The Transylvania Times -

Dr. Pedro A. Sandin 

Everyday Education: Each Child Should Be Center Of Education


November 26, 2018

In a previous column in The Transylvania Times on Oct. 14, 2018, I described teaching-learning as a communicative process, which, by its very nature, mobilizes the six functions of communication identified by Russian linguist Roman Jakobson: the sender, the receiver, the code (English, Greek, Morse…), the referent (what is the message about?), the channel (the medium that allows the message to flow), and, of course, the message itself. In that earlier column, I discussed the implications of the channel (the phatic function of communication) for the teaching-learning process. Today, I would like to focus on the receiver.

The receivers of the message of the teaching-learning process are our students. The act of teaching, in its multiple forms, must address the children with whom we work. As important as other stakeholders may be, it is the student who must be at the very center of the process. Thus, it is essential that we learn who our students are as a group and as individuals, and that we take the necessary steps to bring this knowledge to bear on our pedagogical practice. If a message is formulated in terms that make it meaningless to the receiver — in an unshared code, with channel-shutting apathy or hostility, about referents that disregard the receiver’s frames of reference — the communicative process aborts.

In addition to the key personal uniqueness of each student, there are also cultural, socio-economic and familial differences that impact the teaching-learning process. Yet, it would appear that our educational system is still structured in ways that make it very difficult to take all of these differences into account. Our children are expected to meet certain goals at a rate that disregards who they are as individuals, what their particular strengths and challenges are, their cultural background and the socio-economic constraints that may impact their lives. Class size, staffing, standardized testing, district, state and national goals all put enormous pressure on teachers and students to conform to a uniform view of the successful student. And those who don’t fit that view too often end up dropping out of the system.

The correlation between dropping out of school and eventual incarceration is well known. And, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, children who are not proficient readers by the end of the third grade are four times more likely to drop out than proficient readers.

The statistics are heartbreaking.

The Augustine Literacy Project of Brevard, a local organization that works tirelessly to improve the odds of our young students, has compiled the following data: 62 percent of North Carolina’s fourth graders scored below proficient in reading in 2015 and 80 percent of fourth graders from low-income families are not reading proficiently. But, they also have encouraging data to offer: “For 90 percent of poor readers, early, intensive intervention, like Augustine tutoring, can increase reading ability to an age-appropriate, average-skill level.”

My eldest son teaches a mixed fourth and fifth grade class at a public school in New York City that works mostly with African-American and Latino students and is trying very hard to put the individual student at the very center of their educational practice.

I consulted with him about this column and this is what he had to say: “One of the questions I always ask myself is: ‘What is the part of the structure of my classroom that enables participation for this child?’ If I can’t name one, then the structure needs to change to better fit that child.”

Is this approach replicable? Is it possible to develop nationwide educational policies that place each student, the receiver in the educational communicative process, at the very center?

Absolutely! Finland’s educational system, widely considered the best in the world, does just that, and it does so while spending 30 percent less on each student than the United States. But, even if focusing on each child, taking into account their personal, cultural and socio-economic particular-ities, were more expensive, wouldn’t there be substantial savings in the concomitant reduction in crime and incarceration rates?

Imagine you are a third-grade teacher. You are aware that every single one of your students is precious, and that despite their different talents and potentialities they all have something priceless to offer our community, our country, our world. Imagine you are able to identify those who are not going to be proficient readers by the end of the academic year; that you cannot, under current circumstances, give them the individualized attention that they require in order to be successful.

What monetary value would you assign to the unmet hopes and potentialities of those children?

How much is too much?


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