Friday, January 18, 2008

What's Wrong With Our Schools

Last night I finished grading exams. Sadly, one of the students who most needed to pass did not do so. There are several reasons why this occurred. As a student with learning issues, I did limit the number of potential answers for each question from five to three. I also provided all the classes with reviews and the answers to those reviews which went over all the material for the course. This student chose not to do the review and was really mad when I told her I had no more copies. I run off ten more copies of all papers than I have students. I have told them for awhile that when the papers are gone, they are gone. I gave her some options. She could get a copy of the review to copy in the library from another student. She could write down the words and go over them. Or she could have taken home a book and done her own review. She did none of these things. On top of that, she could have gotten ten extra credit points for a very small assignment that she had to get signed by her parents. She chose not to do that. She also simply did not do one entire part of the test, choosing instead to write notes to her friends. What could have been a marginally passing grade on the test of 72, instead was a 52. I am sure she will be upset, as will her parents, but for the wrong reason. The state of Texas gives few rights to teachers, but one of these is the sanctity of grades. Here is the dilemma. We have parents who have bought into the concept that if their children don't perform in class that it's not due to self-absorption or laziness, it's due to learning difficulties or the massively misapplied label of ADD. I have an ADD child so I know this exists in limited amounts. But there are far too many parents who would rather self diagnose and then get meds or a letter from their pediatrician that parents believe exonerates students from the full responsibility of the standard workload. That's a mistaken concept. Teachers do modify tests and assignments for these students, but the students STILL HAVE TO DO THE WORK. And that's a concept that too many parents and students do not get.

Below is a quote from a book I am reading by Dr. Maureen Stout. The title is The Feel-Good Curriculum:The Dumbing Down of American's Kids in the Name of Self-Esteem.

"...I started to remember other strange conversations with my colleagues. One of the more bizarre occurred at a faculty meeting at which we examined the results of a faculty survey on the purposes of public schooling. One faculty member responded that the schools should be like a womb for students. At first I thought his was a joke and, turning to my neighbor, was about to say what a good one that was when I stopped short. Rather than find this amusing, the group seemed to regard it as a profound statement regarding the public school, and all nodded grave agreement that schools should indeed be like a womb. You may well wonder what the meanst by that. Well, a womb is a warm, secure and insulated environment. The unborn child is protected and nourished until she is ready to face the world and, perhaps most important, no demands are made on her.
This is what professors of education believe school should be like: places in which children are insulated from the outside world and emotionally--not intellectually--nourished. We should expect nothing of them but give everything to them; they should be cared for, counseled, and analyze, and the whole school environment should center on their needs. Schools are no longer for learning essential skills or acquiring knowledge, but for cultivating what Daniel Goleman calls "emotional intelligence": the ability to get along with others, understand one's feelings and one's emotional hang-ups, and generally figure out how to deal with others effectively..."

First of all, the highlighted areas are my own, but I want to comments. Think how many K-3 schools refuse to use things such as rote learning or even numeric grades because of the fear of negative impact on students. Also, I want you to consider how many schools are actively controlling student activities such as meals. Think of how many schools will not allow peanut butter sandwiches for fear of a child having an allergic reaction. At some point, if this child NEVER has to account for what they put in their mouths, they will still have a reaction because they have never been taught NOT to eat the offending food. Instead other students have to do without to accommodate the needs of ONE STUDENT.

On a larger scale, how many programs within our schools are designed to conform to the needs of a few children over the needs of the majority of children? It's become a balancing act between parents who mean well, but who don't want to accept that their child isn't performing up to level, and administrators who fear parents' reactions when their child doesn't succeed. And while I can handle such issues in the classroom, more and more I am seeing kids who are not just tuned into their IPODS and computers all the time, but students who cannnot and will not read. I am going to make a prediction here.

My Prediction: Reading will become such a rarefied skill, that in many cases reading and writing will be given over to specialized technicians who are capable of these skills. Furthermore, the lack of true literacy will re-stratify the nature of our culture with those who are literate controlling the future and the fate of those who are not.

This is why it is very important to look at candidates for more than their views on the war or their political views. Anyone who accepts the concept of "it takes a village to raise a child" is also espousing the views of a nanny state mentality that wants to promote literacy only within those groups that support them. The idea is not to promote education, the idea is to usurp power.
Vote carefully.
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