I’ve got potential stuck in my craw

Surfing trash television tonight, I accidentally landed on a rebroadcast of the School District of Philadelphia School Reform Commission’s January 21 meeting. It’s the sort of thing that makes one long for TiVo.

The Commish was patting its collective back for updating SDP’s “Declaration of Education.” The way these people were carrying on, you’d have thought it was the other declaration. At one point, Chairwoman Sandra Dungee Glenn actually attempted to compare the two.

I’d not heard of the Declaration of Education, which surprised me given the District’s usually crackerjack communications department. Curious, I went looking. And, I found it.

The thing that hit?

We believe all children can reach their learning potential and that the achievement gap can be eliminated.

Now, I had taken potential to be an ever-moving goal, furthered by each productive step one took toward it. I’ll never reach my potential because I’m always building on what I can be. I’ll always have more potential.

According to the Commish, though, we’re going to get kids a whole lot closer to self-actualization than Maslow ever expected. I wonder what that moment looks like, “Well, Johnny, I know you’re in sixth grade, but our tests show you’ve reached your learning potential. Scurry along, now. Good luck.”

No, exactly.

What kind of interesting person tells people she’s reached her learning potential? “Yeah, I finished the latest Doris Kearns Goodwin and realized I’d reached my learning potential. It’s a shame too, I really enjoyed reading.”

I know this can be boiled down to semantics, and the easy counter-argument is that this really doesn’t matter. But that only saddens me more. This is our Declaration of Education – a document wherein we establish what we believe and want for the education of those entrusted to us. No better place exists for us to carefully craft a message to inspire and invigorate a sleeping profession.

Let the document read:

We believe all children can build upon their potential and achieve more than they ever dreamed possible.

If we’re making declarations, let’s not ignore the pursuit.

4 thoughts on “I’ve got potential stuck in my craw

  1. Awesome post—-and I agree that semantics DO matter in education. How can we dismiss language in a world based on communication?

    When you start to piece together all of the bits and pieces of language used to describe our work, the final picture just ain’t pretty, is it? Professional development is “delivered,” parents and students have to “fight” for a quality education, children are being “left behind” (which carries whole new connotations given the success of the book series about the end times popular in conservative circles).

    When decision-makers are careless about the language that they choose for “Declarations of Education”, it suggests that their vision for schools is muddled. And a muddled vision produces muddled results no matter how hard you work or how much you spend.

    Where’s Philly ranked in school performance?

    You’ve got me thinking….

  2. Does this declaration also describe how to hire a for-profit test prep company to write a core curriculum and pacing guides so that all students reach a standardized potential on the same day? Or, how to hold teachers accountable by having them give a standardized benchmark quiz on a regular basis…

  3. The Superintendent of my school district, at my high school graduation gave a speech about how none of us had a right to happiness, we only were granted a right to *pursue* happiness.

    I found that horrifying, not inspirational. He could have phrased it much, much….MUCH better. What he was saying could have been interesting, had he only altered the sentiment as much as you altered the Declaration–building, continuing, advancing–semantics or no, these things are important!

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