by Jim Lang
On Sunday I returned from a five-day journey to San Francisco with four Floyd Central journalism students and a colleague. We attended the annual spring convention sponsored by the Journalism Education Association and the National Scholastic Press Association.
As we attended classes and explored the incredibly beautiful city of San Francisco, I was reminded again of how essential strong elective programs like journalism, media, and the arts are to our schools.
Thousands of engaged, excited high school journalists from all over the nation descended on the Marriott Marquis to learn, compete, and improve their journalism skills. San Francisco provided the perfect backdrop to enhance the experience with historic sightseeing.
My fellow yearbook adviser and I simply turned the trip over to our four senior editors. For five days, we followed their itinerary as they chose their classes and escorted us around the city by navigating public transportation. The trip was the ultimate learning experience where we empowered our students to make all decisions. They did not disappoint us once.
Our San Francisco experience reminded me how much students learn when they get out of the classroom. Our journey reminded me of the value of so many similar school-sponsored trips taken by our school’s exceptional theater, orchestra, choral, and band programs. It also reminded me how much more valuable learning is when our students have the opportunity to decide more than simply which bubble to fill in on a standardized test.
Sadly, it seems our public schools are moving away from offering these kinds of real world experiences, especially here in Indiana. If the ISTEP testing debacle of the last week does not alarm you, then, frankly, you are either not paying attention or simply do not care about the quality of our public schools.
The nationwide education”reform” movement that emphasizes accountability through excessive corporate testing has seized control of Indiana schools. Students and teachers will be held “accountable” through their scores on these corporate tests that seem to gobble up more of our time for classroom instruction each year.
Of course, the complete mess that resulted from this week’s testing proves no one is holding the corporations creating and administering these tests “accountable,” despite the millions of dollars they are earning from legislators posing as fiscal conservatives.
Yes, this is the “business model” that so many education reformers and local chambers of commerce advocate for our schools. It’s a model that wastes time, money, and resources. It’s a model that actually increases federal control over our schools and limits local control. It’s a model based on the false premise that we must test, measure, and standardize every aspect of learning.
Most dangerously, though, it’s a model that will lead to the destruction and removal of journalism, media, and arts programs in our schools. Because the truth is that students in these classrooms think critically, solve problems, embrace challenges, develop good judgment, and master all of the skills necessary to recognize the kind of false logic, hypocrisy, and ineptitude of so many of our current political leaders.
It’s already happening. It’s been two years since we eliminated elementary art, music, and physical education in the New Albany-Floyd County Schools. While in San Francisco, I heard from several of my own colleagues from other states about the severe limits or complete elimination of their journalism programs due to severe budget cuts or because their curricular areas are no longer considered important because they’re not measured on their states’ standardized tests.
Our “leaders” continue to slash our most valuable educational programs, all in the name of fiscal responsibility, yet provide enormous sums of money to outsource our children’s educations to corporations and provide bailouts to failing charter schools.
And we just let them do it.
I thought about this a lot last week as I watched my own students get truly excited
about attending classes where they could improve their skills and learn from some of the best educators and journalists.I considered it as I watched them intently listen and photograph during a fascinating two-hour trek through Alcatraz. I reflected on it again as they embraced the culture of Chinatown and other areas of one of our most vibrant U.S. cities. And I realized just how much more relevant and important this experience was for them than anything they’ll experience as a result of Indiana’s many wasteful education “reforms.”
I also wondered just close we are to seeing a day where elective programs are history in our public schools.
One thing is certain. We need a change in direction in Indiana government. Now. As stewards of our own government and our children’s futures, we must do a far better job of understanding the complex issues of financing and managing our public schools.
Most importantly, however, we must be more vigilant and protective of our invaluable journalism, media, and arts elective programs. We must ensure that they prosper and remain an integral part of our schools in the face of a culture that values accountability over genuine learning and desires an education system that emphasizes test scores over experiences.
We must protect our nation’s student journalists, musicians, and artists, because we’ll so desperately need the kind of leadership and integrity that they can provide to clean up the mess left by our current “leaders” that we continue to elect in Indiana and nationwide.