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What’s Wrong with Education?

Photo by dcJohn/Flickr

by Mary Beth Spann, Guest Author

As we begin a new school year, it’s impossible to escape voices that insist our efforts to educate our kids are failing.

Sometimes we’re even guilty of it ourselves. It’s easy to fall into the trap of complaining about the state of education in general and of pitting traditional schools against alternatives, such as charter schools, homeschooling settings and even unschooling arrangements.

But criticisms alone do nothing to make things better and the act of comparing often results in nothing more than a whole lot of useless finger pointing.

As a longtime teacher, parent, puppeteer and education author, I cherish the importance of play, choice and creativity at all levels of the educational process.

I am saddened that our test-crazed culture has begun rob time and space from even our youngest learners. It broke my heart to hear a kindergarten teacher who attended one of my recent puppet workshops lament, “They might as well just take the toys out of my kindergarten class; we don’t have time for play anyway!

While it’s easy to focus on all this negative stuff, I think one of the biggest things “wrong” with education is not education itself, but our obsession with what’s supposedly not working. It grabs our attention at every turn. It moves our focus away from what really matters: our kids and everything we’re doing right for them.

I’ve decided I’m done with listening to what’s wrong with our traditional and

non-traditional school arrangements. I refuse to buy into all the negative press surrounding the teachers, parents and kids involved.

I’m even done complaining about those who insist on exploiting our kids for some political or fiscal agenda. (Others are fighting that battle and I predict the whole situation will eventually fall of its own weight.)

Of course a lot of changes must take place so that teachers especially can regain the breathing room they need (read: professional respect, trust and freedom) to experiment with what works best with each child and each group of children. And we all need to listen better to our kids and remember the importance that their interests play in the process of effective education.

But mere moaning and groaning is not going to result in the education reform many crave.

So what can one teacher or parent do today to make things better? Plenty!

I, for one, am going to begin by focusing on what’s right with education today.

I am going to look for what works wonderfully anytime intelligent, caring adults like you and beautiful, curious kids like yours engage in the joys of learning and growing together.

I am going to place my valuable time and attention on connecting with fabulous parenting, teaching and learning resources (like Really Good Stuff and others).

I’m going to look for creative ways parents and teachers can support one another and revel in our abilities to offer the kids we love a fun and playful path to meaningful learning.

And I am beginning right here, right now.

Is anyone with me on this?


 About the Author


Mary Beth Spann is founder of, an online resource site for teachers and parents of children ages 5-8 set to launch this fall.








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There are plenty of good things to say about education-in regard to the present as well as the past. There is a lot of wisdom to be found in the Girl Scout song lyrics, "Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold." In other words, balance curriculums with past and present practices that work! Don't throw out the baby with the bath water! The education system becomes troubled when education policy makers decide to jump on the bandwagon, exclusively promote whatever trend is popular at the time, and disregard the tried and true. I've seen education programs swing from one extreme to another. I'm not adverse to change. Change is healthy and inevitable as long as it improves the current system and doesn't get rid of what works.

Patricia Montgomery
Patricia Montgomery

I thoroughly enjoyed your article because I too believe there are a lot of things right with our schools in spite of all of the negativity that is pervasive in the news and by others in education. Are we going to continue to be part of the problem or part of the solution? We should focus on what works and build from there involving every stakeholder that is willing to assist us. Patricia Montgomery Guidance Counselor Jax., FL.


I almost didn't read this article because of the title...because SO MANY PEOPLE are so negative about where we are in education right now. It's way too easy to be negative. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who tries to see the positive side. Thank you for pointing out that YES we can find a positive in anything, especially in education. My philosophy at this point is to do what is right for children. Yes you can still have fun in the classroom, you just have to know how to make it fit the standards. A colleague of mine recently said she wished she was ready for retirement because teaching isn't "fun" anymore. I was quite surprised by her words because I teach a tested grade and STILL think teaching is fun. If you go in with the attitude of making the most of what you've given, you can put a positive spin on anything!

Tracy Raymond
Tracy Raymond

As a teachers at a struggling Title I school, my colleagues and I find ourselves presented with no options in terms of how we deliver instruction this year. In spite of the fact that we've spent years training in Calkins' Workshop method, new administration does not support it and their overseers are dictating exactly how I need to teach my students. Resulting in our being required to take literally days of training in balanced literacy (really?). Said overseers think they know the needs of my students simply by looking over a data printout. They don't understand about the 6-year old who wants to quit school so he can get a job to support his family. Or the kid whose mom is ill, dad is in prison, and uncle was killed in a drive-by. Or the kid who worries about going into foster care when mom gets arrested for leaving them home alone, again. No, the data tells the tale. The problem with education? Too many chiefs who just don't get it.