Note: In response to Dr. Scott McLeod’s invitation to write the new President a letter, here is mine. To be transparent, I honestly think I know too little to write a letter about the issues. Some criteria for my letter, though; it needs to be 1) Short and to the point; 2) Emotionally engaging; 3) Make one point about education. Let me know if I meet my own criteria in this first draft.
When I started teaching writing 15 years ago, my grade level teachers asked me, “Why aren’t you following the textbook?” The fifth grade children wrote their life stories–about being the child of a single parent in a small town, catching rattlesnakes in the country, living lives of poverty as they walked unpaved roads of red dirt of Cotulla, Tx. When I moved to East Texas, children there also told their life stories, how they immigrated from the little towns of San Luis Potosi in Mexico, and who watched their parents work in the Pilgrim Chicken Plant, “la pollera.” In spite of heart-breaking poverty, each took pride in their heritage, their history, their place in America. All recorded their stories in writing and shared them with a broader audience using technology.
It was clear that these children did not have a textbook life. If I had taught them from the textbook, taught them the way the curriculum demanded, they would have learned but not what they needed to learn. I would have taught them but not the lessons I should have taught. If I had the technology available to me then that I have now, those children’s stories would have captivated a worldwide audience. If only I had had it, and if only teachers today might be allowed to use that technology. Instead, high stakes test-prep is valued more highly.
Mr. President, in the days to come, your influence will have greater reach than your authority. Remember the stories of our children–the most disenfranchised, our poverty-stricken, the huddled masses yearning to learn and in learning, see the promise of America come alive.
You can influence more than require–Encourage the use of technology to authentically engage our children, not for drill-n-kill, mind-numbing computer tutorials. Empower them to tell their life stories and embrace collaborative creativity, even as they learn what children need to learn to be citizens in an connected, global community.
It will be easy to listen to the experts, to enact legislation like NCLB that calls for high standards and ruthless accountability, to forget that we must ask, not what technology can do with students, but rather, what they can do with technology. Remember one story, and ask, how will this child see America? A land of freedom that empowers, or that freedom belongs to those rich enough, powerful enough to control the technology?
Thank you for taking a few moments of your time to read this letter. Though I voted for change that endures, my real vote was for a leader who will listen, understand, and take action to empower Generation We…or get the heck out of their way.