Sunday, March 11, 2012

Teach your children well

Something is bothering me. I can't escape it. Everywhere I turn, the subject is brought in front of me.


Last Sunday, there was an episode of Shameless in which Fiona makes a deal with Lip.  If he stays in school, she will also go back to finish her high school diploma.  When she gets to school (with baby Liam in tow) it is suggested that she take the GED, at which point it will show that "you know almost everything a high school graduate does."  Tom opined that if Fiona passed the GED that she would know more than most high school graduates.

People are quick to place blame on teachers.  They call for performance reviews and the abolishment of the tenure system.  I  don't believe that bad teachers are any more rampant than they were a half-century ago when I was a school child.  They just have less raw material to work with.

But then there's "No Child Left Behind" which could have been named "Lowest Common Denominator".   Or perhaps "Must Issue Diploma No Matter What."

This was recently submitted to the payroll department by one of our younger employees.   This is a 2011 graduate of North Medford High School.

(Yes, he's trying to say that he took a half-hour rather than an hour lunch two days that week.)

I know some of the background of this boy. I know that he was in special classes with an I.E.P. and that he was credits short of "walking with his class". I know that he was playing computer games (I have to assume non-verbal ones) when he was supposed to be studying for summer school. I know that he passed a test to receive his diploma a few weeks late. Or rather I know that he didn't pass the test, then the teacher gave him the answers, and then he passed the test.  I am sympathetic to his mother who was thrilled that he was the first of her children to earn his high school diploma.

But he didn't earn that diploma, and this North Medford High teacher did a disservice to the young man who now has entered the work force. Every case like this cheapens the value of the diploma, turning it into a meaningless piece of paper.

Have you seen the movie Idiocracy?

No, I don't think that we are going to devolve quite into that.   I do believe that our society is morphing back into the rigid class-based society of earlier times.  The American middle class was created by our formerly great public school system.  As a mid-twentieth-century product of that system, I am sad to see both go.

Many of my friends and relatives have young or soon-to-be-born children.  It's a disconcerting thought that these children will just finishing their education and entering the work force at the end of my normal life-span.  What kind of society will they inherit?

I see one with even more boldly drawn lines between the "one-percenters" and everybody else.  And that line will be marked not just by wealth, but by education.  The two cannot be divorced.

I'm currently (re)-reading Great Expectations (#11 for the year).  I must have first read it when I was much too young to appreciate it.  It appears that I missed reporting on #10 The Help.   Both books deal with a societal class system: the first demarcated by wealth and education, the second by race.

Which brings me to one of the points that I wanted to make when I started out on this rambling rant: parents, please create readers of your children.  Read to them.  Read in front of them.  Keep books in the house and load up their electronic reader of choice with something other than games.  Read the classics.  If you need to, give them reading assignments for their summers (I admit to having done that to our children).

Take them places whenever you can.  We did quite a bit of camping and some travel when ours were young, but I wish we had done more.  Instill in them a thirst for knowledge and a vision of how large and varied and wonderful the world is. I know what the home life was like of the young man above as a child, and his parents bear more of the responsibility for his deficit than does the school.

Give the schools some raw material to work with.

I know that most of you are too young to receive the AARP Bulletin, but there is an editorial in the March edition that should be of general interest: "How About Some Adult Supervision".  It is available on-line so I have linked to it.  Suggested reading not just for parents, but for others of you in your 30's who believe that Social Security may not be around when you need it.

For those who believe in  private schools as an alternative to our failing public schools: I have seen the results of enough to know that they are not always so much better.  The same can be said for home-schooling. There are exceptions, but there is also the exception of those children who manage an excellent education through public schools.

Of course it goes without saying that the class system is in the best interests of some.

Enjoy Bill Maher's "New Rules" from Friday, March 9th.  Applicable part starts at about 03:26.


Carolyn's Mom said...

Well, we must have done something right when we raised you :-) Traveled as much as we had time (and $$ for)... and when were books not a part of our everyday lives. I agree wholeheartedly with your take on the current education system...and I heard the comment that "Sanctorem" made about college education. Unbelievable. That guy is scary!

C-Myste said...

Yes, I believe you did. That's probably why I attach so much importance to reading and to travel today.

We need Santorum supporters to also be convinced that voting is for the elite and beyond their reach.

starrynights said...

Great post! As the parent of a young child about to enter the public school system, I agree whole-heartedly with everything you said in this post. I myself am always reading a book. I grew up in a house where my mother was always reading something and my father, being a school teacher, was as well. Sometimes my father and I read the dictionary together just for kicks.

We read nightly to Isabel and more recently, she has started reading to us. Yes, my 5 year old will be reading before she starts kindergarten. Both my husband and I started reading as a young age and we expected nothing less of our own child.

I am afraid my expectations for Isabel's school are going to be far too great as I keep comparing it to the kind of school I grew up in. And we have considered private schools as well. But I think you have hit the nail on the head. It starts with the home life. I also believe your child's education is a direct result of how much effort you as a parent put into it.

Unknown said...

Obviously we're in the middle of it as well. This is our first year in the public school system, as Charlie was in a private Montessori in Alabama. It has been...pretty much what I expected, which is neither awesome nor bad. The thing I like about this school is that they practice "flooding" where they will move kids up or down based on ability level in reading and math. So for 1 hour per day for each subject, the kids switch classrooms to be with other kids at their level. That is a big benefit for our 7 year old that reads at an 8th grade level, she is still with other 2nd graders but they push her more. And I imagine that likewise it would be a benefit for those kids that need extra help as well.

We looked at private schools and may consider it still in the future (the local middle school is...not great). But you're right that home life and also IMO, friends are really the deciding factors. I'm totally guilty of trying to steer Charlie towards what I consider to be "healthy" friendships. Not that I would ever ban her from seeing anyone or anything like that's more like gentle nudging. I know that she will get lots of books, lots of travel, and lots of exposure to the arts etc from home...but I want to try to encourage the kinds of friendships that will support those types of things and not tear them down.

Jeri said...

"Unknown" is me, by the way. (Jeri)

Builder Mama said...

It is so scary. Right now, I'm at a crossroads - I've decided to go back to get another degree and one of my options is getting my teaching certification.

Not so sure I want to do that, given the current state of the educational system.

You're not only battling policies, you're battling countless other issues. I have friends who are teachers and sometimes it makes me want to cry at how disheartened they become at times. I have one friend - who was an outstanding teacher - who moved to Portland, OR two years ago and has been struggling to get her teaching license. The hoops they've made her jump through, only to come up with one excuse after another why she can't get a license, has made her question whether she wants to teach there at all. And it's a shame, because she is a fantastic teacher.

If you haven't watched the documentary "Waiting for Superman", it's a must-see. Just prepare yourself to cry at the end at how hopeless it is for some children to get the education they desperately want and need.


Mandy said...

It's true that a GED probably means more than graduating high school these days...of course this from someone who didn't graduate (or even attend most of her sophomore year) but got perfect scores on her GED...and has a professional sounding job (insurance underwriter). Luckily most employers don't put a lot of weight on the diploma once you have real life experience. Of course I'm the result of the above parents who encouraged reading and travel. I was reading Black Beauty and Heidi at age 6, though much of our travel included sitting in the car while my parents worked (!), I still got to see a lot of things. That drive and hunger are still there as I average 3 books a week and am still floating from all the new things I was able to see in New York. As a side note, the dog shows are more important because of the things on the side (thinking of my Houston, Pennsylvania and Alaska trips, plus the drive back from Michigan).

C-Myste said...

I still remember my grandma having a fit when I let you read "Clan of the Cave Bear" at 9, LOL.

Sorry about the sitting-in-the-car part, but at least we also had the excuse to go to Hawaii when we had the Hilo Hattie's contract.

I think that the best part of dog shows is the excuse to travel to new places and meet new people.

ronstew said...

You know what I want in my students? Curiosity. Most of my private high school students are from China where curiosity seems to be discouraged. Critical thinking certainly is discouraged there. At least they have a work ethic when you specifically lay out what you want them to do.

My friends in the Canadian public system tell me that parents have not instilled any kind of work ethic, but have been very good at nurturing a sense of entitlement.

Maher has something wrong. Adam and Eve ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, not the Tree of Knowledge in General. (The correct theological question is why God punished people who didn't know right from wrong.) Beyond that I didn't note anything to argue about with him.

C-Myste said...

And curiosity is what seems to be lacking in many of the younger people I deal with. Could it be that if learning is not encouraged at an early age, that it never develops? It seems reasonable to infer that. So when one is dealing with young employees with both no work ethic as well as no curiosity to learn . . .

Remembering back to my Sunday School days, we were just told "Tree of Knowledge". Even then I pondered why it was such a bad fruit to eat. Yes, there are deeper theological questions, though I doubt those without both curiosity and work ethic would care to tackle them.