AED Scenario (September 09)
Title: What are American Schools For?
Author: Bernard Badiali, Penn State University
Rosita Sanchez first met Grace Ivins in the neighborhood grocery store. The two were immediately friendly because they had met previously at Back to School Night and their children were in the same third grade classroom. Rosita liked Grace because of her welcoming smile and friendly nature. She was so friendly and so full of energy that Rosita could not refuse when Grace asked her to bring her daughter; Carina over for what Grace called a “play date.” Grace told Rosita that other children and their mothers would also meet at Grace’s home to allow their children to socialize with one another in the backyard. Grace said with a smile, “It also gives us moms a chance to visit with each other.” When Rosita told her husband, Miguel about the play date, he said he’d never heard of such a thing. “But anything that gets us better acquainted with the neighbors is fine by me.” Bueno.
So Rosita and Carina joined several other mothers and children at Grace’s the following Saturday morning. Carina already knew Grace’s daughter Kate so as soon as she and Rosita cleared the doorway, the two girls ran off and disappeared into the house. Grace guided Rosita into the kitchen where several other women were sipping coffee. They seemed to be wrapped in a deep discussion.
“Well, I’m sorry, Stephanie was saying, “My Amy is just a nervous wreck during testing week. We can see her begin to melt down the moment her teacher mentions the word test.”
“Mark’s the same way,” chimes in another mom. “I heard him say to Malicki that “tests suck!” Imagine that. A third grader feeling so strongly about tests!”
“Well it’s just too bad the kids feel that way,” said Diane. “They will just have to get used to tests. Jack and I tell our Zack that he needs to just suck it up and do his best. No whining. His dad says that he needs to learn to be tough.” “Besides, Diane adds, “Zach has been getting really good results. He’s smart like his dad. We are already thinking Med School.” Everyone laughed.
“Well, my husband Matt and I wonder about this school.” The constant testing is bad enough, but Kate brings home other issues that we sometimes just cannot believe. “
“Like what?” Diane asks.
“Kate says that her teacher is mean to Phillip and Jamal. She makes them sit in time out behind some moveable chalkboard. She made Philip cry last Monday.”
“Well I wonder what Phillip did to get into trouble? I’ve seen that kid Jamal on the playground and he looks like a handful.”
“It’s not just the discipline, Grace says. Sometime Matt and I just wonder what these kids are learning. Kate says that reading is the same every day. The teacher reads the exact same words from a book to them everyday. She says the teacher doesn’t even like the script, but she never does anything different. I want Kate to love reading in school the same way she loves it at home. She also says that Jamal and Phillip have to leave the class because they have reading for the dumb kids. They go to Mrs. Lee’s class.”
“I want Kate to like school, Grace continued. I want her to learn all about the world and understand how things work. I also want her to learn how to get along with the other girls and boys in her class. I want her to learn more about who she is and what her gifts are. I want her to think about others as well as herself. We think classrooms should be like little communities. I want reading and all of her subjects to be fun and enthralling.”
Diane breaks in, “I just want Zach to get into a good college.” If this school can’t get him ready for that, then Jack and I will pull him out and put him in a private school.”
“We thought about that too, says Tracey, “but it’s expensive.” We want the best for our Jenny, but I doubt that we could afford private school.”
“Why should we have to resort to that when we have a perfectly good school right here in the neighborhood? We just need to let the teachers and the principal know what we want for our kids.”
“Have you ever tried meeting with the principal? It’s ridiculous. All he talks about is test results and student discipline. Sure he does it with a smile, but he has let it be known to me that the teachers are the professionals. They know what strategies work best to get results with state standards. He says that his job is to see that our kids meet certain standards set by the state. He didn’t make me feel like my opinion counted for much.”
Rosita sipped her coffee and listened without speaking. The discussion made her worry about Carina. What if she gets put into the dumb reading group? Her first language is not English so she’s probably a likely candidate. What if she does not test well? What if she does not do well enough to go on to high school and college? Rosita thought schools in America were supposed to teach children how to be American. Now she was worried that she did not know much at all about what really happens in school. She would like to have asked the other mothers just what are American schools for?
What are the problems here?
How would you counsel Rosita?
What would you tell her about the purpose for school?
What are the implications of your discussion for the Agenda for Education in a Democracy?
How would you assess the value of using the case?
About this case:
This case was written in response to concerns about the parents’ perspective. If parents are partners in schooling, then their concerns, opinions, perceptions and desires must be known and honored in some way. Schools and the people in them should be modeling democratic values and including equal access to knowledge, a nurturing pedagogy, and a healthy enculturation into a democratic society. Elements in the case were to highlight these issues so that readers can hold them up for examination. The case was designed too provoke a reader’s reaction to those elements. When piloted at a meeting of the League of Democratic Schools, professional educators were not that provoked by the scenario. However, students and parents found the scenario relevant and thought provoking. Based on their reactions, this case might best be used with parents to engage them in defining the purpose for schools.