and integrity if given the opportunity to discover self responsibility and society's limitations. These scientists were not just blowing smoke. These are proven theories. They are not limited to children in a few scattered educational research projects used by companies to sell their educational products or professors to get published for promotion. The theories are universally accepted developmental and learning truths.

So we know what is good and right for our children.

Slowly parents, grandparents and teachers will begin to see through the smoke screen created by the quite profitable testing companies. Already we see that business needs government bailouts to survive. Teachers are being laid-off. Where is their bail-out?
Remember, many parents of our youngest citizens are under forty. They, too, are victims of the post eighties standardized educational regime. Grandparents, I ask you to read Mr. Stoddardâs book and explain it to your children. It will take a lot of time, but we are protecting our future.

I'm old. I will keep teaching, but I may not live to see the turn-around. One day you'll be walking down the street, and some blueberry filling will land on your head. That will be me eating my pie in the sky.

Dr. B.L. Fish taught young children for more than 23 years. He is an associate professor at Jackson State University in the Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education, specializing in emotional intelligence. He served as chairman of the Child Care Advisory Board for Mississippi from 2006 to 2010 and plays blues and jazz whenever possible.

— B. L. Fish
Jackson Free Press

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