Amongst all the debate between teachers, administrators, parents, and communal participants on the ethics and effects of outdated paradigms and how to reform them to adhere to the increasing demands of globalization and multiculturalism, there is a common conspiratorial concern that existing models of reformation and social and political power structures are oppressive and elitist, thus empowering those essentially born into roles that are classically conditioned to succeed and diminish the aptitude and potential of those that are from less fortunate. As Stan Karp states in “Why we need to go beyond the Classroom” (Karp, 1994), there is historically a dual character in education, a façade and a reality, the former being a humanitarian and global approach to reform to promote collaboration, pluralism and innovation, while the latter still implements change to coincide with pre-existing norms of a stagnant system (p.190). Stan Karp's article is about the duality of the system of education that advocates for a democratic, egalitarian form of pedagogy and policy, yet is enforced with stagnant systems and elitist mentalities, further illustrated by Terry Meier's “Why Standardized Tests are Bad” (Meier, 1994) where Meier examines how tests are geared towards rapid factual regurgitation rather than organic modes of localized and collaborative learning that are proven more effective in learning, thus the dichotomy of how to engage student; should teachers be teaching to tests or teaching to enrich critical thinking and applied intelligence? Sound pedagogical goals demand a knowledge of the product they wish to create. What are we trying to foster in the age of flourishing and eminent globalization and multicultural education; individualized, competitive, fact-oriented students, or collaborative, social, critically innovative and questioning citizens?
The book Rethinking Our Classrooms, Vol. 1 is a collection of essays and academic journal entries written to engage future and current teachers in evaluating how the political and social constructs of power affect their teaching and the future generation of children that will be affected by them, such as No Child Left Behind policy that threatens to possibly privatize education and perpetuate classist and ethnocentric hegemony, and Massive Open Online Courses that allow for anyone with access to the internet to learn lower to early higher education material for free, challenging collegiate rigorousness and questioning the authority of documentation. With technology blurring existing barriers of communication and efficiency, it is now more important than ever to critically analyze how to teach to a generation with access to a virtually unlimited pool of information from the comfort of their homes and even in their pockets in the form of modern cellular communications devices. With a generation that is constantly distracted by television, advertisements, videogames, and internet with less and less interest in subjects that academia egocentrically deems valuable and useful, and bureaucratic policymakers whose interests lie in the accumulation of wealth rather than epistemology, “One unavoidable answer is that teachers will never really succeed at their jobs until conditions of teaching and learning improve dramatically” (Karp, 1994, p. 162).
The book was impressive in its delivery of such complex and pressing issues, and its incorporation of poetry and prose flowed well, sparking the desire for social action and change. It incorporates the topic of why teachers should go beyond their classroom, as the situation should be supervised from inside out, as Karp admits (Karp, 1994). The sections all are inter-relatable. In this respect, the structure of the book provides a step-by-step description of the standpoints in order to grab the attention of educators and officials to the drawbacks of current education and its negative impact on the future of the nation. Clichés and “one and the same” generalizable methods suitable for all students have been proved wrong in recent years. Meier (1994) highlights the idea that standardized tests are a real threat in the US because they make students less active in using their own words and trying to learn better. In sum with the readings mentioned above, the book amplifies a somewhat radical approach toward changing educational system in terms of contemporary multifaceted and comprehensive methods of teaching. The main argument is that all contributors to the book have already tested their hypotheses and approaches logically and in terms of their practical use.
The part titled “Beyond the Classroom” represents 7 pivotal readings by contributors from the Rethinking Schools Company of educational materials (Bigelow, 1994). In this vein, it incorporates the topic of why teachers should go beyond their classroom, as the situation should be supervised from inside out, as Karp admits (Karp, 1994). Notably, “Gurl” is a practical exemplification of what attracts student’s attention more than practical courses and classes as they have a careless attitude toward being educated to do something (Blalock, 1994). “Forging Curriculum Reform Throughout a District” is the third reading in the section explaining the need for a curriculum applicable for a definite district with the decisions on how to quicken interest in students (Levine, 1994). The next reading titled “Why Standardized Tests Are Bad” illustrates the conservatism and narrowness of the testing standards, as a pitfall for talented and creative students. It also highlights the ineffectiveness of standardization and how NCLB may have detrimental effects on education. “Detracking Montclair High” by Stan Karp represents a negative impact of “vague and non-measurable” standardized education which does not take individual differences of students into account (Karp, 1994, p. 176). “Tracking: Why Schools Need to Take Another Route” by Jeanie Oakes supports this idea.
Teacher professionalism should go hand in hand with current liberal and non-discriminatory traditions in order to be well-acclaimed by both students and colleagues for positive feedback which is usually referred to making students human and apt at definite studies (Lauder, 2006). This is not an easy practice to integrate into the current system. With standardized testing, teachers struggle to decide whether they should teach to a test that is ethnocentric, emphasizing knowledge that even research in education denies as being beneficial to learning, or teach to advocate growth in their respective fields. It is a fact that African American students and other minorities tend to score lower on tests. There is a push to make them more accessible by “multi-culturalizing” the test, but who can create a truly multi-cultural test? Would this be written in English, and what material is considered academic by all cultures? There is no definite answer because culture is indefinite. To change standardized test to be accessible to all, the tests would have to be organic, localized, and personalized to each group of students. That would require knowledge of how a certain group thinks and what they have been taught, but this is contrary to the emphasis that standardization has on giving the same test under the same circumstances.
These tests allow for a certain demographic of students to perform better, and to utilize skills that are basically obsolete in the modern classroom, especially if the aim is to push children to pursue education beyond high school. Factual regurgitation and rapid recognition are strategies that are rejected by current research. In mathematics, educators are looking to induce critical thinking over how well students have memorized their multiplication table. Scientists and physicists are not void of calculators; they are in fact their most useful companion for calculation. They get paid to solve problems with missing information, and to analyze sets of data to synthesize an approach or solution that would be best suited for the circumstances at hand. Modern linguistics denies authority to prescriptive grammar and instead argues that collaboration and understanding are the goals of communication, giving no particular dialect or style and prestige over another.
Yet we test students on what phrase or word is better than another, out of context, when in all actuality it can only be determined within a context and is ultimately a stylistic preference. We have students read a piece, and dig through the text for its meanings, but the highly subjective nature of critical literary studies, especially with a post-modern approach of Jacques Derrida or Michel Foucault, emphasizing the death of authorship and objective meaning, there is no useful meaning that can be derived from the text without it being placed within its rhetorical construct in space. If we had students analyze the Gettysburg Address, it would have little meaning other than a piece of literature outside of its context. When we understand that it was written by a president and was an integral step in abolishing slavery, and a catalyst to civil rights and equality for all races and ethnicities, it enhances the text’s meaning and impact.
If Gertrude Stein, one of the most influential American writers, one who edited, advised, and critiqued the works of Hemingway, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse, were asked to write for a standardized test, she would surely receive a failing grade for her experimental syntax and grammar. Ernest Hemingway would get a 3 on a scale of five because of the lack of complex sentences. Edgar Allan Poe, because of his style and syntax, would get a perfect score. He would produce the kind of work that they are looking for because he tries to emulate and compete with his predecessors to create a text that is full of elevated diction and long, ingenious sentences. None of these writers are more skilled than any of the other; they are simply all different.
Teachers are passionate and committed individuals. This makes it tough to make the right decisions sometimes, especially when ideologies between teachers, communities and administration clash. Most educators understand that organic, egalitarian, and democratic forms of education foster the highest yield of critical thinking. When students can collaborate and learn to work together, productivity and learning take place. This is the goal that current research in pedagogical approaches aims for. Personalized curricula allow students to flourish in their individual learning styles and experimental practices. They want their kids to take the knowledge that they learn in school and apply it to real-world situations to create social change. They want to create citizens that are productive and able to innovate in new ways, utilizing new technologies to communicate and understand new cultures in hope that they can learn to recognize where and why differences in opinion and norms exist and learn how to deal with these differences when they arise. This is the American Dream of education.
Unfortunately, due to standardized testing, financial inefficiencies, and political disruption, education has become more about memorizing “facts” and being able to regurgitate them in quick recognition settings. This creates a situation where minorities suffer on a test, schools get unequal pay compared to their better-performing counter-parts, and ineffective school reformations hinder the progression and development of students. Meier (1994) is straightforward in his critique of this “standardized” position: “Thus the teacher faces the dilemma of providing instruction that they know fosters a student’s understanding, versus drilling students in isolated skills and facts that will help them do well on standardized tests” (p. 170).
Another issue is that the government still takes a wide scope of illiteracy among students for granted, and does not reform education to cater to the minority population in schools. It is a result of a lack of equity, financially and socially, rooted in hubris and ethnocentrism. As a result, along with possible problems at home and in the social aspects of culture, students may incorporate their own negative vision of life which, thereafter, may lead to violence, crimes, and an entire social decay in a particular district and nationwide. This threat can, however, be reduced through a passionate, fair, and unprejudiced attitude toward students, along with an open mind to personalizing and extreme restructuring of academic curricula.
The next theme raised in the book is the person of a teacher, who should be a comprehensive, impartial, fair, knowledgeable, and flexible person. This idea is well included not only in the aforementioned part of the book but in all parts as well. Teacher professionalism should go hand in hand with current liberal and non-discriminatory traditions in order to be well-acclaimed by both students and colleagues for positive feedback which is usually referred to making students human and apt at definite studies (Lauder, 2006). However, the educational system should also be juxtaposed with what it has today and where it may go tomorrow. Studies reported by Apple (2013) note that both progressive and retrogressive perspectives on educational standards should be taken into consideration, to avoid the pitfalls of historical praxis that have proved detrimental to organic growth.
As for the global perspective of the book, it incorporates a strategically important vision of contemporary education. Just like global health issues, issues in global education should be solved by means of an interdisciplinary approach; a high-quality of education can be reached when it is supported by different factors of social life and cultural aspects. The book represents a set of recommendations tested through implementation in order to show the best standards of education and their applicability in terms of any multinational country, and also the potential to be a model on a global scale.
Education should be responsive to globalization by giving place to the internationalization of higher education (Ennew & Greenaway, 2012). “Rethinking Our Classrooms” shows an awareness of this idea, and includes ways to practice and participate in progressive, positive, and inclusive social reform, with examples that can be chosen by teachers to mimic during their communication with students. Overall, the book puts emphasis on a global approach to education because it aims at different groups of students united by their race, culture, ethnicity, language, social status, etc. It is a comprehensive study on how to put forward the best practices in education with more positive results afterward. It is not just a strategy for educators only, but can and should be emulated by governments as well.
Uniting students culturally and globally, teachers should have the know-how and potential flexibility with their curricula in order to make the studying and learning process more convenient and accessible for students of all backgrounds and statuses. In this respect, the book touches upon the problem of immigrants educated in the US and how they should be treated in order to provide equity, fairness, and a high quality of education, as a result of proper communication and treatment by teachers. Social background is also vital in this point of view. Globalization is in many points provoked by the post-industrial era with its main product being information. Hence, the book is useful in terms of the correct information and pieces of advice given by different authors from the Rethinking Schools Company, and furthermore, each reading is justified in terms of its feasibility and credibility for the global implementation of teaching procedures. As for the global perspective of the book, it strategically incorporates an important vision of contemporary education. Just like global health issues, problems in global and local education should be solved by means of an interdisciplinary approach, a collaborative and efficient model that current research coincides with, a high-quality education that can be reached when it is supported from different factors of social life and cultural aspects. Along with practical recommendations, the book fits into the question of globalization and global education (internationalization). Because the book approaches different aspects of student-teacher identities, it is held in noble regard and is highly recommended for teachers in the USA and also to those around the globe
Apple, M. W. (2013). Can Education Change Society? New York, NY: Routledge.
Bigelow, B. (1994). Rethinking our classrooms: teaching for equity and justice, Volume 1. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools.
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Ennew, C., & Greenaway, D. (2012). The Globalization of Higher Education. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Karp, S. (1994). Detracking Montclaire High. In B. Bigelow, Rethinking our classrooms: teaching for equity and justice, Volume 1 (pp. 176-177). Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools.
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Knudson, R., & Levie, A. (2007). Students Mobilize for Immigrant Rights. In W. Au, B. Bigelow, & S. Karp, Rethinking Our Classrooms, Volume 1: Teaching for Equity and Justice (pp. 206-211). Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools.
Lauder, H. (2006). Education, globalization, and social change. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Levine, D. (1994). Forging Curriculum Reform Throughout a District. In B. Bigelow, Rethinking our classrooms: teaching for equity and justice, Volume 1 (pp. 168-170). Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools.
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