Pencils Can’t Fix This

In response to my recent slide on the students of tomorrow and the classrooms of yesterday, regular Radical reader Mike H wrote:

So I showed this slide to the department chairs I work with from middle school to high school and 15 new teachers of the county. We have a 1:1 so I talked about the need to use the laptops our students to bring to school, as well as the need to make our students think more critically. But, alas, overwhelmingly, the concern was the end of course exams.

Honestly, every time I hear teachers talk about the importance of preparing kids for their end-of-course exams, I wonder where we’ve gone wrong as a nation.   There are greater challenges that many our students will walk out of schools knowing nothing about.

So I made another slide.  It shows an abandoned baby struggling to survive in the slums of Lucknow, India, and it broke my heart.  I almost couldn’t bear to look at it.

But I also couldn’t handle the implications of a world where children struggle to survive in one country while others sit oblivious, studying for final exams in another.  The pain in this picture encouraged me to rethink the kinds of content that our kids need to wrestle with in order to become responsible global citizens.

Many thanks to Andrew McLagan, the photographer who shot this original image, for reminding me that I have a responsibility to prepare my students for something more.

8 thoughts on “Pencils Can’t Fix This

  1. andrew mclagan

    im the photographer that took this image, Im very grateful to see my image used in such a situation. Developing a global awareness and understanding in younger generations is the only way to overcome the ignorance of racism and cultural superiority. Please i would appreciate if you would visit my website

  2. ginnyp

    As Carolyn says, we live in a world where GPAs rule. Even in middle school, I have a few parents contacting me about how they could help their students get 100s insead of 95s. These kids clearly are competent in reading skills, but Our PLCs are directed to map out the year based on “essential questions” which are found on state-provided materials. Example: “What impact do genre specific characteristics have on meaning?” When are students introduced to reading as a means to learning about problems of the world? How much is enough when teaching about inferring and interpreting themes? Seems to be that we are concentrating so much through the high school years on SAT prep that we are foregoing knowledge of the world. Reading for knowledge, for awareness,wil make our younger generations realize that once they are in – and out – of college they are capable of making an impact in the world.

  3. Carolyn

    Bill, In my case, since I am a college math teacher, the pressure to “teach to test” is not as great. But to some degree it still exists. This is where I find the role of the teacher sometimes walking a tightrope… For the most part I have to admit that most people don’t need an A in Calculus, or even a Calculus class for that matter (hopefully my dept chair isn’t reading this-LOL), so why push them to get that A in the class? Why not make them more aware of social issues? Because, even I, the math teacher, would be the first to admit that no amount of good grades in Calculus will solve the problem that you’re laying out for us here. But here are two things I think about. First, and in my opinion sadly, we still live in a world where transcripts rule. Sometimes, perhaps too often, a GPA is important. And for some of my students, their funding for college depends on that GPA. So I deal with that. But second, and I think more importantly, there is something in the back of my mind that says I may have a future engineer sitting in my class. Will that person ever be “in the trenches” working to change the problems you are showing us here? Not likely. Will they end up in some sort of high paying job in some sort of engineering field? Possibly. So here is my hope… When that person lands that great job, they realize that their money can help support organizations who have workers who are daily working among these things to make changes for the better. So as a math teacher, how do I incorporate that into my teaching of math? I don’t know. How do I incorporate my belief that wealth is not only for ourselves to enjoy? Where does it fit into a College Algebra class? How do I tell them that “if your decent college degree happens to help land you at a decent job, thank God, do your research and find an organization you believe in, and contribute to it”? I don’t know. I don’t know… I wish I did…

  4. Rebecca Schatz

    I think the quote is:
    “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
    – Antoine de Saint Exupéry
    It’s one of my favorite quotes
    -Rebecca Schatz

  5. Lori Allen

    Thank you for creating this slide and sharing it. I found it via a link posted on FaceBook by a friend. I could not agree more with what you say. We chose the school for our daughter because of its emphasis on lifelong learning, critical thinking skills, character development, and the school’s core value set: community, diversity, and sustainability. There are few tests and certainly no standardized ones. Her report cards simply state whether a specific skill set (academic or social)is “developing”, “established”, or “exceeds expectations”. She started 4th grade this week. She is thriving – academically head and shoulders above peers in more traditonal “academically focused” schools.

  6. TeachMoore

    So powerful, and so timely. Your post comes as I am giving some really hard thought to why I am trying to help young (and not-so-young)adults learn to write well. Not for a grade; not to pass; not to get a job….although writing well will help them in all those areas. What I came to was a conviction that I am helping to give my students channels for their own voices; to express and exchange important ideas with the rest of the world. I love the look on my students’ faces when they realize that someone might actually be interested in what they have to say! World-changing indeed.

  7. Mike H

    Wow! That’ll could draw some comments. I wonder how many teachers see themselves as creating that type of change? In my new job, I’m trying to take teachers to historical places to be treated like historians. I took them to the church where Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty of give me death,” and we had a great conversation about freedom in the mind of the 17th/18th century American, George Washington came to speak to us about slavery, and we even saw the special collections section of the Library of Virginia.
    Point being, when I explain why I want to do this, I say, “I want to treat you like historicans, not administrators of a test.” They always laugh, that kind of laugh that says, “yup, that’s what we’ve been reduced to.”
    I read the other day, I forget where, that ship captains didn’t motivate sailors to build ships by showing them how to build the ship, rather, but telling them about the wonders of exploration. I think educational leaders have moved away from that idea. And I need to learn how to become that type of visionary leader. I can think it, but not articulate it as well as I need to. On Oct. 12, I get to share my vision with over 200 social studies teachers.
    So I’ll be using these pictures. Thanks for feeding my motivation.

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