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Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Shifting Sands of Belief in Education?

one more school board note...

Crisis of conscience at Madison Central? The agenda for Monday's school board meeting includes as its final item (#24 -- busy night!) this innocuous little line: "Consider adjustment to the District's Belief Statement."

Adjust the Belief Statement? What's wrong with our old beliefs? Let's find out! Agenda Item #24 seems to refer to this PDF document, File AD from the District Policy Manual. Hmm... turns out we believe quite a bit [numbers and bracketed comments mine]:

The Belief/Philosophy statement is a commitment to how we "do things here." It creates a culture of our beliefs and therefore how we do things.

We believe that:
  1. Each student can learn. [But will each student choose to do so?]
  2. Students should experience an academic environment. [this should go without saying]
  3. Students share responsibility for their own learning and strive to achieve their full potential. [first half fine; second half more hope than belief?]
  4. Self-esteem is an important part of the learning process. [Yes, as a pleasant side effect once a student actually learns something, not an absolute pre-requisite.]
  5. Learning takes place best in a positive environment. [o.k.]
  6. Students should learn to be productive members of society. ["productive" leaves room for interpretation and debate, but that's half the fun]
  7. Students must see themselves as lifelong learners and their curiosity for knowledge and wisdom is a lifelong need and joy. [obviously getting them ready for the five-year undergrad plan and perpetual grad school]
  8. Students are entitled to compassion, understanding, enthusiasm, and self-discipline. [entitled to self-discipline? the meaning is unclear... but maybe they have to clear this line out to permit video surveillance]
We believe that:
  1. Teaching should be positive. [surely no school board member sees reason to change this statement!]
  2. Teaching should be flexible to meet student needs. [granted]
  3. Teachers should be given adequate time to be properly prepared. [another point more hope than belief?]
  4. Teachers should share the teaching process of the whole student with the parent/community. [Awfully hard when some argue that even posting papers or projects online violates FERPA, but o.k., we'll keep trying]
  5. Teachers should guide students toward problem solving. [o.k....]
  6. Teachers should believe in all students' ability to learn and succeed. [o.k....]
  7. Educators should have strong beliefs and values toward educating. [seems reasonable, but maybe some culture warriors are accusing the district of embracing value relativism and want a list of
We believe that:
  1. The parents are and need to be the child's first teacher. [Absolutely!]
  2. The school and community should establish, support and maintain high academic standards. [parents, please notice there is no follow-up saying, "except when my child gets a bad grade, gets caught plagiarizing, or is otherwise held accountable to high standards"]
  3. The school and community will provide a safe and secure environment that promotes a sense of wellbeing for both students and staff. [thank you]
  4. The school and community should be open to communication and cooperation between the school and community. [o.k....]
  5. The school and community must foster a balance of support for curricula and co-curricular activities. [where that balance lies can be debated elsewhere]
  6. The school and community should foster a sense of co-participation on behalf of the student. [o.k....]
  7. The school and community should work together to provide an education that meets the individual needs of all students. [o.k....]
We believe that: [Interesting that we have more beliefs about this area than any other; might that be indicative of misplaced priorities?]
  1. Cocurricular activities are a dynamic educational force and shall be conducted and administered in a manner consistent with these beliefs. [o.k.]
  2. Activities are an integral part of the over-all educational program. [though note that in Europe, most schools take no role in such activities -- sports, debate, chess, etc.: all private clubs. That's where the community comes in!]
  3. Cocurricular activities are an opportunity for all students to participate in a varied program. [maybe the board sees a need an amendment to explain how some athletes sit the bench or get cut from the varsity squad, while every kid with a horn gets to march with the band]
  4. Emotional maturity should be developed. [uh oh -- here comes the administrative passive voice...]
  5. Good health is encouraged. [passive voice]
  6. Happiness is promoted. [passive voice]
  7. Cooperation is taught. [passive voice]
  8. Competition should be used in a positive manner. [passive voice]
  9. Character development is enhanced. [passive voice]
  10. Physical skills should be improved. [passive voice]
  11. Students should learn how to deal with defeat and success. [hooray! no more passive --]
  12. Pride in self and school is developed. [--oh. passive voice again.]
  13. Good sportsmanship can be learned. [passive]
  14. Self-discipline can be taught. [passive]
  15. Activities should be fun. [passive... and redundant with #6?]
  16. Students have different reasons for involvement. [right: some kids do it to have fun; Jerome Hunt does it because... (readers, feel free to supply your own answers)]
  17. Winning is not the major benefit or end goal. [I can live with that; Vince Lombardi, however...]
  18. Students must understand that school programs, practices and contests take priority over all non-school programs, practices and contests. [Wait a minute -- does that include church programs? That's not what kids, parents, and administrators told me!] Students participating at the high school level are regulated by the SDHSAA rules governing participation in the same sport at the same time. [one last dose of passive voice!]

Seriously, aside from a few stylistic changes (like eliminating the passive voice!), does anyone see a belief on that list that needs adjusting? Any of us could probably think up other important beliefs we could add to the list, but would our additions serve any useful purpose? This list covers a lot of ground as it is, perhaps more than necessary. Consider that where the school board lays out 40 beliefs, the United States Constitution lays out just 6 goals, then gets down to business. This belief statement doesn't lay out any enforceable rules or regulations, so why bother with length? Stick with the mission and vision statement, and cut the rest.

Alas, some marketer or self-help author must have come up with this trendy business of creating mission and belief statements. Pretty much every school district has one now. We burn up a lot of school board and teacher-committee time coming up with these documents. But we all know that such documents don't mean that much. We're not writing Constitutions or Bibles here; these mission statements get taped on the wall and posted on web sites, but they rarely become objects of great philosophical discussion or guidance. For the most part, we still understand and evaluate our schools' values by the actions of our teachers and administrators.

1 comment:

  1. Nonnie asks me to post these thoughts from her/him here:

    "Evidently written by a coach!! Extracurriculars are important, but they were never intended to be part of a free public education; that just evolved and is now considered a right.

    "And that any school activity takes precedence over any other activity??? Get real. A school's extracurriculars are no more important than involvement in 4-H, for example. So a kid who is involved in 4-H and wants to play football but has to miss practice because of showing exhibits at the state fair is now told that 4-H isn't important but football is!? Typical thinking of sports fanatics and coachs."


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