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.