Paradigm Shifts

April traditionally is the month that Missouri does its state testing.  The MAP, Missouri Assessment Project, sends chills down the spines of teachers and administrators.  Students seem to care less.  With the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) trying to improve education, the MAP is the primary scorecard for schools.  The NCLB has established expectations which schools cannot achieve without extraordinary, even Herculean, efforts to reach each and every child regardless of any genetic, environmental, societal, parental, much less independent student attitudes.

There needs to be some paradigm shifts in order for today’s educational process to improve.  There is no manageable way to list all of these needed shifts, but over the course of the weeks, months or even years, we can discuss them.

First, teachers are expected to fill a multitude of roles beyond that of presenting academic content which is then practiced and tested.  Today’s teachers no longer can expect students to leave the classroom and go to an environment which values the school’s efforts to help the student learn the content of the day’s lesson.  Teachers know that all too often the student leaves the classroom to return to an unhealthy environment.  That environment may be filled with alcohol, drugs, and abuse, but there could be so much more.

Some young children, including elementary, go home to no one.  The economy almost demands that both parents work in order to provide even the basics of food, shelter, and clothing.  The student goes home to take care of themselves or go to other homes for a few hours until a parent arrives to take them home.  We are faced with the working poor not being able to provide even the basic necessities, so how can educators expect them to provide the nurturing environment students need at home to do their best at school?

Each and every day, as the students arrive in my classroom, I must take the opportunity to say hello, check their expressions and their stories, and see if they are mentally prepared to meet the school’s demands successfully.  All too often, they are not mentally there to learn.

Last month I asked a few of my at-risk students what they thought about having a residential facility for them.  They were eager for such a setting.  My high school at-risk students want a place that they can stay safe, sound, warm, dry, and away from the many hassles of their home or homeless lives.  They would be willing to live in a facility that provided them a room and bathroom (like a motel) and even abide by a curfew and a set of rules (i.e. in by 10:30 pm, no guests in the room, and no leaving until the morning as they go to school.  They would not even need to return throughout the day unless they got sick.

I have this vision:  a motel-style building with indoor hallways (no outer entrance to individual rooms), an exercise room, and an open lounge.  Schools would provide breakfast and lunch as they do now, so the students would only need to locate one meal on their own.  They could have a small refrigerator and a microwave in their rooms to manage that.

The problem:  funding and staffing.  This is what private schools have been doing for a long time, but we have failed to consider the needs of so many public schools students.  With the definition of homeless being so broad as to say that any student who does not live at a permanent address with a biological parent is homeless, the number of students needing such a facility would be around 5-10% (an educated guess). But I wander from the point.  If our students are interested in having a safe residence, then this is just one more paradigm that we need to review.

So what paradigm shift should we tackle?  Is it the school’s responsibility to provide for all three basic needs:  food, shelter and clothing?  Is it the school’s responsibility to educate or to provide the basic needs?  Oh there are many who do not have to tackle the basic needs, but if we are not to leave one child behind academically, we will have to make sure that all the basic needs are met first.

The paradigm of education is no longer that of the academic arena.  Today’s educational system is being asked to raise this country’s young.  The village can’t do it, so the schools must.  This is a sad statement if schools now have to be the parents 24/7 as well as the educators.  “In loco parentis” has always been the legal jargon to mean that if students are in school, the teachers have the authority to act as parents.  This was meant to be in terms of discipline and immediate needs during a six-hour school day.  It was not meant to be the replacement for parents even beyond those six hours.

Let’s review what is expected of the schools and let’s make sure we are being reasonable in the expectations of the teachers, the administrators, and even the school boards.  If no child is to be left behind academically, then the villages do need to participate in the process.  The emphasis needs to be placed on academics in school, and allow the teachers to work under the legal doctrine of “in loco parentis”.  This means that educators need to be valued and paid for their expertise as educators.  Let’s put the parents and the community to work to support the students beyond the six-hour school day, too.

Don’t let no child left behind become a goal that causes educators to expand their role to unreasonable depths.  Let’s shift the paradigm of educators back to education.  The answers are not simple.  The need is critical.  Education needs close scrutiny and solutions.

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