Location: Texas, United States

I am a teacher with 33 years experience in public education. The purpose of this web log is to critically examine the present state of education in our great country and, particularly, in Texas.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Thoughts on a visit to a school

Depth – that’s what’s missing. The teacher passes out two separate sheets of paper. There is a story on each sheet. Literature reduced to a paragraph. Hemingway reduced to an afterthought. There are about 150 words in each. Depth – where is it?
You are supposed to read each of the small stories. Then the kids write another paragraph describing the similarities between them. Less than 100 words. Time to completion was less than 10 minutes out of 50 for most of them.

That was all they had to do. That was all. After they were finished they, started talking quietly. Comparing hair, styles, counting the birthday money pinned to the front of the shirt, talking about the last fight they saw. It was just 50 minutes out of their lives. Then multiplied by 6 periods. Then multiply the time by 180 days. So, they may have actually been thinking 10 minutes on average. 50 minutes a week. 200 minutes a month. 2400 minutes a school year. That would be 40 hours. 5 days of 8 hour days. Nothing.

The kids are not motivated. There is nothing to be motivated about in this setting. There is no wonder why kids see no relevance in school. There is no discussion, no thinking, no extension, no controversy and nothing to get excited about.

Somewhere there are kids reading real literature. They are having discussions, no, arguments about what the words say. They are chewing at the meaning. The teacher is challenging them to think, provoking them to question. Not here.

A small group of kids looks at a low rider magazine. Brightly colored red, blue, pastels, primary colors in bold stylish shapes hold their attention. I don’t blame them. At least what they are looking at has some color. Eye candy. Who can blame them. Why would they not want to read the magazine compared to the bloodless, correct little story. Why would they not want to read about something exciting?

No one grapples with this stuff. There are no questions. No curiosity. The kids have no reason to be interested. They should be developing projects. These kids should be grappling with the big ideas of literature. These kids should be finding the grand generalizations that drive literature. Striking language designed to make sparks is wanted. Brilliance is lost in so much trivia.

I despise being bored, forced to do meaningless things that have no point. How can I ask the kids to like what bores me. School, as we now do it, has become a pale, almost transparent thing. Weak like tea that has been diluted too much. No flavor. No caffeine. This is one-eighth coffee and seven-eighths skimmed milk or the juice off spoiled cottage cheese. They want to spit. I want to spit.

These kids are not learning because there is nothing here worth learning. They are not stupid. They sense that their time is being wasted. These are good kids with real brains. What is being lost here? Tragedy. Appalling tragedy.

I ask them to pass me the Truckin’ magazine.


Blogger EdWonk said...

Very nicely done. In this era of testing, literature is reduced to small chunks or passages because that is what is on the tests.

My junior high school used to be proud of the fact that "The Old Man And The Sea" was on the core reading list, as was Shakespeare's "MacBeth."

These two fine works of literature were the first two casualties when the testing craze hit our Disrict and State.

Parents protested. Letters were written to the board and the paper. All to no avail.

Testing is important. But how sad it is when a whole generation of kids is growing up without any knowledge of Shakespeare, Hemmingway, or Twain.

1:12 AM  
Blogger Lectrice said...

Well said. Over here in the UK, the literacy strategy frowns on reading whole texts, and the literary canon has become death by a thousand worksheet extracts.
It's a very slim diet for the most open minds we have.

5:35 AM  

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