Little House on Ed Reform

After putting the edu-kids to bed last night, I was looking forward to spending a couple of hours watching the Home Run Derby, observing as some of MLB’s best sluggers looked to knock pitch after pitch over the wall at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.

Instead, I came downstairs to find the edu-wife driving the remote control.  She had no interest in watching the Derby.  No, she was getting ready to settle in for a rerun of Little House on the Prairie.
The episode of choice was episode 16 of season seven.  The title?  Goodbye, Mrs. Wilder.  Season seven first broadcast in 1980 and 1981.  By this time, Laura was all grown up, now teaching in the Minnesota schoolhouse where she grew up.
Now Eduflack is not one who is typically going to get into a 30-year rerun of Little House.  But this particular episode was fascinating, showing us that the more things change in education, the more things stay the same.
Laura was being chastised by Mrs. Oleson because the school just wasn’t performing up to academic levels (or at least the levels some school board members expected).  Mrs. Oleson was desperate to win a state grant to improve the school (mostly through construction).  Teaching kids (and testing kids) on the three Rs wasn’t nearly enough.  They needed well-rounded children out there on the prairie, and Mrs. Oleson wanted to add French and art appreciation to the mix.  And since she held a teaching certificate, she knew she was correct and she convinced the school board to go along with her.  Laura disagreed, Mrs. Oleson accused her of not wanting to work that hard, so that “veteran” teacher Harriet Oleson took over the classroom to show that young know-it-all how it is supposed to be done.
We had some profiteering going on, as Mrs. Oleson insisted that all students wear school uniforms, and those uniforms could only be purchased at her mercantile.  We have parents threatening to pull their kids out of school because art appreciation amounts to pornography.  We have drill-and-kill in French.  And we have students complaining that the veteran teacher just doesn’t relate to them and doesn’t make learning “fun.”
Ultimately, the state saves the day, noting that the “new,” more balanced curriculum didn’t quite serve the students.  What farmers and wives of farmers needed to know French (outside of Louisiana)?  Who really needed to appreciate art?  And why do it at the expense of the “bushels and pecks” learning they needed to survive?
So it was back to basics.  French and art dropped from the curriculum.  The new, young teacher (think Laura Ingalls-Wilder as the precursor for today’s TFA teacher) taking back control of her classroom, refocusing the class on discipline and on reading, writing, and ‘arithmetic, and getting results on day one.  School again focused specifically on outcomes and how all kids would graduate career ready.  Balance restored to the prairie.
Not bad ed reform story telling for 30 years ago, let alone for the late 1800s.  Yep, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  

6 thoughts on “Little House on Ed Reform

  1. If Laura were a Teach For America instructor, she would have had no preparation for the job, nor would she have stayed in the classroom for more than a couple of years to teach the children of that community. She was ready for the job and dedicated to it as a life-long career, which is quite the opposite of most TFA, despite their inherent optimism. I think Mrs. Oleson as the “know-it-all” busy-body who meddles in Laura’s classroom in the guise of an “expert” is clearly more analogous to the so called education reformers who peddle their pedagogical and policy ideas today, attacking teachers, in hopes of making some kind of profit from it.

  2. Appreciate the comment, Tripp.  But Mrs. Oleson is not positioned as a reformer.  She made clear that because she was the only one in the room with a teacher’s license, she was the only one qualified to talk about curriculum, the only one qualified to talk about classroom management, the only one qualified to talk with the state about their schools.  It seems to come right from the current union playbook resisting improvement efforts.

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