A Teachers Viewpoint

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.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Reflections on the note to public schools

I sincerely want to thank the folks who took the time to respond to my post from April 5, 2005. All of your points were well taken. I also appreciate the observation about my spelling. I am an educator. As such, I should be more careful when posting. I have no problem with that comment.

That post was composed and posted in a moment of anger. The post truly was a "stream of consciousness" piece. The provocation was the confluents of several events. I frequently just float aimlessly around the internet to see what may be written about education. While doing my nightly wandering, I discovered the Time piece on homeschooling. The quote I added to my post was the one that drove me over the edge last evening.

The premise of the quote is that parents have some sort of "social contract", for lack of a better term, that causes them to be bound to place their children in the public schools for the greater good of the social construct we call public school. That view is deeply repulsive to me.

I do not believe that the purpose of a child is to serve as fodder for any social institution. I believe the quote implies that parents who take thier children out of the public schools are somehow harming society or undermining the purposes of the state. I find that idea to be so alien to the idea of the rights of man that it must be answered - written 4 years ago or not. Yes, I knew when it was published.

Every parent in this country must understand that children in public schools are in a social laboratory. I do not mean to imply that there is some vast conspiracy to indoctrinate children to become automatons, slaves of the state or worse. But, I do mean to imply that the situation in many schools is negative. One of the things I love about the church I attend is the idea that everyone is welcome and received with open arms. I see skater kids, punk kids, goth kids and kids who fall into all the other types coming to church. No one harasses them. The idea is that we want to get them in the door of the church where they can meet the Lord first. Then as they mature in the Lord, the dress takes care of itself. I think the same thing should happen in schools.

My attitude as a teacher is - please - just let the kid get to my room. If I can get them to my room, I know that I can help them. I know that encouragement, excellent teaching and respect will take care of 99% of the troubles. The problem is that often the very first thing the kid hears as he or she enters the building is someone barking at them about the shirt tail, or the logo, or the number of buttons buttoned. A kid in a private school, most likely, understands some of the validity of dress codes. A kid walking in off the street most likely does not. I would ask why does the first thing a kid hears have to be "go to the office and get a detention". If there are no private parts hanging out why can't they be taught. After all that is what we do in schools. What would be so bad about just letting the little dude with the bad hair get past the guard and into my class where they will be taught. I will take care of instroducing enough cognitive dissonance to get them to correct at least some of their fashion habits. But, please, let them get to my room through the maze of teachers assigned to gum duty, potty duty (not letting them get to the restrooms before the appropriate time), dress code inspection duty, lanyard/ID duty, clear backpack duty and the other myriad kinds of inspections that we do.

There is always one in every crowd of kids. A boy came into a school with an untucked shirt, two separate kinds of shoes, unwashed, uncombed hair, the wrong color shirt, no belt and, frankly, he smelled. He was directed into the office where he was confronted by a teacher who asked him why he would come to school like that. Didn't he know any better? Didn't he have any pride? Wasn't he proud of his excellent school? Doesn't he know he will never be able to even get a job flipping burgers if he dresses like that? The kid expressed the opinion to the teacher asking these questions that she was a particular kind of bitch. He was ushered off into the assisstant principals area. There he met the building law officer who gave him a ticket. Because he was still a bit resistant he was arrested and taken off to juvie in handcuffs. When he had his court date a few more things came out. When he got home from school the previous day his mom was asleep in preparation for her evening shift. No food was prepared. There was no milk and cookies, not a crumb. There were no juicy leftovers from the night before because there was no meal the night before.

When the boys mom woke up she found him with his head in the icebox. So, logically enough, she slapped the crap out of him. Then she told him to get out of the house. About that time her first trick arrived for the evening. The boy sat by the steps crying as trick after trick when in and out of the house. After several hours the door was slammed shut and locked. The boy was locked out. He hid in the bushes beside his house out of fear. He did not sleep, bath, or have clean clothes for the morning. So, he came to school in what he had on his back. His ID was at home on his desk.

I just pray that he gets the right judge. Welcome to the wonderful world of the semi-urban public school. Try to help me understand why that child is going to do anything other than hold schools in contempt. Try to explain to me why an unsocialized child is not taught about why they need to dress correctly before they are shuffled into the school judiciary. And, miracle of miracle, just about every time I tried to rationally explain something to a kid it worked. Teaching works every time it is tried. Now try to explain to me how that child is going to get an education. Oh, I almost forgot the state test will take place in a couple of weeks. I am just sure that child is going to be ready to sit
for a test given over 5 days. Each session will be 8 hours during which the kid will be required to sit still and quiet for those 8 hours whether he is finished with the test in 1 hour or 8 hours. He will be told he can only read or sleep after the test. Oh, I forgot. He reads on the third grade level. So he is likely to just put his head down and sleep. Come to think of it the testing may be good for him - he will get some sleep. He has a lot of trouble sleeping in his home while his mother is turning tricks. Ah, a benefit of the testing. Because it lasts 5 days he may get 5 days of nearly 8 hours sleep while at school to learn. And, he will also have the luxury of one bathroom break in the morning and one in the afternoon.

I wonder what would have happened if he had just been allowed to go to class. I wonder what would have happened if someone had asked him about what had happened to him instead of having him arrested and taken out in handcuffs.

We teach children, not mature adults who are fully responsible for their views and habits. What happened to sitting down with a kid and teaching with love how to dress. What happened to taking the time to sit down with a kid to try to find out why things are like they are. Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot that the school has to appear hard and zero tolerant of shirt tails, t-shirt colors and saggy pants. Otherwise society would fall into chaos.

When I was a kid in junior high school, who had a few more social skills then kids today - not many but a few, people actually taught me why I needed to dress correctly. But, I will also never forget the time I was stood against the wall so my jeans could be measured for distance from the floor. I made the mistake of following my genetic code and growing 3 inches so my jeans were 2 1/2 inches above the tops of my shoes. I was told that my mother could come and get me or I could have a paddling (3 pops)for a dress code violation where I had a growth spurt and my pants were 2 1/2 inches above the tops of my tennis shoes. My mom was working to support our family of two after the death of my father. There was no way I would call her to come bring me other pants. I wouldn't have done that too her. So, it was across the desk for 3 of the best. When that was over I was put in a "bad kid" class for the rest of the day where I copied the dress code over and over for about 7 hours. If my mom had stayed up late the night before, she could have let out my pants. So, I got a bruised butt, 7 hours of alternative class and a lot of yelling from the power mad person in charge of being sure we got our copying done by yelling, more paddling and intimidation. Later I asked my mom to let my jeans out. She still does not know why I asked.

Sure, dropouts are just a mystery.

So, I have a modest proposal. Any parent has the right to take their child out of what has become a social engineering experiment. So, yes, I modestly propose that public schools quit whining. I propose that they make themselves full participants in the competitive society. They should compete for their clients in a free market where they would have to prove to the folks that they offered something of value.

I also know full well that there are beautiful and caring schools in the public system. I taught in one of them - well for the most part. But, I would invite anyone to go into a public school for a week. Wander around, listen to the kids in the hallway, walk into classrooms and really listen, really question. You will learn more in that week than you will learn in all the op ed pieces in the next few weeks.

Think nothing like this is possible in your school? Think your school is doing everything it can to help you kid? Think that your local school is just peachy? I would advise you to get into your childs school and dig deep.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

A note to public schools - quit whining!

I just finished reading a fine article on home schooling over at Time.. By in large, it is a fair and thoughtful article that considers many different aspects of the home school phenomenon. However, this quote just sent me over the wall.

"Home schooling is a social threat to public education," says Chris Lubienski, who teaches at Iowa State University's college of education. "It is taking some of the most affluent and articulate parents out of the system. These are the parents who know how to get things done with administrators."

My first gut reaction is a very loud - so what? Chris Lubienski misses the point entirely. The thing that parents care about is not public education as a social construct. They care about their living, breathing kids. And, a lot of them want to keep them that way.

Within the last couple of weeks we had the second most appalling school tragedy in recent years. Another needless school shooting took the life of innocent kids because an insane child snapped. The parents who have a brain in their heads will look at this senseless act and wonder if it can happen at their child's school. And, without too much trouble they arrive at the correct answer which would be yes. Only a profoundly disfunctional idealogue would have trouble understanding the desire to protects one's child. After all the school at Red Lake had metal detectors and a security guard. Neither of those protections did one bit of good. How can someone criticize a parent for not sending their child into what is essentially a war zone. Personally, I am amazed that anyone would go back to a school that had endured such a heartbreaking, profoundly stupid tragedy.

Then there is the general state of instruction in many schools. In many places education has been reduced to the least common denominator of items that may be found on the state test. The system as it stands now simply weeds out the more intelligent administrators because they are likely to question the methods of preparing kids for these high pressure assessments. In many cases the schools are left with people who either cannot think of a reason to question the testing orthodoxy or who do not have the mental horsepower to bring the system into question. Presently, there is a high school somewhere in these United States who daily prowls the hallways with a clipboard. On that clipboard is a form that lists all the possible infractions of dress code that might occur. The reason the form was created was to make it easier for the superintendent to write up kids for violations of the dress code. The checklist makes it so much easier - don't you see? This superintendent has vowed to fight the good fight against untucked shirts, and incorrect pant colors so that - yes, you guessed it - test scores will improve. Of course, all the kids see the stupidity of it. And, they become angry. So, angry that their motivation, morale and respect for the authorities is all but destroyed. Yes, it is actually happening. The story is true. Only the names and locations have been changed to protect the innocent. I cannot criticize the parents of an intelligent child who just throw up their hands at the absurdity of this fruit bat of a superintendent.

In another school somewhere in america a substitute was asked to conduct a class reading of a passage with the students. By the end of the day the sub was nearly ready to pull her hair out because of the kids who could not read written English --- in the eighth grade. In this particular school district the motto is "preparing the future". So little is taught in any school on any particular day that few children can keep from getting so bored they almost can't keep their heads up. And some of the teachers refer to these kids as being from the "shallow end of the gene pool" as they prepare more banal lessons. The really brilliant, idealistic, committed teachers in the building are trying to swim upstream against a current running like a tsunami.

Then there is the kid who I will call William. William can be found in the hallway sitting at a desk much of the time. He sits there because he misbehaves in class. He clowns, he fidgets, he plays, he puts his head down. So, some - mind you, some - of the teachers use the brilliant strategy of putting him in the hallway unsupervised. Some might say that the little wretch deserves it. But the fact is that there are one of two brilliant teachers who can get him to do anything. For those teachers he will actually do work, turn it in, listen, and work in a motivated fashion. Why - because those teachers treat him with the respect he deserves. Yes, they correct him. But, they do is like he is a beloved child. Some the other staff members just can't understand why he will not treat them with the same kind of respect. Oh, I forgot to mention that this kid has the original parents from hell. Both of them drink. Their whole approach to child rearing is to either completely ignore the kid or "beat his butt raw." This child puts the lie to genetic inheritance because he is bright. He also has a good heart. He also doesn't have a chance. But, he is disruptive. He is extremely difficult to handle. And, some other parents child will have to sit by him as he makes faces, crawls under his desk, makes faces at the teachers behind their backs, pulls hair, pushes, calls out and generally single-handedly destroys the learning environment.

Teacher turnover in most schools is unbelievable. There is no way to tell who any child will wind up with in any given year. Most schools just go ballistic if a parent has the audacity to ask if their child can be in the class of the only successful math teacher on the staff. Parents often hear something like no, your child can't be changed out of Mrs. Lizards class because if we changed her out we would have to change everyone out. The logical answer would be - so what? If the person is such a drooling stooge that no child should be in the class, why should any child be in the class. Then there is the teacher of my acquaintance who allowed a child to become ineligible because he had three zeros. The three zeros were for papers that the teacher claimed the child had not turned in. When someone went into the room when the teacher was not there and found the papers in the 4' high (measured) stack of ungraded papers, the principal signed off on the child so he could play his sport.

Why wouldn't a parent want a child to be a part of all this joy. In many places the process of public schooling has become a nightmare. In others it can be pure joy. But, taking all of the problems into account, there is no way on Earth that anyone can criticize any parent for taking their child to be nurtured and educated in their own home. In the face of the failure of public education to educate and protect your own child, social constructs crash and burn.