Schools Become Historical Museums?
Kathie F Nunley, EdD
son takes trombone lessons from a man who lives 20 miles away.
It's a bit far to trek every Monday afternoon, but I do so
because my son very much enjoys playing trombone in his high
school jazz band and Mr. Bailey was the closest trombone teacher
we could find.
Mr. Bailey has been teaching trombone and trumpet for many
years, most of his income comes from his musical instrument
repair business. If you need your clarinet re-corked, or an
ultrasonic cleaning of your flugelhorn, he's your guy. The
area band teachers refer their students to Mr. Bailey and
he has had a steady business for decades.
our drive home last Monday, I pondered whether or not Mr.
Bailey would still have a viable business if schools disappeared
off the planet tomorrow. Were it not for school bands, how
many clarinets, trumpets, flutes and flugelhorns would there
be in our region of southern New Hampshire? A hundred years
ago, when town bands were quite popular, perhaps Mr. Bailey
could have survived without the school band programs. But
today, I highly doubt there would be enough to support Mr.
Bailey's instrument repair business.
many other industries today would be nearly extinct if not
for our school system? Our schools have now become museums
of sorts for many things once commonplace in our daily lives.
Sadly, the world inside school has become so far removed today
from the world outside of school, that it has become a foreign
land that young people find harder and harder to participant
in successfully and enthusiastically.
get a sense of this, we need only look at this year's school
supply list for a local elementary school:
30 number two pencils
small bottle of Elmer's glue
pencil cap erasers
one packet of Post-it notes
one box of colored pencils
one box of Kleenex
one package assorted colored construction paper
one package: manila drawing paper
three spiral notebooks
one Mead cursive writing tablet
one pencil case
one black-and-white composition book for science
one red pen
one package of lined 3 x 5 index cards
a pair of safety scissors
five pocket folders with brads
loose leaf 3- ring notebook
three packages wide ruled notebook paper
2 boxes of 24-count crayons
amazes me to note that with the exception of the Post-it notes
and maybe the missing Big Chief tablet, the list is almost
identical to the one I had when I attended elementary school,
way back in the 1960s.
I walk into an elementary school today, I also recognize the
physical environment of the classroom. There is a large analog
clock on the wall, colorful bulletin boards constructed out
of butcher paper and cut-out construction paper, individual
laminated student desks with work storage areas in them, wooden
chairs, sitting on a linoleum floor, a whiteboard with the
alphabet written in cursive running across the top, a wooden
teacher desk in the corner with a computer on it, bookshelves
lining one wall filled with a variety of children's books,
a large basket in the corner with playground equipment such
as rubber balls and ropes.
than the fact that the chalkboard has been replaced by the
whiteboard and there is now a computer sitting on the teacher's
desk, the classroom looks very much like it did when I was
in elementary school all those many decades ago.
How is it that schools have managed to remain somewhat fixed-in-time,
while the rest of society kept moving? Possibly because schools
have always been centered around literature and the printed
word, while society has moved on to the use of alternate narrative
written word was valuable for hundreds of years because it
was the most stable and durable format we had available for
recording ideas and information. Today though, we have alternate
narrative forms that equal, if not surpass, the advantages
of printed literature. Unfortunately, the concept of integrating
alternative literary devices has instilled fear rather than
excitement in many educators. Thus we cling to our old dogma.
Chasm Between School and Home
I reminisce back to my early grade-school years, I recall
that anticipating the first day of school was an exciting
time. I would eagerly gather my school supplies together.
I would carefully arrange my pencils in my pencil case, insert
it along with the lined notebook paper into my 3-ring binder,
and it all made me feel part of the grown-up, real world.
I saw all these objects used by the adults in my world. My
father used a pencil and slide-rule to calculate loan rates
and noted them in a spiral notebook. My mother wrote lists
and letters on lined paper using a ballpoint pen. Our house
was full of often-used hard cover books such as encyclopedias,
cookbooks, science books and an assortment of reference books.
The teller at the bank would carefully write my small deposits
into the paper passbook I carried in and out with me. I would
often accompany my father to the main Chicago public library
where he would peruse the stacks while doing research for
one of his projects. In other words, the tools used inside
my school matched the tools I saw used outside my school.
choices for amusement back then were simple too and what little
disparity existed between school and home, favored school.
Our house had one color television set which sat in the living
room on a TV cart. We had our choice of three channels to
watch, which consisted of game shows in the morning, soap
operas in the afternoon, the nightly news at 6 PM, and a variety
of different programs in the evening. Once a year, they ran
The Wizard of Oz, which was always a much-anticipated event.
If I wanted to talk to a friend in town, I could call her
on the corded telephone attached to the kitchen wall. If I
wanted to visit with a friend who had moved away, I wrote
our lives and homes today are very, very different. Nearly
all of our students have their own personal laptop, Ipad,
or at least share a family computer. The majority of them
stay in touch with their friends either through social networking
sites or by texting on their personal cell phones. The idea
of going to the library to do research would seem ludicrous.
In fact, it is the opinion of most students that if it cannot
be found on the Internet, it is not worth looking for. Most
of us rarely pick up a pencil and paper and the idea of using
them to write a letter is a distant memory.
networks now run programs 24 hours a day with thousands of
channels. Visual and auditory entertainment is available within
seconds with the touch of a button. Access to information
and entertainment is almost unlimited and instantaneous.
years ago schools were an exciting place to be. It was the
place that we could go to meet and chat with our friends.
Books filled with information were stored in a library just
down the hall. Technology meant that if you were lucky, there
would be a filmstrip to watch during social studies class.
And if you were really lucky, you got to be the chosen student
who would sit beside the projector and flip the filmstrip
to the next frame when the record player sounded the tone.
were a wonderful and appreciated source of information. The
pictures in the textbooks provided us with a way to see our
world, and even a brand-new box of 64-count crayons was an
doesn't take a genius to figure out that a box of 64-count
crayons or a teacher's lecture can no longer compete with
the excitement of video gaming, graphic-arts software, and
media technology. And yet somehow we feel justified in expecting
students to be excited about signing off of their computer
games, leaving their media-filled home, taking the music ear-buds
out, pocket their cell phone for the next hour, and sit at
the same laminated desk used by their grandparents. Then pick
up a pencil, get out a piece of lined notebook paper and listen
to a teacher talk in front of the room while the big analog
clock stares down at them reminding how long it will be until
they can leave and go back home, where the amusements and
information is now kept.
challenge as educators is to embrace our shifting role from
sage-on-the-stage to coach-on-the-sidelines. We need to accept
the value of alternative ways of communication and the fact
that we are no longer the sole, nor perhaps even the best
source, of information. We need to rethink how to utilize
the variety of media available today, which equal or exceed
traditional ways to communicate the ideas of a culture and
the knowledge of a society.
must let go of the old dogma, lest we go the way of the dinosaurs.