Saturday, February 13, 2010

Chaos is winning.

I have just finished teaching Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Yesterday at the end of my power point I used the quote from the last page of the book when Ralph cries for "the loss of innocence, the darkness of man's heart and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy." And this morning I opened my New York Times.

We have not come very far, I would say, since the publication of that book. We are surrounded by children's loss of innocence. (How will the children of Haiti ever find sustenance and nurture after this? How will the children of the Congo ever feel safe and childlike again after rape and death?) And the loss of innocence is as close as the television, movie theatre, the living room couch.

As for the darkness of man's heart, well...look around. How much money does one CEO of Goldman Sachs or Bank of America need? How much partisanship does it take to risk the health and welfare of millions of people? On the other hand, how much money could build new schools, hire enough teachers, coaches and aides (notice I did not include administrators)to make a difference in children's lives? Test scores have robbed us of the opportunity to cast light into the darkest corners. We are too busy with high stakes testing to talk to children about basic right and wrong. We are strapped into the rocket that leads us to school grades and bonuses rather than to healthy, nurtured, character- driven children. We must test and test and test, and yet the results have nothing to do with the greater tests they will all meet as young adults and as new members of our communities. We have no fondness for stop now and talk about decision making. (It's not on the test.)

My mother, in studying for her Ph.D., did an analysis of values, attitudes and beliefs. She would discuss this with us at the dinner table. I came away with the notion that all teaching is based on this. You can take any literature you want or social situation, or moment in history and analyze it from those three perspectives. I suspect it would be true in science and math as well. And when you ask students to identify these three critical aspects in any situation, they begin to think and discover issues that had never before occurred to them.

I did this one year with a class of freshmen at Affton High School. They were reading Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. It was astounding to me the comments they made as a result of their analyses. But this was before high stakes testing. Those students went on to powerful opportunities in this country--the White House, state government, leadership in education and banking and even a few teachers.

But what do I accomplish now? It behooves me to say not as much as I would like. I curtail discussing ideas and move on to practical matters. In the novel we know that Piggy symbolizes intelligence, insight, thinking. And so with Golding and Ralph, I weep for "the fall through the air of the true, wise friend Piggy." I weep.