It wasn’t that way when I went to school.

“It wasn’t that way when I went to school.”

The above phrase has been thrown around in so many different arenas when it comes to education.  When my parents used this phrase it was usually to tell me how lucky I was to be in a school system that was not a reactionary regime that used radical disciplinarian methods.  Or, it was used to showcase how lucky I was to have technology as a part of my schooling and that the new wave of video games was something that did not exist during the 1960’s and 1970’s in the same way that they were during the 1990’s and 2000’s.  Whatever the connotation they always referred to simpler times that did not have the same issues of the modern world and I should feel lucky to exist in the current world.
In reality it is remarkable how loaded those nine words can be.  For so many people it means a return to how our educational system was run years ago, with kids being disciplined severely with corporal punishment as a regular part of a student’s upbringing. For others it means that students should be grateful that they live in the modern eduocracy that has swung far in the direction of student rights and an open classroom.  Yet for others, it is seen that the skills being taught were not the same skills that were being taught in today’s society. It seems that these words often are what cause such a rift in our society about what to do with our “education problem.”

But when I look back on my education in the days before nationalized education efforts, I do not feel like I was left out in the cold.  I felt that my teachers were trying and doing the best they could with the resources that they had.  If schooling was so terrible in the 1990’s then why did I come out of the system with the ability to succeed and now hold both a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree in two different subjects?  Why was it that my classes were extremely balanced with writing, creative projects, mathematics, and science all a healthy part of my educational experience?  Where were these horrible teachers that did not instruct me or were totally incompetent?  They were scarce if they existed at all in my schools and I don’t remember them being there.  What I do remember was a faculty that worked hard, had perfected their craft, and were willing to try new things they learned in their professional development because they usually they were honest enough to tell us they were trying something new.

So if I was to go back to the original statement of, “It wasn’t that way when I went to school” then I think I can probably justify in some ways that in the “Good Old Days” things we different and it was appropriate for the times.  In fact I once had a teacher tell me that when they switched the way curriculum education was driven to the way it was done in the 2000’s after NCLB that “by making the system idiot proof” and providing everyone with a general curriculum that everyone was supposed to follow at all times “all they did was make us all idiots.”  Just his statement can be proof that the reforms that were brought into play during the last fourteen years caused much frustration and caused people to long for the days gone by. 

I am not sure that everyone was made to be “idiots” by creating curriculum guides to help teachers across large swaths of land to teach kids the same skills no matter who was doing the teaching and where.  What I am sure about is that it was used as a starting point to reinvent the system and start the discussion, but testing sure did change over this time period.  We test our students to extremes, which has been discussed to extreme levels throughout the last fifteen years and I can definitely say that my parents did not have to deal with tests like these when they were in school.  I had to deal with some, but none were ever as extreme as the ones that exist now and the expectations were not as extreme either.  I did have to pass at least one test per subject to graduate, but kids today have a lot more stress regarding testing than I think I ever did.

Not to mention, if I was to take a week to do nothing but test my students people would be wondering what I am doing and probably call for my head.  So why is it ok if the politicians to stop everything for multiple days so we can take a test that causes students extreme anxiety?  I have no answer to this question and I always do my duty while taking testing very seriously, since it is a serious matter.  Not to mention the results can be used to better any classroom if they are accurate and the students did indeed try their best on a test.  But I do feel for these kids and wonder what all of this testing will do to them when they become adults and are running the country after I have retired?  

What I do know is that in some ways our classrooms are better than they were when I started school in the 1990’s and definitely better than when my parents attended school in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  In today’s classroom creative thought is being welcomed for the first time.  Structure no longer looks like students sitting in silent rows working on worksheets alone.  Discipline no longer is when a teacher hits a student, but instead finds different ways to inspire students and is humane in applying consequences for undesirable actions.  I feel that schools are much more flexible than they used to be and have become more than “when I went to school.”

Technology has exploded and has changed the way the world works and has caused much discussion.  These changes are great for learning, for the classroom, and for our students.  I would have loved to use some of the devices that exist in today’s society when I was in school.  Technological advancement then was a computer that was 10 years old sitting in my classroom that we got to play Oregon Trail on maybe once a month during free time.  Or, going to the computer lab that had some computers that were outdated.  Heck, I learned how to type on a typewriter/word processor in 1999 because my schools technology hadn’t caught up yet.  How great would it have been to have online encyclopedias, games that made learning more fun, the ability to access my work from any computer instead of lugging around disks that folded in half in your pocket, and the ability to connect whatever I am working on to other people instantly instead of having to wait for the weekend to meet at a friend’s house to complete a project.

Classrooms are better today than they were in the past and the learning just looks different than it did years ago.  Our classrooms are integrated and everyone can attend school in a regular classroom setting.  Students can use technology.  They are allowed to be creative.  Some of the best classrooms are the ones that are now the loudest.  School is allowing students to explore and thrive like they have never done before.  So maybe we shouldn’t go back to the “Good Old Days”.  Maybe we should work together to create a better future and instill in our students that a better future means working together to accomplish positive change.  No matter what that might look like some day.

I do know that what most of us experienced back in school is not what is being done today.  In most schools today more skills are being taught that apply to today’s society, just like the skills that were taught years ago applied to the world of twenty years ago.  So it is going to look different no matter what.  The world is a different place and new skills have replaced some of the old.  In fact despite some draw backs there is a lot of good stuff going on in schools that will help our next generation thrive and build a world our imaginations can’t even process because the standards of that world have not been created yet.  I do have faith that when that world comes the job we did in trying to prepare our youth will help them navigate that Brave New World, despite the fact the school system today is not doing things the “way they did things when I went to school.”  In fact, we need to make changes to help our children thrive in a futuristic world we have all just begun to imagine.

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