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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

LODGED in K-12 Education

LODGED in K-12 Education

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

By Robert Frost, 1928
The rain to the wind said,
“You push and I’ll pelt.”
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged – though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.
(In Latham & Thompson, 1972)

… So says today’s K-12 educator.
            In this national race toward psychometric measurability of everything “education,” are we considering how the educators are feeling? You know … the “good folks.”

I’m not speaking on behalf of the small number of those in our profession who have placed their own agendas in front of quality education or those who have been ambivalent to such a degree that they have neglected to be mindful of a need for continuous improvement.  Those are the ones, in part, who have given rise to the pushing and pelting.
I’m advocating for good folks, the educational superheroes who are the best possible role models for our nation’s children - those who are now under such extreme pressure to follow a mandated scope and sequence of test-centered curricula that their children can no longer enjoy playtime in elementary schools.  I’m advocating for folks who are no longer in charge of the “how” of what they used to do in their classrooms, and they need to be.
            It used to be that educators had as the final line of their job descriptions, “All other duties as assigned.” That was ok; the good folks accepted that. Today’s replacement: “All other duties that society abrogates,” goes a bit too far.
That, coupled with the fact that children’s potential for educational success is powerfully influenced before they ever reach our nation’s classrooms, makes careers in K-12 education ones in which only miracle workers should apply – ones through which only superheroes should aspire to leadership. 
Please be a miracle worker or superhero, in spite of the rain and the wind.
Consider what many refer to as Miscel's Stanford University Marshmallow Study (Prairie View 2008, crediting as well Miscel, Shoda, and Peake, 1990).  Researchers placed hungry 4-year-olds alone in a room with a single marshmallow each. They mentioned to the children that if they did not eat their marshmallows before the researchers returned, they could each have two marshmallows.  Those who maintained the ability to control their impulses were seen during a follow-up study to have notably higher SAT scores than the children unable to control their impulses (Prairie View, 2008).
Through such studies, one could surmise that a certain degree of emotional intelligence, or even school aptitude, is already present in children before they enroll in school.  Yet, even though parents and guardians are logically implicated as “responsible” for at least some of the disparities in aptitude and efficacy that exist in children upon enrollment in school, educators are still held 100% responsible for student achievement.  Where is parental accountability?  Why not shared accountability?
If politicians wish to sharpen their efforts on true and lasting student achievement, I would like to suggest a few areas through which they can concentrate that would assist in accountability for student achievement.
Legislation declaring that children’s playpens should not be placed in front of televisions as de-facto babysitters for infants and toddlers from birth to age 3 would be a good start. How about local ordinances requiring that all parents, from neglectful deadbeats to two-parent career-aholics, “step-up” and spend more time with their children, so as to provide for their basic needs and language development? What about tighter regulations prohibiting the exposure of our youngest children to indelible messages of "easy money without hard work," as well as suggestions that parents turn away from their social networking sites in order to spend each evening reading to their children?  Sounds far-fetched and a bit too “Big Brother-like,” I realize, yet at minimum, encouraging public conversation of such would at least raise awareness of key variables impacting learning that school officials can’t control.
 A more politically feasible suggestion, perhaps: Through a reallocation of state budgets, support could be given to a statewide early education initiative that would allow all children, from birth to Kindergarten, to receive free books in the mail each month, mailed to them personally, an idea now championed in certain local communities through philanthropic support and trusted partnerships.  One such champion of these efforts with a deep love for children is Mike Dewey, an educational leader and friend of mine – a true superhero – who has advocated that all children have reading materials at home (Bay-Arenac, 2012).  I would encourage those criticizing good educators to think “more like Mike.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if those currently pushing and pelting would exercise their leadership to un-lodge our heroes in K-12?  The “good folks” need to feel a little less like the flowers in Frost’s poem. Conversely, others more responsible for the plight of our nation’s achievement need to feel a bit more of the wind and the rain.


Bay Arenac ISD Imagination Library, a Dolly Parton-Inspired Program. Retrieved from

Latham, E., & Thompson, L. (Eds.). (1972). The Robert Frost reader: Poetry and prose. New York, NY: Owl Books.

Prairie View Process Solutions Group (2008), July. The Capabilities Awareness Profile Informational Guide. Training conducted at Prairie View Process Solutions in Newton, Kansas.


Dr. Ryan Donlan can be reached at (812) 237-8624 or at

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