When All Else Fails, Relocate: Garfield Deserves Much More
“When a man stupid becomes a man inspired, when one and the same man passes out of the torpid into the perceiving state, leaves the din of trifles, the stupor of the senses, to enter into the quasi-omniscience of high thought--up and down, around, all limits disappear. No horizon shuts down. He sees things in their causes, all facts in their connection… It is ominous, a presumption of crime, that this word Education has so cold, so hopeless a sound. A treatise on education, a convention for education, a lecture, a system, affects us with slight paralysis and a certain yawning of the jaws… Education should be as broad as man.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882).
As I poured over The Star Press yesterday, I was disturbed by the report printed on its front page. The headline, “Garfield among worst schools in state,” wasn’t the shocker. It wasn’t alarming to read that it is considered, by state data, one of Indiana’s “20 worst-performing schools.” What did startle me, was the strategy Muncie Community school board members had constructed, to improve Garfield’s performance.
Facing this grim reality, the board decided that relocation, for Garfield, from South Madison to East Washington Street, could effectively steer its education wheel in the right direction.
So, that’s it. Yeah. Relocation should do it. And while we’re at it, why don’t we light a few candles, and blow them out, and wish upon a star, and close our eyes, and visualize the problem dissolving, and use our imagination to channel positive thoughts about Garfield’s future.
I hate to come across cynically, but if after all these months and years, the message hasn’t been received, it’s hard to foresee what future lays ahead for one of Muncie’s historic education landmarks. In actuality, however, it isn’t that difficult to predict the probable outcome. If the board members see relocation as the most demanding action at this critical junction, the journey ahead only promises doom and gloom for Garfield’s students, parents, teachers, and administrators.
The new building is “newer, larger and in better condition than the existing Garfield building,” says The Star Press. Yes, it’s flashier and more appealing, but if the same bankrupt ideas are implemented in the classrooms, a year from now, the problem would remain unsolved.
Alongside the push for relocation, “sanctions” can be counted on. Garfield’s parents must “prepare” themselves for an incoming “plan for alternative governance of the school the following year if improvement does not occur.” This is meant to send a clear message: Underperformance doesn’t come without steep repercussions.
The measurement of educational competency in schools is principally conducted through their English and math performances on the ISTEP+ test. School attendance and graduation rates are also considered. To be exempt from the danger-list, 72.6 percent of students need to pass the English portion of the ISTEP+, and 71.5 percent, the mathematics’.
What we have here, is adherence to an insolvent and defunct system of education. Emerson, nearly two centuries ago, warned against the “cold” and “hopeless” values the school system had begun expressing, with its devotion to traditionalistic philosophies that excluded the need for diversity and novelty. His words couldn’t be any timelier.
Any obsession with standardized testing is an irreproachable assurance of failure. Failure can take two forms, in the school system. It is true that failure is most explicitly and expressively defined in the underperformance of students, on a test or examination. No disputes are rendered, to that effect. Nonetheless, if a school fails in its fiduciary responsibility to “draw out” degrees of creativity, innovation, and confidence from a student, my friends, no other word can justly explain that conundrum—but failure.
Schools across the country are failing students and parents—woefully—in this regard. This reality fully validates my distrust of the AYP as a progressive source of student-assessment. The day administrators began accepting the myth that all kids think alike, a crime was committed. All kids are born into the world with individual senses of self, success and society. The school system is required to harness this potential, and expand their horizon into seeing the world more broadly and conceptually. What we have, instead, is a one-dimensional pedagogical approach, through arcane curriculum and military dill-like assignments, that cheapen a student’s worth. Students are over-burdened with assignments, ostensibly to ingrain “discipline” into them, but all that is accomplished is the creation of lifeless zombies, trained to do the bidding of others—the “others” representing a repressed minority of authority that cares less about a student’s self-esteem, and more, their scores on tests.
When students are trained—not taught—to pass tests because some organization is threatening “alternative governance,” what future can we boastfully assure is worth anticipating? When they see education as a means to an end—an end undefined—how can we truly claim to value them as “tomorrow’s leaders.” When the aim of educational excellence is to escape “sanctions” from school board members, we reveal ourselves as nothing but opportunists—ethereal-minded opportunists, without the vision necessary to rehabilitate a dilapidated school system.
Another relatively unexplored angle is the cultural enigma that could piece together the puzzle of Garfield’s underperformance.
Garfield’s students are being contrasted to Mitchell’s, but such comparison is the epitome of foolishness. The students at Garfield have grown up in an environment those at Mitchell can only see on TV, or be taught in class about, to grasp the content of its reality. The emotions, cultural expressions, and emotional vibrations of Garfield’s students cannot be disregarded, in our rush to fix Muncie’s broken-down education system.
But Garfield isn’t the only underperforming school in Muncie. The following also failed to meet the federally-constructed Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards: Central High School, Southside High School, Northside Middle School, Wilson Middle School, Garfield Elementary, Grissom Elementary, South View Elementary, Longfellow, Elementary, North View Elementary, Sutton Elementary, Washington-Carver Elementary.
If anything is learnable from the AYP report, it must be that Muncie has got some difficult days ahead, if we truly intend to make things right, and ensure education excellence for ALL students.
2008 School Adequate Yearly Progress Report: