Everyone who lives here is aware not only of New Mexico’s ranking in terms of education, but also other measurements, such as child well-being, poverty and so on. It’s easy to get discouraged about these things and feel like our state is not a good place. It’s easy to feel not only discouragement about this state, but also that New Mexico will never pull itself out of these problems. These issues are longstanding, complicated and hard to solve.
Of course, COVID made this trickier. Our state has responded well in so many ways to this crisis. It has been painful for many people, but the state response overall has been excellent, thoughtful and serious. Then again, once COVID becomes less of a problem, once we’re vaccinated and things return to normal, New Mexicans are faced with the same problems again.
I’m a teacher. I consider myself lucky to have taught English for three years at Capital High in Santa Fe. When it comes to helping New Mexico improve, that’s my area – education. I love what I teach and hope that I can make a difference. I want to give students what I was lucky enough to have access to as a young person: an introduction to the richness of culture, the wisdom inherent in it, and the kind of mind training that comes from reading, writing and so forth.
One of the best things about working in the public education system here is the sense that we can make things better, help others and actually improve the system itself. That’s what I want to talk about. Improving our public schools is not a new idea. In fact, it’s something that gets repeated so much that it’s become a cliché or, at least, a debate people come back to again and again. How to improve schools?
There are many factors, funding being perhaps the biggest one. It’s a very complicated situation. However, I’m not very knowledgeable about that side of education and I wanted to talk about something different, a way to think about education that we don’t hear about.
Again, one of the best things about being a teacher in this state is the sense that we can change things, that the system is open to change. There’s a feeling among a lot of educators that we should try different things out and see how it goes. If a technique works, keep it. If not, move on and try something else.
Let me get to the point. I think our schools do good work, but they can improve. It’s hard to argue that. People debate and argue endlessly about how to make things better. The trend, right now, is to talk about things such as data, as if teachers were scientists. The trend is to analyze schools as if they were businesses, in terms of efficiency, problem-solving, leveraging, action steps. The “core standards” are ever-looming, hanging over the heads of educators and supposedly providing a sensible and clear structure for what we teach.
Does that sound boring? It’s extremely boring. But boredom isn’t the worst thing – beyond that, it’s soul deadening, taking the richness and vitality out of what should be fascinating subjects. It makes what should be a journey of discovery, and turns it into a routine and lifeless process. Our culture is so full of life, but what about our schools? Students are suspicious of these places, and for good reason. My suggestion is a move away from the soulless core standards and pseudo-scientific trends in teaching.
As I said, I was lucky enough to get a good education. I want to open that door for my students. I want public schools to become more like private schools. Do you see rich families rushing to enroll their kids in public schools? There’s a reason for that. We have a chance, now, to change things. Let’s head in the right direction.
Jake Karlins lives in Santa Fe.