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“Those who can do, those who can’t teach” – The downfall of American Education

Guest Opinion Post by Dave Farkas

As an educator at a PBL/EL charter school, we’re trying everything we can do to motivate our kids and present a unique and interesting approach to engage our students. We’re also always trying to engage our students with a different approach to relationship building, mentoring, and discourse.

I think the key word here is “engage”…and it’s extremely challenging.

Ask an educator how they feel about Standardized Testing and you’ll get a variety of responses from those that love it to those that could care less. However, everyone feels the impact. Often our local newspapers only publish these results so from the outside, it’s the measuring tool by which we’re judged. It’s so often scrutinized that it can affect real estate values and often plays a substantial role in how families decide where to move.

Is this a good thing? Well…there’s the million-dollar question. My personal opinion is that it’s one of many data points that assess a student’s abilities and not a very good one. We all learn, reflect, and show our intelligence in a variety of means so it’s extremely difficult to have one test that does it all. The State tests are poor to say the least.

The demise of American k-12 education isn’t just about how young people are being taught and assessed — although that’s a huge reason. The demise is also about how the American culture has shifted and it’s this shift that’s never taken into consideration when we look inward.

In a “fast food society” where everything is instantaneous, available at a touch, and our kids have instant access to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and all the other social media outlets and internet-based platforms of communication, the necessary focus and willingness to commit to the difficult is challenging for them.

Our kids are being programmed at a very early age that things happen immediately. To test this, have a student get on a laptop and give them slow WiFi. … It’s as if the world is collapsing. Our kids leave their cyber world of communication and instant gratification and step into a school world where “Grit, Perseverance, Determination, Struggle, and Growth Mindset” along with many other education buzzwords are professed to them from their teachers.

We’re asking them to slow down, think critically, go deep into their investigation to push further into knowledge, and then produce something that exemplifies their learning.

They’re used to pushing buttons, tapping icons, and swiping to get immediate gratification. It’s a massive undertaking by talented teachers to make this happen and in most schools it’s a losing battle.

Another big dilemma in America is how the public views schools and teachers. Oh sure, ask most parents at my school and they’ll tell how much their kids loves it or how much they appreciate us. Go to the local market or grocer and you’ll run into one family after another where everyone is smiles and hellos. Yet we’re severely underpaid hence undervalued as a profession. It’s kind of the running joke amongst our community. It’s ridiculously expensive to live in my community and everyone knows it. Mean housing prices are $400,000 and teachers on average make less then 1/10 of that yearly. That’s not changing any time soon.

Honestly the people who aren’t teachers could care less. Our community goes through teachers like water through a sieve and it’s a national epidemic. America is running out of young professional educators. Most new teachers change their profession in their first five years. What young teacher without a trust fund or family finances can work and actually stay here to live? When you discuss this locally you’ll here things like “we’re raising our salaries to other local salary schedules” but what does this really mean? Take a look around our local communities and you’ll see the same starving wage and mass turn over of teachers.

When I traveled to Norway and discussed this with a friend who works at an IB school in Bergen, he mentioned how he’s viewed with the same social status as a doctor or a lawyer…and paid like that. Scandinavia’s view on education is totally different than in America…it’s their culture as a region to value education, recruit and train their teachers, and pay them accordingly to keep them in their schools. In America, the teaching profession is looked upon with amusement. The old adage “those that can do, those that can’t teach” was born and bred in this great nation and it’s reflective in the general sentiments and culture of this society.

The last thing I want to throw out there is it’s time to stop comparing us to other nations because there can be no comparison. Those kids from other nations know that a quality education is the path to a better life. They get it and they’re hungry for it. They come to our colleges and universities hungry for an education and a better life. They’re realizing that succeeding at school, getting various degrees and diplomas along with the content contained therein, is going to help them in the long term. For a great many of our kids, this point is not taken. Rather, school is a drag, a bummer, and something they’re just not keen on. They’d rather be doing something else. America was founded on the struggle, and perseverance and determination of those willing to commit to it and many of our kids are missing this point.

If we’re going to reach our kids and really make a difference in their lives and in their education, a complete overhaul of the current system is needed and this starts at the top. Bureaucrats and State Leaders are making decisions on education with little to no experience because it looks good and will be part of their ”legacy.”

Career politician educators who are antiquated are running School Districts and accept mediocrity as the status quo. School’s today in cities all over America are factories. It’s an endless stream of kids coming in and kids going out with little change in the last 60 years. Most classrooms of today mimic the classrooms from 50+ years ago with little change. Textbooks rule with meaningless assignments based on outdated information. In 15 years of teaching I’ve seen one “miracle cure” after another initiated by bureaucratic leaders eager to make a name for themselves in their short stay in our districts. Every one of these initiatives has been a Band-Aid for a gaping wound.

There are some outliers out there, schools willing to change it all and risk it all for the benefit of the kids and community but they are rare. I feel like my school is trying hard to be one of these outliers and we’ve seen the results but it doesn’t come without commitment. I’ve never worked this hard and neither have my coworkers. It’s taken a complete buy in from everyone in the building to be part of this transformation. There cannot be even one person who’s not onboard. This is easy in a small charter school. Try this at 2000+ student high school? How about an 800 student middle school? Virtually impossible. True change comes when enacted by those who truly understand what needs to happen and are willing to do it and those are the teachers.

Educational reform and change will come when a revolution occurs and those willing to be part of this revolution will reap the benefits.

Dave Farkas

6 Comments

  • Nick philliou

    Thanks for this, as a long time educator I feel this perspective is crucial for any reform to happen. I love your take on slowing down. Isn’t it interesting that so many Silicon Valley execs send their kids to technology free Waldorf schools?

  • Jason Hutton

    Very insightful Dave, your dedication and willingness to step out of the box and give of yourself to educate our children is truly appreciated.

  • Chris Wood

    Your Passion for your Profession is refreshing and cannot be undervalued Mr. Farkas… keep up the good work and it is good to know as a Family Man myself, that quality educators like you are still in our Educational system.

  • Kim Allen

    Well written Dave, your insights reflect an even deeper chasm within our society and culture. Education (and healthcare) have become equally fragmented and disenchanted. School boards and parents expect you to fix a classroom of children despite the lack of support the community provides to the teachers.

    Keep up the great work, you are an inspirational teacher and role model.

  • Cindy Atchison

    Great article. Thank you for being one of those teachers that ENGAGE, inspire and encourage students to push their boundaries! Charter schools are inspiring change in the public schools, albeit slow. You and your fellow MMS teachers are appreciated!

  • Cathy Craig

    Dave, back in your Miller Middle School days, you were one of the few teachers that my children could relate to and that I would consider made a difference in my childrens’ lives. Thank you Dave for continuing to have a passion for teaching and for the students. You do, indeed, make a difference. Our community is lucky to have you!

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