Do we need another book or movie about the heroic teacher? Or have we read and seen enough about a superhero teacher, a miraculous principal, or even a deeply disturbed parent? The books and movies are distracting and enjoyable: they make us believe that change in our schools can really take place. Only, sadly, we turn to look at our children and schools and see that the schools look the same, year after year, and produce the same results: one group seems to be successful and off to college and another group barely, if ever, finishes high school. Excuses are offered: bad teachers, poor test taking behavior, low expectations for poor kids, poverty swamps kids and their families, and a racist culture that punishes “success.” We eat our popcorn and leave.
What could really change our schools and our society? A surprising new book has captured my attention precisely because it offers a system to think about rather than one major factor. A group of changes, acting together to reinforce strengths, might work the magic of changing a school. A commitment to stopping bad teaching and stopping bad leadership of schools and stopping testing without feedback to the student and the teacher, and stopping the belief that anything that happens in a school or afterschool program is educational, and stopping large programs that are too big to supervise, might make a difference in public education. Also, summer schools for all students in low performing schools. This is the major presentation of M. Night Shyamalan is his book, “I Got Schooled” (2013, Simon and Schuster). Shyamalan is a writer and director of movies and fully aware of the need to communicate in a clear fashion. His writing, while filled with humor, is a very serious presentation for every parent, teacher, and citizen interested in changing schools right now.
What would it be like if every parent approached the schools with a checklist from Shyamalan’s book and asked those in charge of the school system, or the class, or the school, just why the experience of children are not consistently excellent? How different would our public discussion of children’s lives be if we approached the reality that there are teachers who cannot teach and that there are teachers who have not had real help in improving their instruction? Wouldn’t we expect our schools of education to justify why students in schools of education are taught in ways that ill prepare them for brilliant teaching in effective schools in public education?
Closing the “achievement gap” can take place and must take place if our society is to use education as a key ingredient in strengthening social democracy and community peace. Making change is complex and it can be done in the PUBLIC SCHOOL. Shyamalan ends his book with 50 schools that have closed the gap, indeed have exceeded performance on a school wide basis. His belief is that a system of changes is needed to overcome the idea that any one magic bullet can make a difference. His system of five factors is a good place to start; it will require new perspectives on how to view and participate in school change, a perspective that seeks a different approach that leads to a different education for every child. Read this book. Let’s take action.
By Steve Sunderland
Steve Sunderland is a founder of the Peace Village and a professor of peace and educational studies at the University of Cincinnati. He has been a Northsider for over 10 years.