from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A fable about teaching 

is the content of this diary. I will, below the fold, reproduce what a friend sent out across an educational list last night. Before you read it, let me note the following

1) this is but one of many examples that can be used to explain so much of what is wrong about our current approach to education, one exacerbated by NCLB

2) If you pass it on, please be sure to give credit to the good Rabbi who created the tale. Oh, and by the way, the correct title is "Preparing Your Children for Success", but I have left the email as I received.

3) I will have a few final comments at the end.

Now to our fable

The story has been reproduced from Preparing Our Children for Success, by Rabbi Z. Greenwald.


Once upon a time the animals had a school. They had to create a curriculum that would satisfy everyone, so they chose four subjects: running, climbing, flying, and swimming. All the animals, of course, studied all the subjects.

The duck was very good at swimming, better than the teacher, in fact. He received passing grades in running and flying, but was hopeless in climbing, so they made him drop swimming so that he could practice climbing. After a while he was only average at swimming, but average is still acceptable, at least in school, and nobody worried much about it except the duck.

The eagle was considered a troublemaker. In his climbing class he beat everybody to the top of the tree, but he had his own way of getting there that was against the rules. He always had to stay after school and write, "Cheating is wrong," five hundred times. This kept him from soaring, which he loved, but schoolwork comes first.

The bear flunked because they said he was lazy, especially in the winter. His best time was summer, but school wasn't open then.

The zebra played hooky a lot because the ponies made fun of his stripes, and this made him very sad.

The kangaroo started out at the top of the racing class, but became discouraged when was told to move swiftly on all four legs the way his classmates did.

The fish quit school because he was bored. To him, all four subjects were the same, but nobody understood that because they had never seen a fish.

The squirrel got an A in climbing, but his flying teacher made him start from the ground up, instead of from the treetop down. His legs got so sore practicing takeoffs that he began getting Cs in climbing and Ds in running.

The bee was the biggest problem of all, so the teacher sent him to Doctor Owl for testing. Doctor Owl said that the bee's wings were too small for flying and they were in the wrong place. The bee never saw Doctor Owl's report, so he just went ahead and flew anyway. I think I know a bee or two, how about you?


The duck is the child who does well in math and poorly in English and is given tutorials by the English teacher while his classmates are doing math. He loses his edge in math, and only does passably well in English.

The eagle is the child who is turned into a troublemaker because he has his "own style" of doing things. While he is not doing anything "wrong," his non-conforming is perceived as troublemaking, for which he is punished.

Who does not recognize the bear? The kid who is great in camp, thrives on extra-curricular, but really just goes flat in the academics.

The zebra is the heavy, tall, or short, self-conscious kid whose failure in school few realize is due to a sense of social inadequacy.

The kangaroo is the one who instead of persevering gives up and becomes that discouraged child whose future disappears because he was not appreciated.

The fish is a child who really requires full special education and cannot shine in the regular classroom.

The squirrel, unlike the duck who "manages," becomes a failure.

The bee, oh the bee, is the child who the school just feels it cannot deal with, yet, against all odds, with the backing of his parents, has enough self-motivation to do well even though everyone thought he couldn't. I've had the pleasure of knowing many bees.

Ah, the menagerie of students. These are six examples, but there are so many more. And yes, I can in my current classes think of multiple examples of each type listed, as well as a few more.

We do have a responsibility to help children with their areas of weakness. Ducks do need help with their English, but certainly NOT at the expense of their math, and so on. And yet, because of the necessity of raising test scores to some acceptable passing level, we treat far too many children, especially in elementary school, as if they were ducks. And the process we may be turning that duck at least in part into a kangaroo, whose particular skill is so unappreciated that s/he begins to shut down.

If we recognize that our children are unique, each and every one, then we need to help them use their strengths even as we also assist them in working on their "deficiencies." Actually, I don't like that terminology, which is why I put it into quote marks. Often it is little more than a different developmental rate. Certainly I see some elements of that in myself, although because I was precocious it was not applied to me in elementary school. I was far more developed in music and math than I was in any ability to express myself in writing. But because I could read quickly and was a good speller, my deficiencies in written expression did not begin to become evident until secondary school, perhaps not even fully until high school. Like many of my current students, I could hide it by being a fluent talker, so that people just assumed I was being lazy when the quality of my written expression seemed so poor.

I know I cannot universalize from my own experience either as student or as teacher, but it does serve to provide me with a little sensitivity, or awareness.

I began this with a fable, the words of someone else. I will similarly end with the words of someone else, T. S. Eliot, from Burnt Norton, the beginning section of this, the first of The Four Quartets. It speaks, at least to me, of possibilities, which is what I think should be our responsibility to our students.

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate,
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.
There they were, dignified, invisible,
Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,
In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,
And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,
And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.
There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.
So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

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