By Dana C. Lamb
Recently, a dear friend had surgery. While some would think that it was a simple total knee replacement surgery, I can assure you that this was not a run-of-the-mill garden variety surgery. His incision was twice as long as a typical incision and on the second night, he began to hemorrhage. Other hospital personnel tried to stop it, but the doctor had to take charge and use his expertise to correct the situation. Five blood transfusions and one month later, I am thrilled to report that this is now a distant and most unpleasant memory…for both of us.
As a writer, I love words, and even more than that, I love meanings, nuances, and connotations that are woven into our words. For me, one word can unlock my vivid imagination and words can bear tremendous weight, or lift, depending on its use. I also keep a list of words that are my go-to words when I need to find the perfect tone, and last month hemorrhage got added to that list. Hemorrhage is such a serious word, it conveys the need for imminent action, it conveys peril and loss if something is not done, and it has the power to reprioritize in a short amount of time. When I consider what it means to hemorrhage, I recognize that hemorrhaging is something I see going on in our country on a daily basis. It’s not the medical bloodletting that you may be thinking of. No, it’s the hemorraghing of potential, achievement, resources, and trust.
Right now, the United States spends more per student than every other country on the planet. Every single one. In addition, we spend twice as much as other countries that are outperforming us… by a lot. In some cases, we’re not even close to being tied. Since 2001, we have increased education spending on a national level by up to 31%, depending on what report you read. From a business perspective, if you increased spending 31% and your profits went down 30%, you would be tarred and feathered by your stockholders long before thirteen years had passed. Nevertheless, this is what is happening in American public education.
So where is the hemorrhage coming from? While there are many reasons for the bleeding, I truly believe that it is because the culture of education is rightfully focused on student achievement, but is woefully too focused on standardized testing. Valid and reliable testing measures student mastery, which is so vital and necessary to the teacher to effect meaningful student achievement. However, standardized testing, just one snapshot of a test, is being used to summarize and punctuate achievement among individual students, schools, systems, teachers, administrators, and therefore the overall health of an entire national system. Based on the data, on a collective level the US is dancing with a C- simply because we have lost so much of our competitive edge in the last thirteen years since No Child Left Behind.
There is no straightforward answer to stopping the hemorrhage. It is simply is not as easy as applying direct pressure to the wound until it stops bleeding. It going to take a lot of collective pressure to correct some of the policies and mindsets that cause the hemorrhage in the first place. Over half of high school students hold an opinion that much of their education is irrelevant, and therefore are merely passive participants in their education. For those who do graduate, many of them state that their high school coursework prepared them for college and academia, but did not necessarily prepare them to be successful in so many other vital areas of adult life. We hear time and time again about how our classrooms do not reflect the world beyond the campus. Our educational system is still reacting to the advent of the digital age instead of being more proactive in the pursuit of innovation and creativity. Policymakers are still clamoring to hold teachers accountable, which makes me bristle to no end. I hold a masters degree from one of America’s top universities and I go to work every day for less than I paid for that degree because I believe in the power and value of public education. I work no less than ten hours a day for far more than the 180 days that is required in my contract, and somehow, that level of performance requires an increased level of accountability by someone who has never taught one day?
If we are not careful, the hemorrhaging of student achievement, talent, and undiscovered potential could further translate into the loss of dedicated, talented, and innovative educators and administrators – the very people that have the power and knowledge to transform the American classroom and to reposition America as the leader in education on a global level. In order to stop the bleeding, there needs to be collective pressure applied in exactly the right areas for the right amount of time. As for me, I believe in children and I still wholeheartedly and passionately believe in the beautiful, but injured, public education system. I wouldn’t do what I do every day if my heart wasn’t on my security badge. We have so much potential, we have so much talent in our teams of dedicated and educated (and some frustrated) teachers and administrators, and we have so much undiscovered talent in each and every child in our classrooms. I still believe the glass is half full, and so I will go to work tomorrow to make what difference I can in my corner of the world. I’m going to jump in the trench, have a great time with my students, and teach with every ounce of enthusiasm I have for my discipline and for my school.
The beautiful thing about hemorrhaging is that it is truly one of those defining moments that help you to realize the beauty of health and balance. The hemorrhage is the warning that you have a chance to immediately reprioritize and focus where you need to as soon as possible. But the most wondrous thing about recovering from a hemorrhage is the undeniable force of healing. Though the healing may begin on the outside, eventually true healing comes from within.