Which statement is true: a.) Hawaii's public schools are doing a good job of teaching our children. b.) Hawaii's public schools are in bad shape.
This past week, I spoke to an inspired teacher and a disillusioned parent who gave me reasons to say both statements are valid. It depends where your kids go to school, and perhaps more importantly, who their teachers are. It also depends largely on the parents' expectations and involvement. I don't have children, but if I did, I'd want to send them to Lanikai Elementary Public Charter School, where we taped Dr. April Gardner Taylor for a future CCTV segment about Argosy University's School of Education.
Dr. Taylor has been teaching for 18 years, mostly working with fifth and sixth grade students. However, to earn her doctorate from Argosy, she did her dissertation on teaching writing skills to fourth graders. Her award-winning study involved several teachers and classes from schools on the Windward side, comparing different approaches to writing instruction. In a nutshell, she found that children learned more when they were presented with examples of "good" and "bad" writing, then asked to figure out why one was better than the other.
Rather than just making them memorize grammar "rules," they were asked to think through the process of putting words together. When April -- er, Dr. Taylor -- explained that learning to write well is really about learning to think, my head was bobbing up and down. This is what I tell everyone about what I learned from my journalism courses in college. It wasn't grammar or punctuation, which I'm still not very good at. The most important thing I got out of writing for the college paper was it taught me how to ask questions and find answers.
The reason she wants her students to call her Dr. Taylor is that she feels they give her more respect when she tells them that she's like a medical doctor. She "prescribes" homework for them, diagnoses their writing mistakes and helps them get better at it. Yet the doctor title represents more than that. It demonstrates her personal commitment to being the best teacher she can be. She wanted to learn more herself, so she could do a better job of teaching kids the skills they will need to get ahead in life.
And boy, do they need it! Her dissertation quotes statistics that say over a third of college students feel they are deficient in writing skills. In the work force, the number is closer to forty percent who admit to feeling "incompetent" when it comes to writing. As someone who gets a lot of emails from people in all walks of life, I can vouch for those numbers. When I used to write for the old Star-Bulletin, I got emails from teachers on the subject of drug testing in schools that made me wonder how THEY graduated from high school.
Which brings me back to the disillusioned parent I mentioned earlier. She had moved here from the Mainland about a year ago, and decided to leave Hawaii because she had concerns about our public school system based on what she saw first-hand. Her children also encountered the "haole" problem that sometimes comes with being an outsider or new kid.
But at the Lanikai elementary school, I got to see the good side of public education. Dr. Taylor's classroom was festooned with student art work and posters that incorporated sports analogies, plus other fun stuff to make points about effective writing. The kids we saw looked happy to be there. She was excited about being there, and said she couldn't imagine doing anything else that would be as rewarding. If only the parent who was leaving Hawaii had gotten to send her children to a school like that one...
Being a public school teacher is a demanding job, especially in places where students and parents don't give them much respect or support. In Japan, children bow to their teachers from day one and educators are venerated. In Finland, which is ranked as the world's top education system, they have three teachers per class -- one to instruct, while two work one-on-one with students. In the U.S., most of our teachers come from the bottom third class ranking of college graduates. In Finland, they come from the top 10 percent and have advanced degrees. Yet in much of America, being educated or having advanced degrees is now sneered at as being "elitist." No wonder this country has been heading in the wrong direction for the past few years. Our priorities are seriously screwed up, folks.
So if you encounter devoted, passionate educators like April Gardner Taylor -- "Dr. Write" in my book -- give them your thanks and a hug... because children may be the future, but it's teachers who will determine whether it will be a bleak or bright future we will have.
A little off topic, but related to the subject of writing is this interesting book review about the origins of print publishing. Did you know Gutenberg died broke and disappointed, despite inventing the movable-type printing press?
And you still have another week to watch this month's Halloween episode of Career Changers TV, which features an interesting mix of creative people doing some pretty neat things. For daily viewing times and links to our YouTube Channel videos, please visit www.CareerChangers.TV.