2008

19 November 2008: Now that we have a smart president, let’s work on schools

Now that we have a smart president, let’s work on the schools

OK, I have to admit I have had a hidden agenda in working to get Barack Obama elected president: the restoration of pointy-headed intellectuals to a status of respect.

Based on his performance and acumen, Obama can be ranked among the most intellectually brilliant individuals elected to our highest office. With all due respect to Bill Clinton, he is arguably the brainiest in the last generation or two.

Now that doesn’t mean the other presidents were dummies, for one does not get to that level by being a dolt.

But intellectualism suggests and requires more than being “book smart.” After all George W. Bush earned an MBA, which is no small feat, by scoring well on tests.

Intellectualism requires one to engage in critical thinking: being thoughtful, curious, inquisitive, open-minded, and open to ambiguity.

For a leader, it comes down to understanding that while simplistic nostrums—lower taxes, peace with honor, et al—appeal to individuals who would rather not engage in tedious thought processes, solutions to complex problems require complex thinking.

That’s the reason voters rejected Gov. Sarah Palin’s message, “I am just like you,” preferring, instead, “I want someone a lot smarter than I running the country.”

Ideas, as conservatives are fond to say, have real implications, and that one does for our educational system, especially for our public schools, the incubators of our democracy.

There was a political cartoon recently in the Denver Post that got at a deeper meaning of Obama’s election. An African-American boy holding a basketball says to his parents, “When I grow up, I decided I want to be President.”

Wow! All of a sudden, electing to the presidency a brainy, geeky guy who also happens to be black proclaims we Americans are now once again happy to entrust our nation not to just a smart person, but to a thoughtful, curious, etc. type.

All of a sudden getting an education—studying, reading, and engaging in thought-provoking discussions about esoteric issues—is now cool!

Since ideas have consequences, that one has bearing on each of us: parents and the rest of us whose responsibility it is to pay for our neighbors’ kids’ education—a.k.a. taxpayers.

What it comes down to is that we all have a stake not only to help our schools succeed but also to try to understand the complex process of creating life-long learners that will “go forth,” as our Clear Creek School District mission statement states, “and share the best they have to offer the world.”

At a recent Board of Education meeting, Melissa Cooper, our Special Education Director, did a presentation on the Response to Intervention initiative, which is a tool for teachers to find ways of helping students who might otherwise fall through the cracks.

It is an integrated process that “provides high quality instruction/intervention matched to student needs, using learning rate overtime and level of performance to make important educational decisions.”

The philosophy that under-girds it is twofold: all children can learn and no child is a widget whose intellectual growth can be achieved through an assembly line process. In short, every child is unlike any other.

Every parent who has had more than one child understands that firsthand. We like to learn different stuff. We learn at different pace and in different ways.

The conundrum is that we tend to put all those LHTs—little humanoid types—into a building and into a room and then attempt to provide the setting and intellectual fodder to allow each LHT to grow and develop in his/her most unique way.

In other words, we still try to educate kids in the same way we build cars, and God knows how well we are doing that anymore.

Put that in context of a teacher being with a student only a fraction of a fraction of his/her lifetime. As we all know from experience, good or bad, how much impact one teacher who struck that right or wrong chord with us has had on our lives.

Educating our youth is incumbent upon all of us. Stepping outside the warm and fuzzy perspective of kids being unique human beings with special needs and looking at it from a cold-eye economic-man perspective, kids are future human capital.

That idea also has meaning and consequence.

We are no longer where we were a decade ago, last century, when Clear Creek had a much larger student population, when our socio-economic dynamics were fundamentally different, and when our pre-9/11 world was in the nascent IT age.

Like Detroit will need to retool if it hopes to survive in this competitive global economy, so too we better be prepared to retool our educational system right here in Clear Creek if we want our youth to be able to compete. They will, after all, be taking care of us.

Next week, I will delve into the consequences that idea has for our local schools from the point of view of a citizen/taxpayer and a member of the Board of Education.

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