Sunday, April 14, 2013

"Be All That You Can Be..."

Years ago, before the US Army was "Army Strong", there was a recruiting commercial that was popularized that went something like "Be All That You Can Be." It was a motivational theme that encouraged fulfillment and achievement on your terms as a human being, and not according to the dictates and mandates of a higher authority. Now, we all know that's not possible in the Army, with a drill instructor or bureaucratic governance of individual rights being so prevalent. But, nonetheless, the message was clear: be all that you are capable of becoming. What a wonderful motto to use in our schools.

The State University of New York had a similar battle cry: "Let each become all that he is capable of becoming." Beautiful, optimistic, inviting.

My high school in Schenectady, NY had a similar theme: "Enter to learn, go forth serve". It was emblazoned over the massive stage in the auditorium. It made you consider the purpose of this endeavor, we call education.

The current trend for our public schools has changed this stream of optimism to threats:
"Be all that you can be, after you take the test that evaluates your abstract thinking, and then conform to our plan of global competition."!!!!!!!

 Where are the optimistic messages that will invite learning, exploration, and service? Are they hidden in the standardized tests children are forced to take each year? Are they subliminally sent in the actions of wayward governmental authorities dictating how we must teach, and how they must learn?

This week, I applaud the state of Florida for reversing its decision from 2007 of "one-size-fits-all" graduation requirement on all children, to adapting more of a "be-all-that-you-can-be" model for future generations.

       "Florida lawmakers on Friday sent Gov. Rick Scott a sweeping education bill that rolls back graduation standards that just three years ago were hailed as reforms that would help students compete globally.
         Instead, college-bound students could opt to take tougher courses and earn a high school diploma that includes a "scholar" designation. Students would also be allowed to take career education courses or enroll in work-related internships."1

And this movement is also being seen in Texas (2), as well as other states attempting to  reexamine the question "Does one size, really fit all?"

As a retired school superintendent, I can still see the faces of disenfranchised students that wanted out because they saw no future in struggling with Algebra, or reading Shakespeare and taking assessments that affirmed they were poorly prepared for the world. Their focus was not on succeeding on tests and going to college, but doing other things, such as learning a trade, exploring the world on their terms, and learning as you go. No doubt, there are those that condemn this way of thinking, but when you need a mechanic to fix a car, would you rather have someone who knows trigonometry and calculus, or someone who can work with their hands to solve a mechanical problem? When your plumbing backs up in your home, would you rather have a scholar that can recite Chaucer and Shakespeare, or a plumber that can analytically think through a structural problem that involves getting your hands dirty?
This is not to say some tradesmen are not capable of pursuing abstract thinking, but as researchers have stated, every individual learns at their own level of motivation. Ramming mandates for global competitiveness down the throats of all children will not support and maintain a free society. 

1.     "Florida Legislature passes sweeping education bill." The Daytona Beach News Journal, April 12, 2013. (accessed April 14, 2013).

2.     "Texas Considers Reversing Tough Graduation Requirements ." Headline Bug. (2013). (accessed April 14, 2013).

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