An Interview with Victoria Young: Education’s Missing Ingredients

Nov 17, 2010 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy – And then there is the bureaucracy. Keep in mind; I encountered it as No Child Left Behind came down on the schools. I was naïve at the time in thinking that I could change the situation in my schools.

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

1)      Victoria, you have a web site dealing with education. What prompted you to establish this site

After my book manuscript had been accepted for publication, I began the chore of attempting to secure an endorsement from an educator or two. It was much more difficult than I had imagined, maybe because I don’t work in “the business.” So, after having numerous letters and e-mails go unanswered, it dawned on me that in this age of technology, you don’t have any credibility without a web site. Thanks to friends, they got it up and going, now I try to maintain it.

2)      What do you see as the main issues in education?

I spent eleven years in classrooms and another seven years strictly dealing with, mainly fighting against, policy decisions. So, I see the issues from three very different perspectives.

In the trenches, I saw children not having their needs met on various levels and teachers working without the resources they needed while being constrained by policy and practices that too many times we all knew were wrong for kids. It’s sadly ironic that in a country based on a “free” government that our classroom atmospheres are, too often, so constraining, so scripted — it’s stifling. The poor kids must think learning is all about tests. We shouldn’t wonder why they become bored and disinterested.

And then there is the bureaucracy. Keep in mind; I encountered it as No Child Left Behind came down on the schools. I was naïve at the time in thinking that I could change the situation in my schools. For every issue I encountered, my questions took me to a higher and higher level, or more times they just spun me in circles. To say the system is a mess, would be a misstatement because what I found on my journey was that no true system exists, it really is a bureaucratic mess.

And as just a parent, I could clearly see the benefit children have from having an adult consistently looking out for them as they go through school. Those children that have no one advocating for them are disadvantaged. That’s a problem.

3)      What do you hope to accomplish?

Well, I am probably continuing to sound a little naïve, but, what I expect to accomplish is to help take us  from where we are at, in this bureaucratic mess, to where we need to go ─ a functioning education system that meets the needs of all students….simple right?

4)      How involved should parents be in their child’s education?

We can’t fully meet the needs of the students without their parents or another caring adult. Parents know their children best, in most cases, and they need to be seen as assets in providing insight for their child’s teachers. The teacher-parent relationship should be a partnership.

5)      What are some of the different aspects on your Blog? Or web page if you prefer?

Web page would be the better description. I know I use the term Blog on there somewhere but I’m really not a devoted blogger. I write when I strongly feel I have something to say that someone else isn’t already saying.

But there are a couple of unique things to find on the site. Since I’m a veterinarian, I couldn’t help but to bring an animal onto the pages so I have a section devoted to my buddy, Miss Mia. She is exceptionally smart so observing her is like watching and guiding the kids as they grew up…she’s a challenge and a delight. The opinions, or blogs if you want to call them that, are all spurred by her story. And, I need to get back to telling it.

And I think it’s important for people to fully understand that I’m an independent thinker and independent person. With so much money on the line in education, it becomes hard to tell who is spewing empty rhetoric from those who speak with sincerity. I hope my site portrays me as the person I am, as best as it can. If you can’t trust and respect my opinion, it would be a waste of time to listen to my suggestions and the reasoning behind them.

6)      Education’s Missing Ingredient: What Parents Can Tell Educators is one of your books. Why did you write it, and what is the single most important thing you want to tell educators?

It is the only book I’ve written. I never intended to be a writer. But after so many years of learning about various topics in education and the experiences I’ve had, I just couldn’t walk away. What is happening to our schools and the children in them is wrong. Just because we have been doing things this way for 10 years, or in some instances forever, doesn’t make it right.

So, the single most important thing I want to tell educators is also what I would like to tell our politicians — learn to listen…but I’d like to add one more message to them, if you are going to do right by the people you are supposed to serve, your actions need to be in line with what you hear from us….think they hear me?

7)      Let’s go one step further- What Can and Should Teachers Tell Parents?

Now, remember I’m not a teacher so I can’t speak for them, but I would think our kids would benefit from the teachers clearly communicating what they will be expecting from their students and I don’t mean a list of standards. I mean real expectations, things like: attendance, punctuality, respect for adults and other students, coming prepared and ready to do their best work….things that “good” parents probably already know and are doing but even with them, especially during the teen years, adults need to back each other up. Teachers and parents being on the same page, leaves less room for excuses. It builds a better safety net for kids. It shows WE care.

8)      Some of the missing ingredients , at least in my view are things like accountability, pride, responsibility—various values that should begin in the home. How should schools address this issue?

My editor questioned my use of a singular “ingredient” in the title — no “s.” But I’m not saying your view is wrong. Every person has an opinion about different things missing in their own school and they wouldn’t be wrong, they’re right. But I like to keep things clear and simple and there is only one thing missing in my mind….anyway, you ask about how schools should address the various values that should begin at home.

The truth is, most schools are not very good at addressing those issues and they shouldn’t be seen as the primary place or means of instilling values. But they should support and reinforce the values of the community which they serve. And that goes back to the partnership we adults must build, the expectations we should hold each other to, and how the education system, the one we should build, will support us as we support our learners.

9)      What have I neglected to ask?

One thing I’m always asking is, “what’s next?” After this past election, many of we “NCLB watchers” are anxiously asking that very question. This time, what the people should not accept is more of the same with new terminology or a quick or partial tweaking of the law. We shouldn’t accept changes that pacify this group or that without fixing the problems. In other words, we shouldn’t accept business as usual in congress. We should accept nothing short of congress making this law right! Right as judged by the standards of the people…you know We the People, the forgotten ones.

Personally, what’s next for me is I’m going back to volunteering. Unfortunately, this time it isn’t in the schools, I do miss kids. But I have to take whatever opportunity comes my way to help stop the insanity of our repeated mistakes….you see, not only do the politicians and educators need to listen but so do the people who don’t have children in the system and don’t understand what has happened.….here’s another good question to ask — where’s the public in the discussion of public education?

Comments (3 posted):

Katherine Cox on 17/11/2010 20:09:47

Victoria has been extremely supportive as many educators try to get Congress to remove the shackles of No Child Left Behind. Without parents like Victoria helping us, we don’t stand a chance.

I am in the process of reading her book. As teachers and principals, we need to listen to parents like Victoria. She is honest, she sees both sides of issues, and she doesn’t play the blame game. Although I am an educator, I am also a parent. Many of her stories about her children’s experiences in school mirror my own. I have been an educator for over 30 years, and the school reform movement has been around at least that long with continual change and no coherence. It’s been trying at times, and at other times, an innovation has been right on.

However, NCLB is the worst school reform effort we’ve ever been through. It’s resulted in unintended consequences and led to less than mediocre education for our children. The only answer is to get Congress and the White House out of the school reform movement. They are far too removed from the trenches to be able to decide policy wisely. And when they make a mistake — and there have been many — there is no way these two branches of government are organized to be quickly responsive and decisive.

Victoria, thank you for all of the hard work and time you’ve invested into helping us. Meaningful, coherent school reform can happen only when educators and parents take control — at the local and state levels.

Jan of MI on 19/11/2010 00:24:45

Your points are well taken. The values you gave are truly important. Many teachers at my level, elementary, spend a lot of time working with the things you listed. Also NCLB’s “data driven” mantra has caused the ever growing quagmire of standardized assessments, that don’t give real and timely data needed to give teachers information on how to move children ahead in their learning.

I think that we are hearing from the public about education, but about the wrong things. The public outcry about overpaid teachers and suspected mismanagement of school funding seems to be the topic that is making the front pages (as was the case today in the Detroit, MI papers). People are frustrated about the decline in income for those in the private sector, thanks to the money bags (the top 1% of the population that makes 24% of the income). They are not recognizing the impact of larger class sizes, loss of curriculum funding, and failing infrastructure on the education of children. They do not see the angst created in our children by testing, testing and more testing. The voters are brainwashed by movies like “Waiting for Superman” and NBC’s Education Nation program into believing that programs like Teach for America and charter and private schools are the “be-all/end-all” solution.

Policy makers and parents have not asked or listened to the teachers about what is needed so they can do their jobs well. If a carpenter told his/her boss that he/she needed more nails to finish the house he would get them. If a doctor asked the hospital for more medication to treat her patient’s infection it would be delivered. Even a road builder would not be denied the concrete need to make the road. But when teachers say that they need updated buildings, materials and technology as well as manageable class size, they are perceived as greedy and wasteful.

Keep up you good work of advocating for our children.

pauline on 21/11/2010 18:09:48

Nicely said. I do agree with the comment that NCLB is one of the worst policies in education ever perpetrated on our nation. It should be trashed.

What we need is for politicians and religious zealots to stop trying to run our nation’s schools. We need education experts to do that and we have not let them in the door. How is it that in NY city the mayor has decided to let a paper media manager run the education department?
As if it were a business.
Do we think he would sit still if we asked him to hire a high school grad to run the stock exchange? I don’t think so.
Well, our kids are NOT employees and should be treated like treasures and the hope of the future, not just data creators. Similarly, our teachers are also not sales executives, they are professionals like psychologists or doctors and should be trained that way and treated with respect that way.

Our schools are a travesty of the modern world. Our students are falling behind the other developed nations and all we have to offer is more tests?

As a parent for 23 years and a new teacher for three years now and freshly certified in NY, I have some insight as to how to fix the problem. Problem is, no one wants to listen to the experts, the parents who also are teachers. Or even the experts in academia who research education EVERY DAY! And know a thing or two more than Ms Black does about education.
We aren’t the politicians or the big shots running things.
We don’t count.

Thank you for your advocacy.

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