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.


Blogger Polski3 said...

Good informative post about reality and schools. Years ago, when I taught on the Navajo Nation, I had many kids showing up to school on a semi-regular basis. One winter, one of my students was showing up to school with only a long sleeve shirt, no jacket with temperatures in the 40'F range. After observing this pattern for several days, I quietly asked him if he had a jacket. He silently shook his head, NO. I asked him if he wanted a jacket, that I had one I no longer needed. He nodded Yes. I told him to stop by my classroom for a minute after school. At lunch, I dug out my old lettermans jacket that no longer fit (no one told us we might keep growing after high school...), removed my h.s. letter and when Gerald stopped by after school, I gave him this jacket. It was a tight fit on him, but he wore it until he disappeared from our school. (kids disappearing in the middle of the school year was not too unusual at this very rural, isolated school near Four Corners.)

7:39 PM  
Blogger EdWonk said...

Hope to see a new post soon. :)

12:49 AM  
Blogger James said...

Hi John!

I'm currently researching why people blog about their work - either openly or anonymously, and would like you to complete a quick questionnaire on this subject.

It can be found at:

If you visit my blog you will see some of research findings so far. I have also got links to over 150 work-related blogs on my site and currently you are one of them.

Please let me know if you object to this in anyway.

Thanks for your time and I look forward any response.


10:33 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home