Friday, October 1, 2010

Superman meets Rip Van Winkle

After several months of taking time off blogging, I am starting again. I see that this election season has served up some "once in a lifetime" issues worth blogging about. Especially in focus is my pet subject, the K-12 education system.

In the recent weeks, there has been a lot of buzz about the movie Waiting For Superman. It has had rousing premieres in New York and Los Angeles on September 24, and will see wider release in the coming weeks (October 1st in Seattle and October 8th in Portland). Directed by Davis Guggenheim of "An Inconvenient Truth" fame, and promoted by high powered leaders like Bill Gates and President Obama himself, this movie promises to raise the awareness of another inconvenient truth - that our public education system has failed, and presents some ideas that have actually worked. This problem has arguably existed for at least the last 30 years, or at least since the "Nation At Risk" report came out in 1983. And I think the public has been asleep for that period of time, blissfully ignoring the problem and wishing it would go away. Well, Einstein was right in saying that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. I choose a much milder state of mind, i.e,. sleep, to compare the public's reaction during this time. Many people have tried heroically to change things, but it is reasonable to believe that since nothing has changed with their effort, a lot more is needed to bring about structural change.

Let us pretend that all the voting public in this country fell asleep (at least as far as public education is concerned) in 1990, and woke up in 2010 and looked at the education statistics. In those 20 years, they would have missed several national studies done on the lack of focus in Science and Math, the "Math Wars", and the recent developments such as the Race To The Top. They would miss the fact that billions were poured to reduce class sizes and teacher development, with no measurable impact on student achievement. They would miss the excitement of watching our top students slide down lower and lower in academic competitions compared to their global peers. "But wait a minute!" you say. "They were not asleep during this time!!" Did it make a difference? I think not. Perhaps because they were caught up in the excitement of the gulf war, the internet revolution, the stock market boom, the 9-11 attacks, gulf war #2, the real estate boom, and so on. Whatever the reason, the most important structural problem plaguing our economy went unnoticed like termites in the basement.

Enter a rotten economy stuck in the greatest downturn since the great depression. "A Nation at Risk" has now become a nation almost completely consumed by risk. Unemployment is stuck near double digits, those who are employed are overworked and stressed out fearing they may be next, and homelessness and poverty are at depression levels. During no other time since the depression have so many people have so much fire in their bellies and so much time on their hands. Add "Waiting For Superman", and now you have added fuel to the fire.

Will the movie finally get the general public angry enough to take control of their children's education? After all, it is our tax money entrusted to the public employees (teachers, administrators, and others) to make sure they stay competitive in this dog eat dog global competition. If the system has failed us, isn't it our civic duty to find out why and demand that it be fixed? I sincerely hope, for the final time, that this is what ends up happening, and not another 20 years of sleep!

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