I spent last week with a group of the hardest-working, most dedicated and most frustrated professionals I have ever met: New Jersey teachers. A measure of their commitment is that they voluntarily participated in a course that met for 12 hours a day in Union, N.J., where the temperature hit 105 on Thursday. They came because they loved learning and they loved kids. And they were frustrated because they believed that the state’s sole focus on improving test scores had elevated political and bureaucratic demands over educating students. New Jersey is not Afghanistan, where the per-student expenditure is $70 (versus $20,000) and girls are threatened with murder. But its importance to both our individual and collective futures cannot be overstated, and the 16 teachers with whom I spent last week have dedicated their lives to teaching children. They are professionals who feel unable to do the work they were trained to do because politicians and bureaucrats decided they knew how to do it better.
In his essay, “What is Education For?”, David Orr urges us to look at the world and rethink our ideas of education, including:
- Its goal is not mastery of subject matter, but of one's person.
- Knowledge carries the responsibility to see that it is well used in the world.
- We cannot say we know something until we understand the effects of this knowledge on real people and their communities.
What I learned last week is that the best way to have children learn is to let teachers teach.