After 22years as an inner-city school teacher, I left the classroom to become an educational administrator. For the next 17years I worked as a principal, school director and private school headmaster. In all those years, the one thing that remained constant was my unwavering perspective that teacher-student interaction is ground zero in the learning process. This perspective includes a student’s academic and social development. Sadly, it is in both domains that learning is being crushed by current instructional methodologies.

Regarding academics, I envision a school that has turned the clock back to where there are few, if any classroom computers; a school where verbal give and take is the norm, where creative teachers are not distracted by a toxic concern about how students will perform on a standardized test months away. This focus on testing is alien to my generation of educators.

The dysfunction associated with testing became clear to me when I was asked to come out of retirement to fill a vacancy as a substitute teacher until a permanent replacement was found. Like all faculty I attended the opening day teacher conference, listening to the school’s curriculum director drone on about the importance of test scores. He then handed out a written plan for each grade delineating a reading and math schedule that was to be followed lesson by lesson, day by day, by each teacher for the year. The purpose of this was to maximize scores. It was madness, but I said nothing.

Needless to say, I didn’t last long in that classroom, because this old dinosaur taught lessons in a style that deviated from the curriculum director’s dry, uninspiring instructional methodology. Prior to parting ways, I had several conversations with younger colleagues concerning my experiences as an educator in the freedom of pre-test score mania. I felt badly for them.

In terms of the second core educational principal, that of social development, we want our students to be caring and productive citizens. It is within a school setting where this goal has the greatest chance of being achieved, for where else does a child have the opportunity to interact with so many others whose backgrounds are so varied, whether ethnic, gender, socio-economic, religious or racial? Unfortunately, the very concept of human communication has been co-opted by the digital revolution. Marshall McLuhan’s 50-year-old words still ring true: “The medium has become the message.” Face-to-face interaction is floundering.

I remember the first time I was confronted with the effect of this dynamic when, as a relatively young principal, I wandered into a high school honors class during a test they were taking. I noticed a student furtively checking his cell phone, and then looking over at another student checking hers. It soon became apparent they were texting answers to each other. I confiscated the phones, and later in my office they admitted what they did. At the time I didn’t know it, but the digital dam had been broken, and today’s schools are hard-wired. Potential for cheating is only one problem. There is digital bullying, digital threats, character assassination, all of which can be accomplished anonymously by a coward hiding behind a firewall. Trolling the internet has replaced reading. Racing from site to site, link to link, permanently alters attention spans. That higher order goal of learning to interact with others and engage in compelling dialogue has gone the way of the dodo bird.

There would be few if any iPhones, cellphones, iPads or whatever in my Old School School. There would be books, which can sit on a shelf for years, virtually dead, until they’re brought back to life by student’s taking the time to read them.

In my Old School School penmanship would be taught, augmenting the creative writing process with the artistic element of putting words on paper. The writing would be preceded by brainstorming and outlining, pre-writing and self-editing, peer and teacher review, and eventually rewriting. Laborious? Yes. Accessing higher order thinking skills? Yes. Running counter to keyboarding, spelling and grammar checking? Absolutely. But the outcome just might be a generation of writers with creativity and mastery of the language arts.

And, finally, my Old School School would require courses in debate, conflict resolution, human relations, gender sensitivity, ethnic studies, public speaking and rhetoric — all geared toward moving the student into eye-to-eye contact in order to de-escalate conflicts and solve problems with voices, eyes and gestures, eliminating bullying and harassment by unseen thumbs tapping on unseen keypads.

OK, let’s face it, I am a dinosaur. But even dinosaurs have ideas. More than 100 years ago the English writer William Bolitho warned of “making cages of laws for ourselves.” Perhaps a new ice age is on the horizon, the snows of which could short circuit those digital grids that serve as the bars of the cages we’ve created for ourselves, locking us inside.

Howard Karlitz is a Santa Monica resident.

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