Thursday, April 15, 2010

An Apple for Mr. Socol

Note: On Twitter and in email I address this man as Ira, just as everyone else does. But for purposes of this post, he is Mr. Socol, because as my teacher, he deserves that honorific.

When I first encountered Mr. Socol on Twitter in Spring 2009, I was thinking, what kind of man is this? What kind of fartetched ideas are these? One room schoolhouses? IEPs for everybody? Madness. Sheer madness. A brilliant brain, but foaming at the mouth. Had to be. Who thinks about these things in the 21st Century. One room schoolhouses? Really, Mr. Socol? Really? Who is the real misshuganah? As I interacted with him more and read more of his tweets to other people, my mind opened up to these possibilities. I started to realize that these ideas, while on the surface seemed pretty radical and impossible, made a great deal of sense.

As I listened to Mr. Socol more carefully, I realized I never thought about why school was set up the way it is. It just was. But did it have to remain that way? Should it remain that way? I started to examine what purpose school served. Or, more precisely, who school served. If this educational model really was based on creating docile factory workers in order to satisfy CEOs of such companies like GM (what's good for GM is good for America), then surely our educational model was not only obsolete but morally wrong.

We need school to serve children. Not to serve adults. School should be more than a way to get children out of the way for a few hours. "Go away, kid, you bother me," is not an acceptable reason for kids to be in school. We know it's wrong, and kids, while not able to articulate it, also know it's wrong. Children need a good and safe place to be educated, but we don't really provide that the way things are set up now. Oh, sure, we have some really good, caring teachers and some good principals, but we still fail our kids. We are still imposing on them an educational model that is based on the need for workers in an industrialized society. We are now in a post-industrialized society. Our reasons for school need to be rethought and educational models need to be reconfigured.

Problem is, policy is shaped from the top down instead of the bottom up. We are shifting from No Child Left Behind to Race To The Top. Call it what you will, there is very little different about these models. They still emphasize teaching to the test. They still emphasize cranking out workers in order to be more competitive. What is a race to the top anyway? Sounds like a reality game show. Much more upbeat sounding than No Child Left Behind but it still walks like a teaching to the test duck.

These models lose sight of the fact that while teaching to the test guarantees improved rote memorization skills, they will not improve observational skills, critical thinking skills and help develop intuition. That is what we need more than ever in this increasingly diverse and complex society. And, that is why, conversely, as Mr. Socol proposes, reinventing school is so critical at this juncture. Whether it is a twenty-first century incarnation of the one room schoolhouse with the most up to date technology for students to use or some other model is immaterial. Each community is different. Each child is different and has different needs. What we have in place now does not work. Oh, sure, kids can memorize facts and do what it takes to get "A"s, if they conform. That's always been true. But we fail the "different drummer" kids repeatedly. And unforgivably. How many brilliant minds have we lost because they didn't have the pluck or wherewithal like Mr. Socol did to overcome our failings?

We need to rethink educational models or more kids are going to fall through the cracks. One of the things we need to address is how to tailormake an education instead of insisting upon continuing with violent demands that everyone conform to a one size fits all model? When we take a child to school and say "this is school," then we are denying a child say in their own learning. Now, granted, there may not be much input from a five year-old, but, as a child gains sophistication in their understanding of how they operate in relation to the world around them it is reasonable for them to state their preferences. It is therefore imperative of us to listen to these children very carefully and help them devise a learning plan accordingly. Right now IEPs are only for Special Ed kids, and it is all done behind closed doors without the child being able to express any say. Now, granted, a child may not have the judgment or the discernment than an adult does, but they still know what best works for them and we need to honor that. Not be self-indulgent, but to consider their what they say with due care.

In a similar vein, we need to figure out how best to desegregate the Special Ed population in a way that both makes sense and is reasonable. A twenty-first century incarnation of the one room schoolhouse will do that. The way things are set up now, most differently abled and differently brained individuals are set up for failure. And, as such, we almost certainly guarantee that these children, as they mature, will end up along the edges of society. If we continue using the educational model that was designed for an industrialized society, we will place more people at risk and alienated from a community that could perhaps benefit from their particular gifts if we were open to these individuals. If we can figure out ways in which all children can participate then we all succeed. If Special Ed kids, as we define them now, either mentally, physically or emotionally deficient, are allowed to be in the same classrooms as the so called "normal" kids then they, too, will be able to thrive. And the "normal" kids will have experiencing with these other children in a way that will be very positive. They will start to see these "other" children as human beings.

It may take a village to raise a child, but the village has all but disappeared. We need to involve everyone in community, not just those with whom we feel most at ease. We need to incorporate all individuals into our society, including the scary ones. We all need love and we all crave acceptance. If we are all truly connected, then we need to find a way to embrace all. We are them and they are us. There is no "other."

And, so, Mr. Ira Socol, this is why this blog post is dedicated to you. We met on Twitter. You engaged me just as you do everyone you encounter. You nourished my mind. You also caused my head to snap back on many occasions as I pondered what I originally thought of as radical ideas. And, as you can see, Mr. Socol, I have found my own way to reinterpret what you teach to all who will open their hearts and minds to you. Thank you, Mr. Socol.


  1. Please make sure the folks evaluating Ira see this. It tells why Ira is valuable much better than what I wrote to thm.

  2. I think that will be taken care of, but I will definitely ensure that this post reaches the powers that be.