I stopped at a restaurant on my way home from California, but it wasn't McDonald's. it was a small place on a side road with the sign: "Antiques and Mexican Food." I looked at the menu before my kids and I went in - it was reasonable. It looked clean. In fact, it was downright charming.
Inside I was met by a young man no more than 12. "May I show you to your table?" he said with practiced and polished meter. The waitress was his grandmother, the cook was his grandfather, and the restaurant not only had excellent food, it also had a wonderful and warm environment for my kids.
There was, in one corner, a toy from the turn of the century. The waitress invited my children to play with it: "It is an old favorite. Kids have played with it in this restaurant for over 20 years - it won't break." My kids had a blast. I had a wonderful dinner, and I resolved never to stop at a super-mega burger joint again on my way back over Interstate 80.
There are those travelers who won't stop anywhere else but one of those super-mega burger joints, and frankly, they have missed a lot of quality in the name of consistency.
One of those consistency-minded fellows is our State Board of Education member, Bill Hanlon. He has used his experience with consistency over quality in the restaurant world to argue consistency over quality in our schools. He wrote, "If you were out with your kids and they were hungry, would you stop at a mom and pop-type palce, or would you got to a franchise like McDonald's or Carrows? The answer for the majority is they would go where they know what the food will be like, how long it will take to be served and the cost."
Mr. Hanlon then argues that standardized testing and standards will improve schools and says, "If public schools and teachers want to have any credibility, they have to address common expectations and consistency."
I don't know about you, but I don't like the idea of a teacher sacrificing the needs of individual students for the sake of consistency. My child should not be regarded in the same way as a uniformly sized one-quarter pound patty of meat in order to make the industry of education work more efficiently and consistently. My child might need a bit more spice in the classroom, a touch less heat or a little more sugar than another child.
I want an educational system that knows that education in a free society like America has never been, and will never be, consistent. I want a teacher who knows that good teaching is a lot like good cooking - you have a recipe book (the standards), you have various different spices (the teaching materials), and you have the ingredients (the children). A good cook starts with a cookbook, but he must individualize every recipe to take into consideration the variation inherent in fresh ingredients (our kids come in all flavors, sizes and types), the current style of preparation( low fat, ethnic, etc.) and the tastes of the critic who will jduge the final outcome (the parents and the society at large).
Although teaching by the book might work for some kids, it won't work for othhrs. A good recipe doesn't guarantee good results, or we would all be gourmet cooks. Good teachers have the education, the experience and the creativity needed to find that subtle balance that will work in their classroom, with the kids, with the parents in their school, in their district, etc.
Mr. Hanlon and the rest of the State Board of Education must realize that good teaching, like good cooking, is an art, not a science.
If we demanded consistency over quality in our schools, we would find that same sort of unpalatable results we find in those super-mega burger joints. Those places rely on an uneducated and cheap labor force who are not allowed to deviate from the company-controlled and timed cooking practices that maintain those standard results. If Mr. Hanlon wants our teachers to "cook by the book," he will force our best teachers into the private "mom and pop" schools where they can still exercise a measure of control over the education of children. Our public schools will be left with an uneducated, inexperienced, low paid labor force of dissatisfied teachers hoping to get into another field.
The changes the Legislature and the State Board of Education have already implemented have moved dangerously close to Mr. Hanlon's consistent world. The use of straight-jacket standards isn't about making education better - it is about making education cheaper, easier and less individualized. These changes take the power from local control and put it into the hands of bureaucrats and politicians on the state and federal level.
Mr. Hanlon, leave cooking and educating to those who care about kids. Our kids don't need to be standardized, they need to be educated.
Dr. Michelle Trusty-Murphy, a resident of Minden, will be a candidate for the Nevada State Board of Education in November 2000.