Thursday, October 25, 2007

Little Boxes

I never get headaches . . . but I think this morning might be my first. Anyone remember that song from the sixties by Malvina Reynolds called "Little Boxes?"
"Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes made of tickytacky
Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same
There's a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses all went to the university
Where they were put in boxes and they came out all the same,
And there's doctors and there's lawyers, and business executives
And they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course and drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children and the children go to school
And the children go to summer camp and then to the university
Where they are put in boxes and they come out all the same.

And the boys go into business and marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky and they all look just the same."

Now originally I'm sure it was simply a lampoon of middle class suburbia and conformist nature of our society. But today, for me, it comes to mind when I think about the NCLB-induced professional time that is top-down with a avalanche of data and an incomprehensible amount of "boxes" and "hoops-to-jump-through."

I would like to argue that top-down system approaches are part of the problem and ultimately will fall under their own weight. I hear talk of professional learning communities and capacity-building, but at times become very discouraged by the weighty bureaucracy, mandates from above, and "blue-ribbon" panels of corporate executives and university officials pontificating abstractions unconnected to the realities of the common people.

We need fewer boxes . . . not more.

Is just doing more, faster, really the solution to the issues of our nation?

What do you think?


Joe Makley said...

I know the song well, and I agree with your aggravation about top-down change, but I'd like to clarify some of your assertions, lest they be misinterpreted:

1. "weighty bureaucracy..." Maine's educational bureaucracy consists of a short-handed group of good people, and are not of themselves "weighty." The weight is created in the legislature.
2. "mandates from above" are presumed to come from the people, because they are passed in the legislatures (both federal and state.) So, we are mandating ourselves to death. Of course, this presumption leaves out the influence of...
3. "blue-ribbon" panels of corporate executives and university officials pontificating abstractions unconnected to the realities of the common people." I'll include Michael Fullen in this group only if you are talking about his latest book "Breakthrough," which is a lot like Ronald Reagan's Star Wars program (and may in fact cause massive surrender by the "old guard" into retirement if it is shared too often.) His earlier work is very "practice centered" and relevant. Professsional Learning Communities merely describe a simple understanding that teachers have a shared responsiblity for learning. So I hope you didn't mean to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Not all reforms are fads. There's good stuff there, too. And not all mandates are misguided. And even some administrators are OK. :)

Jim Burke said...

Ahhhhh. . . good, Joe . . finally a response. :) First of all, if I wasn't clear, I have nothing against PLC's, capacity-building, and Michael Fullan, although I haven't read "Breakthrough" yet, so am unclear on what you mean by it being a lot like "Star Wars." But . . . I do get concerned when they just become buzzwords, far removed from original definition or intent. I do get concerned when it just becomes a political game, weighted down with superficial paperwork. There needs to be direction, clarity, follow-through, substance . . .and did I mention . . .respect and support for the local school and classroom teacher. I've had it with the teacher-bashing that is explicit and/or implicit in much of what I read and hear. There is no doubt in my mind that many experts need to take a few weeks off to spend in a real down-to-earth classroom. They need to experience real students (not in university lab schools please) and do teacher bus and cafeteria duties. They need to try to prepare inquiry-based units for several classes on a daily basis for an extended time while trying to be sensitive to children's emotional needs and serving on a multitude of committees. They need to try to live on a beginning teacher's salary while being asked to add more and more onto the workload. I could go on . . but will stop there.

Now don't get me wrong,Joe, one way or another education is going to change . . . schools are going to change . . . but scapegoating teachers and local communities as a smoke screen for multi-national corporate greed does not fly with me.

Tell me, what is the good stuff?