Needs Improvement

I think that you could use this two word phrase to describe absolutely everything in our society, whether you are looking at a personal, community, state, national, or global level. To me, this phrase most resonates with what I know of NCLB and our educational system. A school that has failed too many times is officially labeled as a school that “Needs Improvement.” A school or district can receive this label if it does not meet state testing goals for a set number of years. When it receives this label, that means that the government is legally able to step in and make changes to the school, even if they had no presence there before the label was applied.

Maybe I’ve mentioned it, and maybe I haven’t, but I’ve found a new favorite hobby–watching documentaries on Netflix. Since I’m not in a formal educational setting anymore and I’m an intellectual at heart, I needed some way to maintain my self-education, and these documentaries have been that input for the past couple of months. I’m particularly a fan of PBS’s Frontline series, but there are a lot of other ones that I think are really worth watching. I really enjoy thinking and so find these documentaries that talk about the current state of affairs are really pleasurable for me to view, even if they do have a lot of scary information in them. I’ve watched documentaries on education, technology, advertising, local food, organic food, diets, consumerism, and  general environmentally friendly lifestyles. Somehow I feel like this justifies my hours in front of a computer screen, even though I don’t really buy my own excuse.

After my post yesterday, I chose to watch a documentary about local foods, called Ingredients  that was released this year. Much of the documentary focuses on the relationship between farmers, restaurants and schools in the Portland and New York City areas, and what individuals in those places are doing to promote the local foods movements. Farmers Markets are key, obviously, but there’s a lot more to it than that, and I think the film did a decent job at exploring some of these relationships. This was one film that wasn’t all gloomy, unlike some others, but really celebrated the improved taste and personal investment in local and personal farms. Inside the narrative, however, lies the thought that things can always use improvement.

Individuals have issues that they think are important and need to be addressed. It’s why we have lobbyists. One of the difficult things for me is that I think there are many areas of life that need to be addressed as a place for improvement. I thought I was going to work in a classroom and teach kids how to write well and the value of literature. I found a very different world inside my classrooms than I imagined, and learned a lot about myself in the process. I realized that I care a lot more about how people treat each other than I do about grammar, more about proper nutrition and exercise than I did about essay revision. I care more about the self-perpetuating system of poverty than I did about whether or not my students were able to prove that they had read their assigned chapters the previous night. And here I am now, gearing up for a year where I will be working in a position that allows me to do work with low income families and at-risk students, with nutrition programs and service projects. I’m excited to have this opportunity, but I cannot help but shake the voice inside that reminds me I have no idea what will happen after this year.

I want to make a difference. I want to make people’s lives better, and I want to be fulfilled by pursing changes to issues I believe in. I don’t want to be confrontational; I simply want to help. I look around me and see the signs of a broken and fallen world. I yearn for perfection, but know that for everything that needs improvement, ours is an uphill battle. We may dip into another recession and life may get even more difficult for families across the country and world, but I am choosing to look at what I can do to help offset these losses. I can be encouraging. I can donate my time and energy and talents. I can use fewer resources and allocate my own spending so that it is beneficial to more people than just myself. I’m still learning, and listening for urgings and words of guidance. I’m working one day at a time, taking small steps to do what I can in the midst of what can often appear to be such a dark time.