Thursday, September 27, 2007

Education is a Partnership

At a recent forum on education sponsored by the Association of Commonwealth Teachers, Tina Sablan, a candidate for the House of Representatives, noted that education must involve everyone in our community, not just teachers. Her comment echoes one of my long-held beliefs about education and is something we must take to heart. Education isn’t a passive process whereby teachers fill students’ minds with information. Rather, education is an active and interactive partnership, where students construct knowledge on their own, where the focus is on learning not on teaching. In this model, a teacher is not a sage on the stage. Rather, he is a guide by the side of the student.

But this progressive perspective is not shared by many people, many of whom blame teachers for not teaching. Furthermore, teachers and schools have increasingly become the scapegoats for all that’s wrong in our society. The business community blames our schools for not churning out a skilled workforce. Community leaders blame our schools for low test scores and lackluster student performance. And, at least nationally, pundits and cultural warriors blame schools for the breakdown of society and traditional family values.

But, the truth is that schools cannot and should not bear the brunt of all this blame, for true education is a partnership. At the individual student level, that partnership involves teachers, parents, and students all doing their fair share. At the community level, that partnership involves schools, businesses, and community leaders working together for a shared mission and vision.

However, it has become all too common, easy, and even fashionable to blame schools for our social ills. This is very unfortunate because school teachers, staff, and administrators all work very hard to give the best possible education they can give, with what limited resources they have. And they keep at it, doing the best they can, even though some of their “partners” in education spend more time pointing the finger than lifting a finger.

There is simply too much at stake to keep passing blame. And what’s at stake? Our future and the very livelihood of our islands. Given those stakes, it’s time we all did our part in this partnership of education. It’s time we talked more about responsibility than blame. It’s time we found not blame, but solutions—together.


David said...

Hey Galvin,

The fundamental assumption is that American education is the way to go in the CNMI. Why not question that? Why the need to emulate American students?

By the way, I have seen the enemy, and it is PREL.

Tina for Political Prisoner! Or Representative, whichever she would find less unpleasant.


Diggity Dave

Galvin Deleon Guerrero said...

Yo Diggity,

Word. Case in point: To comply with No Child Left Behind's requirement for Highly Qualified Teachers, the Public School System required teachers to pass a praxis exam. The effect, however, was that the school system lost many great teachers. After all, a test measures mostly one's ability to take tests, not whether or not she is a good teacher.

Furthermore, the praxis only tests for basic content knowledge. However, just because you know what you're teaching, doesn't mean you're a good teacher. In fact, some of the best teachers I've known don't dish out the knowledge but actively seek it with their students. Such teachers don't know the content, per se, but know how to help their students find it.

Finally, the Westernized qualifications to teach, such as degrees and credentials, preclude some great teachers: Lino Olopai, the late Sister Remedios, and even Jesus the man himself! Are we to say that they are bad teachers just because they lack those distinguished letters after their names?

So, in our race to have a Westernized education, what paradigm of education have we left behind?

Retort: It should be noted that my ability to articulate this critique of Westernized education is the very result of a Westernized education. Am I, then, a hypocrite?

Then again, who isn't a hypocrite? I question whoever isn't. Hypocrisy may just be the sincere expression of our inevitable internal inconsistencies and dissonance. In other words, a little debate within one's self may merely reflect a healthy search for truth.

But I babble.

Peace Out.


Boni said...

I have my own criticisms of NCLB and the HQT requirements, but although the process is flawed, we are moving in the right direction. Accountability matters, and those who were serious about passing a test of minimal competency made it. It doesn't mean their necessarily more effective teachers, but it does show that they are serious about their careers as educators.

You can't have knowledge without caring and vice versa. The argument goes both ways, would you rather have a teacher who cares and doesn't know her content? No. I want a teacher who is genuinely concerned about my child and one who is competent to teach my child what he needs to know and be able to do.

I've also worked with PREL and find that they are no enemy. They want us to be able to create our own indicators about what our children should be learning. They advocate creating our own standards, our own assessments and determining our own course. I am speaking of partners like Dr. Burger, Dr. Inos and many other caring and intelligent people from PREL.

One of our ESLRs at GES is to be Globally Minded, and Community Active. We've struggled for too long trying to fit into the western educational framework. What we need to do is step back and assess ourselves. What matters to our children on these islands and in the context of the world? How about our school's families? Our community? What can we do to ensure that we are honoring the pluribus and the unum?

Before NCLB's accountability measures we were shooting in the dark. Teachers were relying on textbooks from publishers who didn't know anything about our culture and were just trying to make a dime off of us. Now we are designing our own objectives and tracking our growth. There is a lot more dialogue in the teaching circles.

I can't wait to see the reauthorization and I hope it mirrors everyone's concerns about what doesn't work with NCLB. Until then, we will continue to reach out to our teachers,students and parents, support them and try to nurture partnership in this great adventure.

Boni said...

Sorry about the grammatical errors, brain faster than fingers.

David said...

Well then, allow me to retort (if I may paraphrase our man in Inglewood):

I guess my frame of reference is that of Micronesia, and by this I exclude the CNMI and Guam (due to the much much much closer relationship those entities have with the US). Also, I forgot that folks from the CNMI (with the obvious exception of immigrants) are all American citizens. To that end, since you have chosen to be American (or had that choice thrust upon you), I guess it makes sense that the education system in the Marianas needs, by definition, to mirror that of the US, including all its measures of accountability and (un)enabling legislation. In that case, the conversation is actually centered on US education policy, a matter in which I am neither qualified nor interested in discussing any further. So let's put that one to bed.

As to PREL, in Micronesia (as defined above), the organization has served as nothing more than a vehicle to launder US grants through "independent" countries, all the while trying to transform indigenous students into good American kids. This I find irresponsible, reprehensible, and shameful. Should you require proof of my claim, I will be happy to provide examples (and look for the new movie coming out by Michael Moore).

On a completely different note, I find it hilarious (not in a good way) that the governor is offering Saipan as a Japanese retirement home. So those who were lucky enough to survive the battle of Saipan 60 years ago and not die there can now do so voluntarily.

I wish you luck. Vote for Tina.

(but don't forget -- no matter who you vote for, the system wins.)

Love, Peace, and Chicken Grease.

Boni said...

It's not my experience with the people I know at PREL, but we're all entitled.

The retirement thing is ludicrous and a slap in the face of the Japanese elderly.

Thanks for the wish, but could you wish me peace instead of luck? I think mine's all used up.

Jeff said...

I would agree it that because you know something doesn't mean you can teach something, but you also definitely can't teach what you don't know. I don't particularly want my child with a teacher who can't pass a basic knowledge test. Anything that leads to greater accountability in the CNMI is a positive.