Below is a position paper I just wrote to capture my thinking regarding the issue of class size reduction, a key issue related to the possibility of schools that prepare students to do the kind of thinking, the kind of problem-solving one must do if he or she is if he or she is to realize his or her potential as a human being, as an individual, and if he or she is to be able to effectively participate in the decision making processes of a society that needs to be a democratic one.
Today, in a post I received in response to a posting I made regarding the fact that in the district where I live, class size is hardly ever seriously discussed as a serious factor determining the true quality of the education students in the district receive. The initiating post recommended I run for the board of trustees (our school board) if I thought I had answers to problems the district and its students are facing.
So I am running for the Board of Trustees of the Washoe County School District in the next election for a representative from the area in which I live.
My platform will be to energetically promote schools as places people go to grow as individuals, to achieve their human potential as beings capable of thought. I will come to the job with an agenda, that being to do whatever is necessary to insure that all students are provided with a real and meaningful opportunity to acquire knowledge that is enlightening and empowering and develop the skills and attitudes that cause one to engage in the kind of critical thought that leads to sound understandings about self and the world that allow a person to be strong in his or her individuality while a useful participant in the decision making processes that are essential to the existence of democratic governance.
Position Paper I
My mind has been doing some overtime because the issue of the size of classes many teacher are assigned to “teach” makes truly good education impossible. But, if you listen to administrators and people on school boards, it is possible and sometimes they will even show evidence that such is true. Sometimes they show graduation rates. Sometimes they show test scores. Sometimes they show how many students are enrolled in AP courses. And, in the district where I live, they will show you such things as awards for most improved district (the meaning of which is relative to where “start” is marked and what the implications for real student lives are in relation to what gains have been made. Miserable to better but still not cutting it should not be considered meaningful improvement.
The bigger issue for me, in terms of the achievements of schools is whether those who graduate (and those who don’t) are well prepared for getting along well in the world as individuals and members of a society, the latter calculated properly in these United States of America in terms effectiveness as a participant in the decision-making processes of a democratic society (one that, at least, should be trying to become one). This means that students succeed only if they are able to think and think well, think critically and acquire necessary amounts of information to be well informed, this information the knowledge they acquire, that they think critically about in order to make sound decisions as individuals and as individuals who are citizens of a democracy.
The class-size issue has everything to do with the goals of education I just described. And it has to much to do with measures of achievement. If achievement is measured by what students remember of what they are told long enough to take a test and “achieve” passing scores, then class size does not matter so much. If, however, making sense of what one is learning and being able to apply it to meaningful problems, problems of the type one encounters as an individual and as individual involved in the decision-making processes of society, then measurements of achievement cannot be one time fill in the bubbles type convergent answer type tests and the teaching must be something very much different from the kind of teaching that prepares students for such tests.
To access thinking abilities, one who is accessing must have the ability and the time to listen to a student’s explanation of what is going on in his or her mind and, to promote growth in thinking, the instructor must know how to, be willing to, and have the time to interact with the student as he or she explains his or her thoughts, something beyond “the” answers to how one came to the conclusions that serve as his or her answers to the questions asked, explain and apply the solutions thought produced that are his or her solutions to the problems the things learned help to solve.
Class size now is, except for the misery it causes teachers who have to deal with inordinately large classes and student discontent (translates into lack of engagement and “bad” behavior), not a problem by the measures commonly used to determine achievement. Classes, actually, are not really necessary (online schools popping up all over the place), because teaching is about the transformation of information and skills instruction and drills (yes, the “do the problems at the end of the chapter; answer the questions at the end of the story” are about information being transferred and drill and not about teaching to thinking, to the development of deep understanding of concepts or to the development of independent problem-solving abilities that incorporate the techniques used by the truly proficient to do the kind of work knowledge in the disciplines allows—informational knowledge and methodological knowledge.
I have said much of this before but I am trying to convince people in power and those responsible for delegating them power (voters, participants in civic actions, etc.) that class size reduction is not but one issue amongst many that needs to be solved. It is a major problem that must be solved if ever we are to have schools that actually serve to insure that the people of a democracy are prepared to do the work necessary to maintain democracy, to insure that the people of a democracy are able to make decisions that serve the welfare of all individuals, this being the good of the whole.