Problems or Symptoms

Lots of topics are at the forefront of discussion in education these days. As I am continually reflecting on these things, I wonder if we might be chasing our tails with a few of them. Are we treating the problems or the symptoms?

I have been vocal about my disdain for homework and the negative impacts it has on students, teachers and families. However, if we are going to do anything about the issue of homework, don’t we first have to look at the overcrowding of curriculum in our classrooms? Can we solve the homework problem before we solve the curriculum problem? I honestly feel bad for teachers who have just an overwhelming amount of content they are being required to get through in the course of a school year. Our schools have made the decision that quantity of curriculum is more important that quality. Until we switch that, homework will remain a topic of discussion from the teacher’s lounge to the dinner table.

We also discuss the problem associated with lack of funding in our schools. Many people have lamented about programs being cut and resources drying up. Yet, if we spent our money better would that help? Rather than looking at getting more, should we first assess how we spend what we have? I know this is easier said than done but it is a starting point at least.

Another issue is about the blame that teachers seem to shoulder when students or schools are under performing. Is that fair, when the only ones that have actual power cause real change are the administrators? Yes, teachers have control in classroom but they have little power to change curriculum, policy, rules or funding. Teachers can’t get rid of bad teachers among their ranks. Administrators are able to do many of the things that will impact large scale change in a school. Why not focus more on creating instructional leaders within schools and give them the power to promote positive change in a building? Yes, teachers need to be held accountable, but so too should administrators. Teachers are often the product of their leader. Don’t underestimate the power of a bad administrator to run a school into the ground of a great one to push a building to new heights.

Social media is also getting hammered as a viable tool in schools. Most schools block its use and are quick to share numerous examples of the negatives of social media. There are many stories of students and teachers getting themselves into trouble through the use of a variety of social media outlets. Yet, we are missing the point when we block and push it away. First, if we don’t teach our kids how to use these tools…who will? Also, social media does not create the problems but rather it exposes them. Let’s not focus on blocking things that are part of our students’ lives, but instead help them learn how to use these tools responsibly. Let’s stop chasing our tails and blocking things before we understand them and educate our students on them.

Are we looking at the problems or the symptoms? If we continue to treat and address the symptoms, the problem will not go away. 


Anonymous said...

Here, here...well said! I'm going to send schoolwork with my son tomorrow for the teachers---two loads of laundry and a tub of dirty dishes. Just didn't have time to get through it all tonight!

Laurence Mechanic said...

Amazingly, everything you talk about in your school in Chicago is the same as it is in mine in New York.

I can't agree more with your points. As a teacher, I find that we are set up to fail as a result of No Child Left Behind. Teachers need support and teaching strategies that experts (teachers) develop. Unfortunately, we are beaten up and blamed for problems out of our control and not given the support or trust needed to fix the problems. I guess we're easy targets.

I look forward to reading more of your writing.

John T. Spencer said...

"Don’t we first have to look at the overcrowding of curriculum in our classrooms?"

I love that question, Josh. I think the answer is yes and no. Part of the problem is that we dice up the standards into bite-sized morsels when they can often be combined. Why not teach persuasive techniques alongside World War II? Why not teach fact and opinion, drawing conclusions and expository texts together? True, the standards are overwhelming. However, it doesn't help when teachers don't group things thematically.

Josh Stumpenhorst said...


I see your point but I think it goes beyond that. I think about when I was in school and I did not have algebra until 9th grade. We now have kids being forced algebra as early as 5th grade. We are putting so many of these concepts into a curriculum map without any time to go into any considerable depth. Yes, we can lump topics/themes/concepts together, but we still need time to delve into them beyond just artificial introduction.

Dave Meister said...

We have to define what it is we want schools to be. Therein lays the problem. We really are not sure what we want them to be. Do we want schools to be pre-college preparation assembly lines? Do we want schools to be places to drop kids off so parents can work? Do we want them to prepare kids for vocations? Should they be engaging environments that encourage our kids to explore their interests and be challenged to find a passion to pursuit? Do want our schools to compete for championships on the gridiron or in the gym? Do we want a school that has the highest test scores in comparison to those in the next community? Should we have an award winning band? Should our Fine Arts Department put on productions worthy of state recognition? What our schools are is a reflection of our communities. Communities define their needs as well as traditions and their schools take on a mission to meet those expectations. The governments of the states as well as the federal government have continually eroded the local control of schools to the point that we are moving to a common curriculum and standardized way of assessing learning despite differing local and regional educational missions. The local school has become the victim of the state and national governments’ need to “fix” identified problems that were more than likely created by government intervention in the first place. Show me the evidence that federal and state interventions in schools have made a measureable, positive difference in our school today. Josh, you are right that there are many things that can be changed at the school level to make our schools better, but, in the face continued interference from outside forces, both teachers and administrators faced a daunting task.

Josh Stumpenhorst said...


Your comments could be a post all to itself...thanks for taking the time to write it. You are correct to say that we do have some control at the building level, but until policy makers get their act together, will meaningful change be sustainable?

Teach Science Right said...

Josh, its so troubling to be faced with some of these issues. It seems like in every other area of life (sports, business, etc.) the responsibility of failure tends to fall on the top dog (the quarterback, CEO, etc.). But when it comes to education... all too often the blame seems to fall on the little guy - teachers, rather than parents or administrators. Sure, we do our best, but to be honest most of the burdens of education would be relieved if parents, families, and administration started picking up some of the slack. I'm speaking from experience. In Korea, many teachers (not including me) aren't even teacher trained/certified - yet the students are still incredibly successful. Reason being because the parents have instilled (albiet a little to much) a sense of priority in education.

Also, I love your philosophy on social media and the classroom. When I mentioned in our last teachers meeting about using Twitter to post class updates and homework/project assignments (instead of using the over-stimulated, too-much-clicking-required online server we have), I was met with looks of shock and bewilderment, as if I'd spoken some blasphemy! Ignoring the role of social media in education is going to be a mistake, especially because it seems like "Logging in through Facebook" could soon be an official method of logging into websites more and more. Ignoring the role of technology in this way (and others) would be a disservice to our kids.

Good post. Keep doing what your doing.


Anonymous said...

As a first year middle school teacher teaching two subjects, I am completely overwhelmed by the curriculum expectations. It seems an impossible task to teach everything my district expects. Even if I do, it won't be in enough depth. I have spent hours in mandatory trainings that not only don't help with this task, but seem to add more and more to our list. I often wonder if I'm not failing my kids. I'm sure after a few years under the belt this will become easier. But I still feel my current students' education is suffering from my inexperience. I have been yearning lately for a rigorous, multi-year internship to become a better teacher, as they do in some other countries. Perhaps future teachers will have that benefit.

Eli said...

Interesting Post, education in South Africa suffers from the same problems unfortunately.....