It’s all about the student

In pre-industrial America, the educational needs of farm children extended not much beyond the ability to discern the difference between “wheat flour” and “oat flour” printed on similar sacks, as well as the ability to make change from a dollar at the local farmers market. With the loss of farm jobs in industrial America, most factory jobs required somewhat more reading and math skills, but mostly just what could be learned on-the-job and certainly little college level skills were needed.


Now in post-industrial America, with factories and factory jobs going overseas, workers need a minimum of two years after high school in order to land more than a minimum wage job and increasingly, four and six years of college. “Work” has gone from being done with the hand and is now being done with the head. Have our schools kept up with graduating productive citizens? We cannot be satisfied by only increasing high school graduation rates, we must drastically increase the skill sets necessary for our all of our children to survive in this ever-changing world. Enter the Bill and Melinda Gates.


From 1998 through 2003 the Gates Foundation threw millions of dollars into a “Teacher Leadership Project” designed to get computer technology into the classroom. The final evaluation report said that the program was only as successful as the schools’ continued support and most importantly the ability of the individual teacher to successfully integrate the technology into the curriculum.


Today, the Gates Foundation has gone from “It’s all about computers” to “It’s all about the importance of teachers.” I agree with their basic premise that “teachers matter more to student learning than anything inside a school…” but the operative word is “inside”. What about “outside” the school? I reluctantly predict that 7 years and hundreds of millions of dollars from now we will finally determine that “It’s all about the student” and that graduating PRODUCTIVE citizens is the mission of our school systems and that the only way to do that is by a holistic approach to the individual student that takes into account the potential counterproductive influences of poverty, home life, crime, drugs, peers, health and self-motivation. These are issues largely beyond the control of even the most productive and motivated classroom teacher. We need to more closely integrate all of our community social services resources that together can come up with a network which keeps every child from falling through.


As Jean Clements, president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association said, “There are no simple answers to the very complex question of how to improve education in our schools.”


As the late Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead once said, “Somebody has to do something, and it’s just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.”

<IMHO> Fred Jacobsen


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