Reform The Reformers

Monday, June 23, 2014

A young monk named Martin Luther wrote 95 theses then nailed them to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. He welcomed public debate on the subjects of concern that he raised. This gave birth to the Reformation.

Against all the political (and spiritual) powers of the day, Luther was put on trial.  He was ordered to repudiate his positions.  He refused.  Luther understood that his conscience is captive to the word of God. He said, “I cannot and I will not retract anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God.” 

Luther chose the difficult path.  In the duration of our lives we must face a simple struggle: accept what is or work to change it.  Some things need to remain, but eventually, most everything will be swept away. 

When I entered Lee University and enrolled in my first education class, the professor, Dr. Gene Christenbury, told us to challenge the status quo.  He said, “Never let anything get between you and your students.”  I didn't understand at the time, but I think I have a better grasp today than at any other time in my life.  

The education reform movement, which I have embraced and have helped lead in Tennessee, as well as in several other states, is very much in need of reform itself. It has lost its way.  As I look at the political landscape I see the leadership of the reform movement is not connected to the actual practitioners in the classroom. Education reform is no longer focused on students or teachers. It is focused on ancillary issues, folks who profit off the system, and those who want to create workers.  This is not a judgment on motives, rather pointing out a perception.  In my defense as an education reformer, at least I spent over a decade as an actual public school teacher in Tennessee.  

For example, the concept of “college and career ready” is a worthy goal. However, if we lose creativity or fail to develop critical thinking skills what are we really accomplishing?  If students score higher on the ACT or the SAT, will that make them better citizens? What purpose does it actually serve? We understand that it is morality, not intelligence, which makes civil society possible. How we think reflects who we are. 

What is considered intelligence today?  Is it shifting?  For centuries philosophers have tried to pinpoint the true measure of intelligence.  Socrates said, “I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing.” Are we actually teaching/testing/measuring the right things?

In 1985, Robert Sternberg put forward his Triarchic Theory of Intelligence, contending that previous definitions of intelligence are too narrow because they are based solely on intelligences that can be assessed in IQ test. Instead, Sternberg believes types of intelligence are broken down into three subsets: analytic, creative, and practical. 

Educators understand that critical thinking, creativity, conflict resolution, communication, and teamwork cannot be lost in our efforts.  Research reminds us that well-rounded people strive for personal fulfillment and typically have more self-confidence. Education is not strictly about preparing students for a specific career.  Unmeasured objectives like teaching students lifelong values, discipline, and the ability to explore new ideas and to think independently are very much essential.  Should that not also be an education objective?  Albert Einstein, a genius by most accounts, said, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”

The issues of the day, the ones that perplex us now, may not even be relevant in the next election cycle.  When we watch policymakers grasp at the complex issues facing public education, we realize that outside influences and political donations are having greater influence over our classrooms and often fail to connect the educator with the policy.  Policymakers surely understand how educators deliver instruction and how we measure success in our classrooms being led by non-practitioners will create problems.  

Too many reforms are proposed or pursued with very little evidentiary basis.  In efforts to drive up student academic performance we cannot disregard an educator’s insights into their student’s academic and social and emotional growth.  Simply raising a test score will not guarantee success in life, especially if we fail to develop social skills and fine motor skills.  In fact, we know the development of fine motor skills plays a crucial role cognitive development. 

So it is also true we may not even be using the correct metrics in determining success?  Can we keep gambling on our children’s future? How long will education reform be ongoing before someone asks for the results?  Who do you trust, the teacher at your child’s school that lives in your community or a think tank of non-educators in Nashville or Washington DC?  

We know top performing nations like Singapore and Finland have reduced standardized testing and increased curriculum flexibility on their road to success. They stress teacher professionalism and connecting actual practitioners with policymakers.  That is what has been missing among reformers and in the education debate, in general.

I welcome the debate.  Like Martin Luther, here I stand. I can do no other.  

J.C. Bowman is the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee


Send Your Opinions To Chattanoogan.com

We welcome your opinions at Chattanoogan.com. Email to news@chattanoogan.com . We require your real first and last name and contact information. There is no word limit, but if your article is too long you may lose your reader. Please focus more on issues than personal attacks. (click for more)

Local Nursing Homes

So glad to see laws changing to regulate nursing homes. That is if it is for real. Just had a terrible experience with a Chattanooga area home. My aunt was only in this place for a few weeks with Alzehimers before she passed away. The food was horrible, the place was under-staffed and what help they had was terrible, for the most part. Someone from our family was there on ... (click for more)

1 Arrested, 1 Sought In Shooting On Rawlings Street

One man is in custody and another is being sought in the shooting of a man in the 2000 block of Rawlings Street on Sunday morning. The Chattanooga Police Department responded to a local hospital on reports of a man suffering from a non-life threatening gunshot wound he received during a verbal altercation with two other individuals. Police said 29-year-old Kenneth Dixon ... (click for more)

Woman Stabbed By Husband In Dalton Dies From Her Wounds

A woman who Dalton Police say was stabbed Thursday by her husband has died of her injuries.   Glenda Dyer had been transported to Hamilton Medical Center. She initially was listed in stable condition.   The incident happened at the couple's home at 1603 Elaine Way.   Police said a murder charge will be added to the counts already facing ... (click for more)

Regoin 3-AA Boys Final At Chattanooga State Monday

The fifth meeting between the Brainerd Panthers and the Central Purple Pounders will be held at Chattanooga State on Monday night with the tipoff set for 7 p.m. This upcoming game will be the biggest to date as it's for the Region 3-AA boys championship. Monday's winner will be at home on Tuesday for a sectional game while the loser will be on the road Tuesday night.  Brainerd ... (click for more)

Brainerd, Central Boys Advance To Region 3-AA Hoop Finals

LOUDON, Tenn. -- Brainerd won both regular-season matchups while Central won at the Best of Preps third-place consolation game before capturing the District 6-AA title last week at Red Bank. The season tally is now two wins each against each other and now they are ready for Round 5 following the Region 3-AA semifinals here at Loudon High School Saturday afternoon. Brainerd ... (click for more)