Special thanks to the Tucson Children’s Project, Mimi Gray, Pauline Baker, Ben Mardel, Teresa Acevedo, and especially Lella Gandini of Reggio Emilia, Italy for making this all possible.
by Cesar Aguirre
As an avid supporter of public education and an extremely involved parent at Ochoa Elementary, I have done a lot of research and studied best practices of early childhood education.
Over the weekend the Tucson Children’s Project held a conference titled “What the Research Supports”. I was in attendance, along with many dedicated teachers from Ochoa. Ochoa is a Reggio Inspired Magnet school. It’s the only public school of it’s kind in the country. The Reggio approach is a Socratic style teaching philosophy, developed in Reggio Emilia, Italy, that focuses on the image of the whole child. This idea in itself is a huge conflict in public education today, where students and teachers are assessed only by a snapshot of the students work and learning abilities in specific areas of study. You would think that Ochoa’s B rating two years in a row would be sufficient, but one of the greatest hurdles faced is how to show evidence (data) that this philosophy is successful in creating critical thinkers that perform higher on standardized tests without teaching to the test through rote memorization.
Since the Reggio Philosophy is new to the American public school system there is virtually no data available, but Ben Mardel has been doing just that, collecting the data. Data seems to be the only concern of politicians and bureaucrats who profit from the policies made regarding public education. When it comes to policy that affects children we should first consider what is best for the child, then the data. If the data leads to practices that hurt children then why implement them?
One of the first things Ben did was to challenge us to think about what the purpose of education is. For me, as a parent, I don’t want my kids to receive an education that prepares them for the work force and creates a docile worker that can follow instructions and conform to the world around them. I want my kids to receive an education that challenges them to think critically and question everything. An education that prepares them for life, not just the work force, incorporating the arts and local history, and celebrating diversity and culture, while creating a democratic citizen that is involved in his/her community. In this way education is the foundation of democracy and the main reason public education was created in America. Now it is being used as a tool to dumb down the population and make sure they conform to the mold set by the powers that be.
I want to leave you all with the question that was presented to me on the first day of the conference. When thinking about the purpose of public education and creating an involved democratic student, is standardized testing a productive or counter-productive tool for teaching and assessing?