Saturday, October 4, 2014

Go to Prague. Change the World.

It's the weekend.  If you are a teacher, or you know a teacher, weekends are for sleeping in and functioning at a slightly slower pace than during the week -- and catching up on some fun with family and friends.  They're also for contemplating the following week, and writing those lesson plans.  For me, this weekend has been about finishing this week's grad class assignment and reading about Nicholas Winton, as two of my students are working on a National History Day project on his legacy.  Watch the 60 Minutes story. And be ready to cry.



Writing this blog has pushed me to reflect on education, and myself as a teacher.  That was the original intent of the 30 Day Blog Challenge.   This morning there was a post on my facebook feed from Edutopia, suggesting 21 movies about education reform.  And while educators are charged with preparing them for the next level of education -- elementary teachers prepare kids for junior high, junior high for senior high, high school teachers working to release college-ready or work-ready young adults -- we often forget (as teachers and a society) from whence these kids come.

As I re-watched the footage from 60 Minutes, I did so after viewing the list of education reform films.  I couldn't help but be reminded that everyone has a story.  What factors are influencing our students' lack of achievement?  

There are kids in schools who are living below the poverty level.  Some are home alone, or charged with being "in charge" of younger siblings, so both parents can work.  Often the kids in America are responsible for getting themselves up, dressed, and on time to a bus -- and they haven't passed the third grade yet.  Some are being raised by under-educated parents who are unable to assist with homework.  (Let alone those who can't figure out the newest math practices which are mocked, rampantly, on social media.)  Still others are suffering at the hands of verbal or physical abusers.

Did you know that it is legal for a child under 18 to work TWENTY EIGHT HOURS A WEEK in addition to going to school?  That high school kids can work until midnight on a school night, travel home, wind down, go to bed, and be in school by 7:30 the next morning?  That same child could then work an additional 8 hours on the weekend.  Yes, there are some kids in high school that can, legally, work THIRTY SIX HOURS in a seven day period in addition to school.

Did you know that in New York City, gifted kids who are identified as needing alternative enrichment or specialized instruction to grow academically must first qualify, and then enter into a lottery for a coveted spot in the gifted program?

Did you know that teachers today are being evaluated on the growth and achievement of their students?

This didn't start out to be a rant on a soapbox, so let me try to rein this in a bit.  Nicholas Winton was one man who took a two week vacation to Prague, and changed the lives of 669 kids.  He did it with very little help.  He felt so guilty about the trainload of children left behind that he didn't really speak of his work for more than fifty years, but the fact remains that he rescued them from unspeakable atrocities.  Nicholas Winton is now 105 years old. 

If we, as a society, could care about our kids with the vigor and determination of Winton to get them to a place where they are cared for, respected, and safe, imagine the academic growth we could see.  

Even greater, imagine the adults they could become.