Schools Become Historical Museums?
Kathie F Nunley, EdD
My 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.
While 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.
On 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.
How 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.
To 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
It 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.
When 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
Other 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 forms.
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.
Between School and Home
If 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,
For 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.
My 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 a letter.
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.
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.
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
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 exciting possession.
It 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
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.
We must let
go of the old dogma, lest we go the way of the dinosaurs.