Education Corner 4

by Richard Womack, Ed.D - 28 SEP 2015

Last KPress edition Education Corner suggested that when visiting the Pohnpei airport it would be worthwhile to take some time to look at pictures of our fallen veterans and think about their sacrifices. This was a homework exercise for Veterans Day November 11th. It is also a good exercise for a field trip for any school and any grade. However, all of you can see that a visit to the Wall of Honor is a different kind of learning. It's about learning about and even feeling pride. It's about having respect for our FSM Veterans and respect and pride for being an FSM Citizen. Should a teacher be teaching about respect and pride? We think most of us would answer "yes". We say it should be part of the school's curriculum. What does this mean?
This is easy. Teachers teach curriculum and they teach curriculum based on standards and benchmarks. In general, the curriculum is everything we teach. The "curriculum" is the formal subjects such as arithmetic/mathematics, the social studies (geography, history and even economics), the sciences (life sciences and physical sciences) and the all important language arts (reading, writing, listening and speaking). We usually call the school subjects, the "formal curriculum" as it is written down in the form of curriculum standards and approved by some education authority. In the FSM, it is the National Department of Education (NDOE) and in Pohnpei it is the the State Department of Education (PDOE) who approves the curriculum standards we use in our schools. The formal curriculum must be the guide for all teaching and learning in our schools.
However, curriculum also includes such matters as teaching and learning good citizenship; teaching and learning how to be good members of the traditional community; teaching and learning how to be healthy in Pohnpei and other topics not part of the formal curriculum. So teaching students to care for their books, keeping their educational environment (classroom and school grounds) clean, and being respectful to others are daily duties of a teacher. In one of the worst health environments on Earth teachers are especially obliged to try and change very unhealthy lifestyles habits we have adopted nowadays. This sort of teaching and learning can be called the informal curriculum and is an important part of teaching. But this informal curriculum is where the parents, the family and the community are far more important than the teachers. Here is an example.
Little Willie spends the year answering questions such as as: Choose the healthiest food a) Karat, b) Donut, c) Rice, d) Soda, or e) Bowl Ramen. Willie usually gets above 90% on these sorts of questions. Likewise Little Willie can memorize lists and reproduce them as lists of junk foods; local/healthy foods; vitamins and minerals; carbohydrates and fats and on and on. Little Willies does this memorizing and listing very well and again gets above 90%. So when Little Willies receives an A on his report card his parents are very proud. But what if Little Willie has a donut, some rice, a bowl of ramen and a grape soda every day for breakfast? Good habits must be taught and practiced in the home, with family and in the community and reinforced in the schools.
It is so gratifying to see real changes. The work done by our friends at the Island Food Community of Pohnpei first in Mand and then all around Pohnpei can be seen. The terrific research by the late Dr. Lois Englberger on the health values of local foods is recognized world-wide. But when we began to see church groups, community groups, schools and government offices say— "Let's have some bananas instead of donuts; some water instead of soda— local rather than imported"—we began making some progress with attitude change. You can see that Little Willie's A in health is not too important until his knowledge is reinforced and carried out at home and in his community. Good grades at school mean nothing without community support.
All of us expect teachers teaching and students to be learning good habits, attitudes, beliefs and values in our schools. Here we usually add Pohnpeian/ Micronesian to each of these. At the most recent Micronesian Teacher Education Conference a traditional leader brought up Pohnpeian values. For fifteen (15) minutes teachers, administrators, and community participants added to the importance of values. With all heads nodding there was no doubt everyone there wanted Pohnpeian values in the school curriculum. Readers are probably nodding too. That is fine but do be prepared for homework in the future when you are asked to define Pohnpeian values. There is very difficult homework ahead about making decision in a changing cultural environment. Remember we cannot stop change, we can only learn to manage it. It is our children who will be making decisions. These will be wise decisions—if we guide them today.