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The education of children cannot be uniform

By Eileen DiFranco on May 14, 2014 03:31 PM

When I asked a diabetic student of mine why her glucose level was so high, she said she'd forgotten to take her insulin that morning. I was aghast. Having a high glucose level is one thing. Forgetting to take the insulin that keeps her healthy and alive was shocking.

I've seen many students like her: asthmatics who don’t take their inhalers on a regular basis, kids who never finish their course of antibiotics, and other students who refuse to follow medical advice.

As a school nurse, I've heard all the excuses: I forgot. The medicine tastes nasty. I lost it. It’s too much work. My cousin stopped taking his pills and he was OK.

Choosing not to take the medication that saves your life or keeps you well seems like counterintuitive behavior. But students often act this way. Kids smoke pot on their way to school despite regularly getting caught. Girls and boys have babies when they are themselves babies. Students refuse to do their classwork or homework, even though they know it will lead to failing.
This phenomenon, a kind of failure to act in one's own self-interest, happens in the adult world, too. A friend of mine regularly cuts back on her seizure medication in the hope that she has somehow been miraculously cured of her disorder. My own father would sit with his cigarette lit in one hand, oxygen mask in the other, unwilling to stop smoking but willing to risk blowing up the house.

Human behavior is unpredictable. Organizations that choose not to account in their planning for the vagaries of human behavior will make costly errors.

Take those who believe that streamlining, codifying, and making all procedures and products uniform will somehow make people more “efficient.” In education, this thinking has led to thinking of children, a truly unpredictable group, as “seats” that “perform” on demand.

To these reformers, all teachers have to do is stuff children full of canned programs and employ scripted practices, then voilá, success! Any teacher worth his or her salt will tell you this belief is not only naïve, but also destructive -- because it ignores the other factors that have made the child into what he or she is. Somewhere between the endless drilling of skills and constant filling of test bubbles, the child’s humanity is lost.

What the lesson of raising a family teaches, as any parent will testify, is that children growing up in the same family will be different and perform differently in school. They will peform differently regardless of the fact that they had the same parents, lived in the same house, ate the same food, read the same books, and attended the same schools.

The education of children is a difficult and complex process, because people are difficult and complex. There is no magic bullet, no messiah that can right every educational wrong. There is no program, however cleverly developed and implemented, that will fit the needs of every child. 

The hucksters who would reduce the art of teaching children to a technical set of skills that even the inexperienced can impart are misguided. Children are so much more than empty receptacles waiting to be filled or scores on standardized tests.

Eileen M. DiFranco, R.N., is a certified school nurse who has proudly served the schoolchildren of Philadelphia for 23 years. She is a lifelong resident of Philadelphia.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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Comments (11)

Submitted by Eileen Duffey (not verified) on May 14, 2014 6:45 pm
Eloquent and right on target again my friend and colleague Eileen. But we know this is only about money. The reformers would love to rid the system of professionals who are able to articulate a nuanced understanding of humanity that you describe here. There is no other way to understand the wholesale discarding of teaching staffs who know their communities in schools serving our poorest students. The luxury of being understood as an individual is increasingly a value reserved only for the wealthy.
Submitted by Lisa Haver on May 14, 2014 6:38 pm
Another incisive piece from an important writer whose op-ed in the Inquirer on "the lowest performing seats"-- about the SRC-- remains unmatched in those pages. When we get our elected school board, I will be voting for Eileen.
Submitted by aonymous (not verified) on May 14, 2014 6:46 pm
Would you mind including the link for that. I would love to read it. Thanks.
Submitted by Carol McCarthy (not verified) on May 14, 2014 7:28 pm
Thank you Eileen for speaking again on behalf of our students, families, and communities.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on May 14, 2014 8:06 pm
Wow Eileen. What a well said piece of art. Right on point and very powerfully stated. Teaching is an art form -- a craft.
Submitted by D. Grill (not verified) on May 14, 2014 9:04 pm
Another great commentary. Here is the link to Eileen's op ed on the lowest performing seats. U
Submitted by Ken Derstine on May 14, 2014 10:51 pm
That link no longer seems to be working. The Op-Ed can be accessed at the website of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools.
Submitted by aonymous (not verified) on May 14, 2014 10:06 pm
Well isn't that strange. After reading this article it does seem possible that the Inquirer deleted it from the records as owner Norcross is a charter affiliated supporter of "reform" and this article is critical of same reform.
Submitted by aonymous (not verified) on May 14, 2014 11:33 pm
Thanks Ken for resurrecting that article originally printed on August 14, 2013. With regard to the SRC, the message of lowest performing seats is as true today and worth repeating in spite of two new SRC members. It would be interesting to delve more deeply into the motives of the new members of the SRC. Ms Jimenez is married to the guy who represents Mastery Charter Schools. Mr. Green just switched to an even more prestigious law firm. But, with regard to the children of Philadelphia, they both perform as dismally as their predecessors. Hmmmmm. Maybe it IS the seats that perform!
Submitted by meagain (not verified) on May 15, 2014 8:15 am
There is no art to teaching when children are taught using the common core.
Submitted by Diane Payne (not verified) on May 16, 2014 8:54 pm
So well said and true. Thank you for all your efforts on behalf of children.

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