|MY RESPONSE TO "SCHOOLS
By Michelle Trusty-Murphy
I stopped at a restaurant on my way home from California, but it wasn't
McDonald's. It was a small place on a side road with the sign: "Antiques
and Mexican Food." I looked at the menu before my kids and I went in--it
was reasonable. It looked clean. In fact, it was down right charming.
Inside I was met by a young man, no more than twelve. "May I show you
to your table?" he said with practiced and polished meter. The waitress
was his grandmother, the cook was his grandfather, and the restaurant not
only had excellent food, it also had a wonderful and warm environment for
There was, in one corner, a toy from the turn of the century. The waitress
invited my children to play with it: "It is an old favorite. Kids have
played with it in this restaurant for over 20 years--it won't break." My
kids had a blast. I had a wonderful dinner, and I resolved never to stop
at a super-mega burger joint again on my way back over Interstate 80.
There are those travelers who won't stop anywhere else but one of those
super-mega burger joints, and frankly, they have missed a lot of quality
in the name of consistency.
One of those consistency-minded fellows is [Nevada] State Board of Education
member, Bill Hanlon. He has used his experience with consistency over quality
in the restaurant world to argue consistency over quality in our schools.
He wrote, "If you were out with your kids and they were hungry, would you
stop at a mom and pop type place, or would you go to a franchise like McDonald's
or Carrows? The answer for the majority is they would go where they know
what the food will be like, how long it will take, to be served and the
Mr. Hanlon then argues that standardized testing and standards will
improve schools and says, "If public schools and teachers want to have
any credibility, they have to address common expectations and consistency."
I don't know about you, but I don't like the idea of a teacher sacrificing
the needs of individual students for the sake of consistency. My child
should not be regarded in the same way as a uniformly sized 1/4 pound patty
of meat in order to make the industry of education work more efficiently
and consistently. My child might need a bit more spice in the classroom,
a touch less heat, or a little more sugar than another child.
I want an educational system that knows that education in a free society
like America has never been, and will never be, consistent. I want a teacher
who knows that good teaching is a lot like good cooking--you have a recipe
book (the standards), you have various different spices (the teaching materials),
and you have the ingredients (the children). A good cook starts with a
cookbook, but they must individualize every recipe to take into consideration
the variation inherit in fresh ingredients (our kids come in all flavors,
sizes, and types), the current style of preparation (low fat, ethnic, etc.),
and the tastes of the critic who will judge the final outcome (the parents
& the society at large).
Although teaching by the book might work for some kids, it won't work
for others. A good recipe doesn't guarantee good results, or we would all
be gourmet cooks. Good teachers have the education, the experience, and
the creativity needed to find that subtle balance that will work in their
classroom, with the kids, with the parents, in their school, in their district,
Mr. Hanlon and the rest of the State Board of Education must realize
that good teaching, like good cooking, is an art, not a science.
If we demanded consistency over quality in our schools we would find
the same sort of unpalatable results we find in those super-mega burger
joints. Those places rely on an uneducated and cheap labor force who are
not allowed to deviate from the company-controlled and timed cooking practices
that maintain those standard results. If Mr. Hanlon wants our teachers
to "cook by the book," he will force our best teachers into the private
"mom and pop" schools where they can still exercise a measure of control
over the education of children. Our public schools will be left with an
uneducated, inexperienced, low paid labor force of dissatisfied teachers
hoping to get into another field.
The changes the legislature and the State Board of Education have already
implemented have moved dangerously close to Mr. Hanlon's consistent world.
The use of straight-jacket standards isn't about making education better--it
is about making education cheaper, easier, and less individualized. These
changes take the power from local control and put it into the hands of
bureaucrats and politicians on the state and federal level.
Mr. Hanlon, leave cooking and educating to those who care about kids.
Our kids don't need to be standardized, they need to be educated.
Dr. Michelle Trusty-Murphy, a resident of Minden, will be a candidate for the Nevada State Board of Education in November 2000.
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