by Frances Edstrom, columnist
We received the Winona Public Schools’ newsletter in the mail last week, in anticipation of school starting this week.
There was one article I found interesting, about a program called Getting Ready Together, which is for incoming kindergarteners who may not have had prior school experience, or need a little help in acclimating to a school environment. The teacher was quoted as saying that “… students are learning how to sit and listen to a story, follow directions, walk in a line and using [sic] their manners.”
Other than that story, however, there wasn’t much of interest to me, and it struck me that the newsletter serves as a microcosm of the disconnect between our public school administration, School Board, and the rest of us.
It is a hazard of any organization or business to assume that your customers and donors (or taxpayers) are interested in the running of the organization, rather than the final product.
When I ran the Winona Post, I thought the process of getting news and advertising to the reader was endlessly fascinating. The readers? Their prime concern was whether the paper showed up in a readable condition, instead of in a puddle or a snowbank, and whether what was in the paper was of use to them in their day-to-day lives and made for interesting reading.
The public schools are in the business of educating children. Does the public care what the mission or vision statement of the school district is? Not really.
What the public does care about is whether when the children who attend public schools have progressed from kindergarten to graduation they can read, write, do math, and eventually support themselves and contribute to the community. We would want to know if students who cannot read well are given the help they need, or if they are simply passed along from grade to grade to graduation with poor reading skills.
We would want to know if students are taught the rights and duties of citizenship so they will be able to contribute to and enjoy the freedoms of democracy. We would want to know how the curriculum delivers U.S. and world history. We’d be interested to know how the curriculum advances English literature, or prepares students to learn foreign languages.
It would be nice to think that graduates would understand how to use math to order their lives, pay their bills, and take out a mortgage. I’d be interested to know if students learn enough about the scientific method to be able to navigate the quagmire of pseudoscience that floods our media. It would be nice to know if learning to walk in a line and use your manners is the way to send children along the road to knowledge and success.
By concentrating all of their media efforts on the problems associated with running their business, the public school administration and School Board are mightily guilty of navel-gazing.
I would advise them to stop complaining to us about how hard their job is, or how old their buildings are, how uninvolved parents are, and start explaining to us how closing schools, planning for a new comprehensive elementary building, and mounting task forces will successfully launch an educated individual into the community after 12 years of public education.