An Army of Seamstresses

The public library has a few shelves dedicated to Education and Ed Reform. The books vary from autobiographical accounts of single individuals who turned around a school, a classroom, or a district, to a parent’s guide to choosing a school that doesn’t suck, to decades-old accounts of what was wrong with our schools then (with the unshocking but saddening realization that we are still fighting an identical, if not more complex, fight). These books offer a multitude of reasons why we struggle, and opinions on how to fix the problem. The explanations vary from oversimplifications to ideas and systems so complex it’s hard to wrap your head around. What I learned from my quick jaunt to the library, and what I already think i knew, is that there is no one answer. There is no quick fix that’s replicable across an entire nation. There’s not even a single, coherent explanation of what is wrong, or even IF something is wrong.

You hear shouts of ‘blame the teachers’ or ‘blame the parents’ or ‘blame the union’ or ‘blame the billionaires’. But none of these options work 100% of the time, or even a majority of the time. America is complex, and colorful, and strange. We are a nation built on the notion of a (semi) peaceful cacophony of voices. The story of one classroom, one school, district, city or state, is exactly that. The story of one.

So how do we even begin to approach repairing and improving such a vast, diverse, landscape. I love a good metaphor, so I’ll use one here. This challenge, is like asking a seamstress to custom design a dress that will fit every woman and would be appropriate for every occasion in her lifetime. And asking her to do so blindfolded, and while receiving a barrage of insults and rotten tomatoes from a mob, angry at why she’s taking so long. And, every few minutes, trading the seamstress out for a new seamstress, because the old one clearly doesn’t know what she’s doing. Yikes.

Before I continue, let me make one thing clear: I am not that seamstress. I do not want to be that seamstress. Dear God, please do not make me the seamstress. What we need is an army of seamstresses. One for everyone woman, or maybe a small group of women, to stand up, think through that problem. Take their specific measurements, and then start the process. And we still might mess up (the rotten tomatoes, and all).

So what does that look like: an army of strong, smart, well-equipped seamstresses, creating the fabric of a new and improved way we educate our children? And who are the seamstresses? My first and most obvious thought? Teachers. Of course.

The teacher/seamstress needs to be well trained, well equipped, and then (gasp!) left to their own devices for a minute. But then, if she’s not capable, she actually needs to be held accountable for messing up. No, not thrown to a pack of wolves or paraded through the streets Game of Thrones style with an angry nun ringing a bell, but maybe just encouraged to find a new endeavor on which to use her talents. Gently but firmly guided away from her classroom/dress.

This is not a new idea. I think I’ve read the exact same thought many times over, although never with a fun seamstress metaphor. The problem lies in convincing the people in charge to actually attempt such a thing. To dedicate the time and money (oh, the money) to those who will use it most wisely.

What do you think?



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