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Watch this Movie, Please.

One of the enduring principles of comedy is juxtaposition.

Take, for example, this joke from actress Sara Silverman:

“When I was 14, I started dating my father’s best friend. It was weird.”
“But not as weird as my father having a best friend who was 14.”

So, too, is juxtaposition in the comedy of life.

On October 20, Kent ISD hosted a screening of the film “Most Likely to Succeed” at Celebration Cinema. It’s an engaging film that poses this question: Our schools were designed at the turn of the 20th Century by business and educational leaders to prepare workers for the mass production of products. Can these schools prepare today’s students for the jobs of tomorrow?

All in attendance agreed it was thought provoking. There was great dialogue about an education organized around rote memorization in a world of search engines, the critical thinking and problem solving skills required in today’s workplace, and the failings of an accountability system built on the standardized test.

Heady stuff, indeed. And the next morning, I find this in my email inbox:

LANSING, Mich. — State Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, announced Wednesday that the Michigan Senate Education Committee will conduct a series of hearings on Michigan’s academically failing schools, beginning Wednesday, Nov. 4.

Juxtaposition. From dreaming about what education could be, what it should be, to what it is in a world where our schools are governed by students’ scores on standardized tests. Their performance on a single test, on a single day, is the determining factor in whether a school building, and typically a district, is considered a success, or a failure.

There are so many more factors to consider. All of the research shows children of poverty start kindergarten well behind children from middle-class suburbs because they’re exposed to fewer early learning opportunities, they’re more likely to suffer health and nutrition deficiencies, etc., etc.

In the early grades, there are developmental issues and differences between genders. Boys are generally behind girls. Some boys really don’t have the biological building blocks in place to be proficient in reading at third grade. Few learn well by sitting quietly in rows reading books.

As the writers and producers of Most Likely to Succeed point out, grouping students by age and, later, by age and subject, are organizational tools, not educational tools. There is no evidence these organizational tools are anything more than an easy way for adults to manage large groups of students.

The research indicates all students are different, all develop in different ways and all would benefit from a system based on competency. A competency based system would make learning the most important factor in a student’s education. Some would master concepts faster, some slower, but none would be judged as failures because they were unable to master a concept by a certain age or a date marked on a calendar for standardized tests to be administered.

Forgive me for this overgeneralization, but mostly, our elected officials believe our current education system is expensive and our scores on standardized tests are too low. Virtually everything in education policy orbits around these two bits of information.

Please, don’t get me wrong. All of our elected officials are well intentioned people. I admire their public service. I’m all for efficiency. But most of the discussion surrounding education is focused on the wrong things.

What should we focus on? I’m not the expert. But let’s go back to juxtaposition.

Think of the excitement of four- or five-year olds when they first go to school. And then, think of the dull and disinterested response you get when you ask a teenager what he or she learned in school today: “Nothing.”

Shouldn’t that be the focus of education reform? Shouldn’t we ask what happened to the love of learning?

Why do the majority of students say they’re bored every day in school? We should be looking for ways to fulfill the wisdom of William Butler Yeats, who famously said “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

Let’s light a fire. Please watch Most Likely to Succeed. Please ask your legislators to watch it too. And then let’s have a conversation about how we can make our schools better.


“Most Likely to Succeed”

NYT Story: A Disadvantaged Start Hurts Boys More Than Girls

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Ron Koehler
Ron Koehler
Ron Koehler is the Kent ISD Assistant Superintendent and offers his commentary on issues in education. Read Ron's full bio


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