Category: Education Corner
Published: Thursday, 07 January 2016 10:37
Written by Richard Womack, Ed.D
By Richard Womack, Ed.D - 31 DEC 2015
Last edition I wrote about the R-word- Respect. I wondered out loud about the difference between having respect (in one’s heart) and showing respect (by one’s actions). I was speaking about what we in the U S might call manners or social etiquette. By the end of the EC column I noted I was happy a Pohnpei Studies Program was being introduced next year and I am sure our Pohnpeian experts in Pohnpeian Culture will handle the R-word just fine. It is the C-word-Culture that is a good topic for the year’s final EC. It’s good because it comes with two other C-words- Confusion and Change. These are very good C-words as well. Culture is social studies with standards and benchmarks to be learned by students. And it is confusing as it is taught in an environment of cultural change. No one can stop change we can only make decisions how we will manage or cope with the change. We have already mentioned language. Language is a group’s primary cultural marker—the language in the FSM is English this shows you the first major change. A look at Trust Territory education gives us three other drivers of change.
American Schools—Trust Territory Times (1945-1986, taken from Micronesian Seminar) and directly from An Introduction to Professional Teaching and Student Learning
The educational thrust of the American administration for 40-plus years is difficult to summarize in a few sentences. Early policies, established under the Navy and the first decade of the Civil Administration in the Trust Territory, were later reversed during the 1960s, as hundreds of classrooms were built, expatriate teachers hired on, and English made the official medium of instruction in the schools. Additional educational programs for those outside of schools were implemented, largely through U.S. federal programs. The handicapped, the aged, unemployed, school dropouts, teachers with previous classroom experience, and others have been the target of these programs.
It is not easy to find a clear statement of the educational goals of the American administration, particularly one that is adequate to encompass the various kinds of educational activities that the U.S. has undertaken. There were, however, certain implicit goals that seem to underlie the direction (that education in Micronesia has) taken during the past ten years. In the first place, education was aimed at preparing young and old to participate in a democratic society, one in which their own choices are of great consequence. Hence, the school system aimed at providing the kind of information and mental enlightenment that would enable future voters to understand a democratic government and to make wise and constructive choices in the future. It should be noted that this is the same basic aim that education experts have ascribed to the public school system in the United States. Understandably enough, American education has been charged with the task of preparing the young for insertion into a democracy; and when American education travels abroad, it is likely to retain the same fundamental goal—even in those overseas possessions without a democratic cultural tradition.
Second, education in the Trust Territory seemed to be about directing Micronesians towards the larger world beyond their islands. In principle, at least, education was to prepare Micronesians to adapt to the inevitable changes that will be brought here in the future, as well as to adjust to new surroundings elsewhere if they choose to leave the islands. This goal was reflected in the orientation our college age students to the curriculum of the “great world beyond”. This resulted in the push to send as many young people as possible to colleges outside of Micronesia. The very decision to use English as the medium of instruction in the schools was partially based on the reasoning that it would provide an effective communication link with the outside world.
Third, education was geared to encourage people to fully enter the money economy. The young Micronesian, it was expected, would move directly from school into wage employment. One of the major concerns of education in recent years, in fact, has been furnishing suitable enough skill training in school so that the student will be able to find a job after his/her graduation (if he/she is not lucky enough to be able to attend still another school). At times, it began to appear as if the real purpose of school was to equip the young for future employment.
There are, no doubt, a number of other important characteristics of present-day education in Micronesia that could be added. These three, however, are enough to illustrate the fact that the major goals of education—and of political and economic development as well—have a distinctively American (U S) flavor to them. Democratic participation in society, an openness to the world-at-large, and entrance into the dollar economy imply certain values that are fundamental to a people. And it is these values—especially the one of freedom of choice—that underpins American education. These are new values and when adopted by education force us into an environment of cultural change. Just look around—change is all around us.
Finally, what do you think is the purpose of education in Micronesia today? Is it for employment or for skills to emigrate if there are no jobs? Perhaps it is. But to many educators the task of education is to help society cope with change. We cannot stop change but perhaps it can be managed a bit. As a student once told the author many years ago—“I am here at CCM to learn the new ways and my brother was left home to learn the old ways. I know that a lot of what I will learn about the new ways may not be good and that I will have to give up some of the old ways. The whole thing frightens me.” This gentleman is soon to retire with 30 years in the U S military and still greets Micronesians in Hawaii reminding them of their pride and the changes they are about to find. The brother who stayed home to learn the old ways learned of navigation from his uncle Pius "Mau" Piailug. Teaching and learning culture is not as easy as we might wish it were as these two brothers from Satawal taught me.
Category: Education Corner
Published: Sunday, 15 November 2015 09:06
Written by Richard Womack
09 NOV 2015
Quite a few years ago, an 8th grade graduation was held at a middle-sized Micronesian elementary school with two 8th grade classrooms and 60 graduating students. As is always the case at these graduations, the students were running here and there; boys in white shirts and black pants and girls in new white dresses. A few of the girls had been to the beauty shop in town but all of them had their beautiful hair all pretty and nicely done. The boys looked clean and handsome but, as is usually the case, a few shirt tails were hanging out. And while the boys were handsome, many did not look comfortable— all dressed up.
Families filled the school parking lot with their cars and it seemed everyone had mwarmwars, both store bought and handmade. The flowers were for the graduates and for parents and, of course, anyone who enjoyed the dressing up for a graduation. With 60 graduates, at least 120 chairs were reserved for mothers and fathers, or grandmothers and grandfathers, or aunties and uncles, or whoever the primary care-givers might be. The rest of the school was filled with brothers and sisters and the many cousins who happened to come that day. The mood was festive, but it was hot and people did mention that they hoped the speeches would not be too long. A big man already perspiring noted that the graduation the year before was almost two-and-a-half hours long. A woman beside him said she hoped it was shorter this year, and the few that overheard the comments all nodded in agreement.
Then some 7th grade boys and 7th grade girls acting as ushers and usherettes began to pass out the graduation programs. All the graduates were listed on these nicely printed papers along with a few honored guests and speakers. There was a Roman Catholic Deacon giving the opening prayer and a Protestant Pastor giving a Benediction. The school after all had both Catholic and Protestant families and both branches of the Christian religion were always welcome and the clergy always made themselves available. The main focus of the written program was naturally the graduates. As usual, they were listed alphabetically with a Susaly Amberdink at the top and Wheezly Zitterly at the end. Everyone searched the program for family and then friends for recognizable names. There was Limper Ramon listed as the Valedictorian and Pepperset Saboda listed as giving some welcoming remarks. All four of these eight graders Susaly, Wheezly, Limper. And Pepperset had asterisks placed next to their names. Anyone reading the program could see that many graduates had the "*" placed next to their names. And if one were to count, 40 out of the 60 students had the "*" next to their names. Even the 5th graders knew what to do when they saw the "*". It meant that they should look at the bottom of the page or the end of the program. There you would find the "*" and the explanation or meaning of the "*". In this particular program the "*" said, "Principal's Honor Roll 3.0 Grade Point Average (B) or above".
As the crowd grew restless for the graduates to begin their marching and the ceremony to begin, some parents began to remark about the size of the honor roll list.
"Look how many students made the honor roll this year," said Mrs. Ramon the proud mother of the Valedictorian.
"Indeed," said Mr. Saboda. "The teachers must be doing a good job this year. I remember only a few years ago, only 15 or so students made the honor roll."
"Well, perhaps," said Wheezly Zitterly's mother. "I am so very happy that Wheezly is on the honor roll, but I am equally disappointed that he did not pass the National Standards Test so he can go to high school. I don't know what to do with Wheezly. He is 14 years old and he cannot go to high school and is too young to get a paying job. Even clerks at the local stores must have a high school diploma. I guess he can feed the pigs and help on the land."
"What do you say Mrs. Zitterly?" whispered Mr. Amberdink. "Did you say that your boy did not pass the NST but is on the B-honor-roll? I was sitting here so embarrassed seeing my daughter Susaly's name on the honor roll and knowing she did not pass the NST. She was so happy. 'Daddy! Mommy' she exclaimed. 'I made the Principal's honor roll. Aren't you proud of me?' And both her mother and I were happy. Therefore I did not say anything to her because she was so happy about her B average and all."
"Exactly right, Mr. Amberdink," said Mrs. Zitterly. "I did not want to make my poor Wheezly feel bad. He struggles in school sometimes and when he yelled 'honor-roll, honor-roll' I did not want him to feel bad. I did not want to bring up the obvious question."
"I know it is too late now but we must ask. We must!" continued Mr. Amberdink. "how can our children be on the Principal's B honor roll and not pass the High School entrance test—the NST?"
This story was made for EC so we could continue to discuss with the public this whole idea of evidence and assessing our students in all the standards and benchmarks. Sometimes it is with grades and sometimes with standardized test scores.
Is our story true? No! Could the story be true? Absolutely! Can students bring home good grades and not do well on the National Standards Tests and other standardized tests for evidence of learning? Sure!
In our next EC we will discuss all the ways the story could be true and where the responsibility lies for improving. Remember all of these student scores should and will be used for improvement. This is the major purpose of assessment and this EC column.