Usually you will find me discussing
Politics. Tea Party, Rick Perry, etc. But I thought today I would branch out a bit. You know; expand my horizons. After all, I have enough anger to spread way beyond the thieving politicians in this country. So I would like to discuss a problem that isn’t a new one but it is one that has never been confronted in a responsible manner. Our schools. I also suspect that like most public problems and issues; behind it we will unfortunately encounter a veritable cornucopia of thieving politicians. I’m going to begin by telling you the problems that I have encountered in my dealings with the public school system in my home; Harford County, Maryland.
Once upon a time there was a man who had two daughters,
and like most other fathers, these two daughters were the center of his world.
When the time came for the first girl to begin school Dad had already…………..
……………..taught her to read. She began Kindergarten with an excellent teacher who gave her students individual attention and encouraged parents to be involved by writing responses to the daily journal entries the children made.
When first grade came she also had a very good teacher. This child was popular and a friend to everyone. She loved school and loved to learn.
Then we moved.
Second grade started at a new school. She did fine for the first month or so. Her teacher was a lady in her sixties. She was very strict but other than that she seemed fine……….at first. After a while our daughter began getting in some trouble in class for things she had never done before. Talking too much mostly and then the day came when she came home with a referral for cheating. She and another girl were apparently sharing the spelling of a word. Now I had always taught her that she should look up the spelling of any word she didn’t know. She did. And her neighbor did as well. They didn’t seem to understand that it wasn’t appropriate to look up a word during a spelling test. They both expressed that they were only doing as they had been taught at home, even though questioned separately at the time of the incident (a questioning that began to take on the mood of a Gestapo interrogation rather than a second grade spelling test inquiry). After the intervention of the parents and the involvement of the school principal, the girls were not punished but were strongly warned and the parents had to explain the totally new concept of cheating as it applies to school tests.
Soon after this my daughter stopped wanting to go to school. She complained that her stomach hurt. Day after day this went on and on. The short story is that the teacher a Mrs. Pumpfrey had been screaming at the children daily. Not just my daughter and the other “cheater” but other children as well. And when I say screaming; I mean full raging screeching; up close and in their faces. The next morning, I arrived to speak with the Principal. I asked to have my daughter switched to another class. He was, shall we say, RESISTANT to the idea. He just couldn’t believe that Mrs. Pumpfrey who had been teaching for twenty-seven years would act in such a manner but he would look into my complaint. (I myself did not find it surprising at all that twenty-seven years of teaching second graders would cause the kind of mental breakdown symptoms she was exhibiting. I mean; come on; it has to be difficult after a time.)
Day Two- I arrive at school at 8am. I am sitting outside of the principle’s door. After about an hour, he comes out and “agrees to speak with me”. He has done some covert surveillance and hasn’t encountered any problems. Would have heard screaming etc, etc, etc. But other parents have complained and he will be taking an even closer look than the one he got sneaking around the halls of the school.
Day Three- I arrive at school at 8am. Again I am made to wait as the Principal is too busy to discuss possible abuse by one of his teachers. After about an hour, again, he “agrees to speak with me” (a term that never fails to amuse me because by that time his failure to meet with me and concede to my wishes would have brought me to the press and the door of the school daily even if I had to do it alone). Anyway, only after I promised him a morning greeting as he entered the school every day etc. he finally agreed to change my daughter’s class. At the time, I admit, I never considered pressing the issue past my own needs and considering the fate of the kids we left behind under that teacher’s supervision and that has bothered my conscience frequently. I later heard, although I have not been able to confirm that Mrs. Pumpfrey finally “Retired” after she physically attacked a boy. Perhaps. I do know that she retired a year or two after my altercation with her. I know a lot of people will poo, poo when you complain about the treatment your kids get from their teachers. But the truth is; these kinds of things aren’t all that common. If you think your child is being abused by a teacher or administrator, nobody is going to come to your rescue. The School System is designed to protect teachers. They have to commit a demonstrable crime to be in danger of dismissal. Anything less than ironclad proof and the administrators and other teachers and the building itself are trained to form a circle like a pack of dogs and fend off even the suggestion of wrongdoing. You will need to muster your forces. Involve your family, friends, and the press if possible. Anyone who might be able to help you embarrass and pressure them into doing what you know is good for your child. Get loud and if you need to, acts of civil disobedience often attract the TV stations. Don’t stop until your needs are met. They will resist. They will rationalize. They will threaten. Don’t listen to them. They work for you. You pay them with your taxes and if you don’t make enough to pay taxes; you pay them with your blood, sweat and tears every time you march off to your boring, mind numbing corporate job or are forced to sit and stare at the walls because all the jobs have gone to India .If you let them tell you what to do and how big problems will be handled, your child will be traumatized and jaded for the rest of their life. My daughter never regained her enthusiasm for school or her trust of authority figures, especially teachers. Her school experience deteriorated until when she was in eleventh grade, she quit school. She tested for her GED and received the highest test scores ever achieved in this state. I’m not saying that Mrs. Pumpfrey is entirely responsible but she certainly was at the top of a slippery slope and I encourage you to prevent this from happening to your happy, friendly, bright, enthusiastic student no matter the trouble it brings.
When my second daughter began school, it was a whole different thing. She wouldn’t allow me to help her learn to read before she started school saying, “That’s what I have a teacher for.” And that remained her story after she started. After two weeks she was disappointed that her teacher hadn’t taught her to read yet. When they did begin to learn to read, she was frustrated because even though she wanted with all her heart to read like her sister did, she was having trouble learning. They told us lots of things. It will get better on its own. We really can’t test for ADD until she is eight or nine (I think). We knew she was smart. She used to memorize whole children’s books word for word. They gave her some reading help and on we went. She was finally diagnosed with ADD in ninth grade. She was started on medication. Her grades picked up and her work was much more focused. But she had learned how to read well before this. She did it mostly on her own. She never gave up. She never stopped reading. Now she is seventeen and reads very well. My pride knows no bounds. But I think often how much easier it would have been for her if the schools had paid attention when we asked for help and asked if she could have a learning disability. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that-La-de-da-de-da. She’ll do just fine as soon as she stops buzzing around the ceiling.”
The County school system has been a thorn in my side since the beginning of time. Yes, since the beginning of time. When my eldest was in eleventh grade she was forced to miss a lot of school due to mine and my wife’s illness. Even though she was able to pass all of her final exams with A’s the school denied her the credits due to excessive absence.
Well that should be enough to get started. Over the years, I have encountered many strange things in the schools. I was surprised when they told me that it wasn’t important for my children to spell correctly. They were using a new system called stretch spelling. In this system the children are allowed to spell words anyway they want. I said “So like “fish” h-o-r-s-e?” They found me less than amusing as did I they. I’m not sure how much longer this stretch spelling system took to teach my children to spell but I…What!……d-o-g Honey. Yeh d-o-g, “barn”. Anyway, I guess we’ll never know.
One day, my youngest, as if she wasn’t having enough difficulty, came home and showed me her homework. “We have to estimate the answers to these problems” she said. I looked at the problems. “Ok” I said, let’s see. 101 + 219 =____. That’s 320. “No Dad we aren’t supposed to get the answer we are supposed to estimate the answer”. But I know the right answer. “No” We estimate. 101 is close to 110 and 219 is close to230 so I estimate the answer to be 240. “But it isn’t” said I. Now I had as a child been taught to round numbers up or down to the nearest ten or hundred or five or whatever marker you choose. And knowing that it was only natural to apply that to the process of what we called an “Educated Guess” An Estimate; as close as we could get it but not reliable for the purpose of construction or accuracy calculations. Close enough to give you the size of the blank you will need but not accurate enough to allow you to pre-cut the blank offsite. But never in my school years was I instructed to purposely attempt to achieve a wrong answer to a problem with an easily found correct answer. You may find the difference subtle but I think it is significant. They call this procedure “Estimation”. But I maintain that you don’t teach a child to estimate by forcing him to be inaccurate. You teach a child to estimate by teaching them to round off correctly and allowing them to use that skill to make their best guess at an unknown quantity given incomplete information. Then you see how close they came to the accurate answer and try to help them to practice this until they are within a certain range of the answer. Estimation is as much an art as a science. Using your practiced judgment to assess a problem or a measurement or angle etc. Through use you acquire the ability to estimate. You can’t teach it in a classroom beyond the simple mechanics of the math. You teach it by attempting accuracy; not by planning inaccuracy.
Now it could just be me but I thought the purpose of children going to school was so that they can learn the correct way to spell, solve math problems and understand history so as to avoid repeating it.
I am no closer to believing that stretch spelling is a valid teaching method today than I was ten or fifteen years ago. The school systems of this country have fallen into the same trap as the rest of our government. And make no mistake, they are part of the government and what they teach your children is controlled by the government as well.
Even though we have discovered that most of the History we were taught as children was false. That the one thing we as a people seem to be unable to do is admit that we have done much wrong in this world. We have weaved an elaborate web of lies to deceive the world and our own citizens into believing we are noble and altruistic. This view of the world is a major cause of the “Arrogant American” reputation that we have earned around the world. Come on. So many countries hate us, even those we are partnered with. How can we continue to lie to ourselves? Why aren’t we teaching our children the truth? Why don’t we just tell them that the reason for the gulf war was oil, not freedom for anyone (unless you mean freedom for the oil companies to plunder and rape the people of the world by controlling the oil supply). Why don’t we just say to our students? “The reason we send foreign aid to Jordan isn’t that they need help to feed their people. We send aid (Money) to them to pay them off for not attacking Israel.” Why do we care if they attack Israel? Because Israel is alone in the region. They need the support of the US to help protect them from all of the nations surrounding them who would be happy to see their demise. And by supporting a country such as Israel who has no one else to turn to, we assure our continued influence and presence in the area. There, that wasn’t so hard. If we don’t want to have to admit that kind of thing to our children, then we should stop doing that kind of thing. Let’s try one more. The reason we helped depose Kadaffi wasn’t that he was a despot. It wasn’t that he killed and tortured his own people. We don’t care about that sort of thing. But as soon as a viable replacement was found for the Kadaffi regime, suddenly we want freedom for these poor Libyans. Also the new Government is expected to be much more co-operative with the Big Oil than Kadaffi was. Their problem with Kadaffi wasn’t that he was a Dictator and his people weren’t free. Our problem was that he refused to be our dictator and co-operate in our interests. He may not have been a nice fellow but he did take a stand for the Arabs and against the US Corporate interests. His present condition is testimony to that because without the help of NATO, Libya would still be Kadaffiland.
I for one don’t want my children lied to by a school system that teaches the Party Line. I want my kids and yours to be able to make judgments based on the truth however ugly it may be. I don’t want my kids to grow up believing that because they are American, they know what’s best for the world. I want them to know that the government doesn’t make decisions based on what’s best for the world but based on what’s good for American corporate greed.
Our school system is so far from performing its function of teaching our kids what they need to know to live and behave as human beings. It is a sad expression of our political system’s propaganda machine rather than basis for life. What this country needs is not a new politician to act as the figurehead for the Corporations as recent Presidents have done and are doing. What this country needs and our education system is a prime evidence of this, is a true Renaissance. A complete renovation of our government, education system, arts availability and encouragement, music acceptance and encouragement, and social behavior. We need to change the way we approach and relate to other nations and races. It’s not enough to say we believe in equality of men we must live that as a nation. If we truly believe in something we teach it to our children. I know you might say that we do teach values and equality in our schools. But the truth is that what we really do is we talk about these things in our schools. There is no reasoned attempt to teach any of the values we claim to espouse. We talk about fairness and justice but we provide examples of favoritism and corruption every day. From high school discipline that is based on the value of its football players to Coaches buying prostitutes for college players. From bullying that is ignored by school administrators to the shuffling along students who come to school expecting an education instead of an obstacle course of planned career courses and cooking classes that are nothing more than coffee clutches with class made pancakes or pastries.
If we tell our children that democracy is the best system and then we send them to spend 12 -18 years in an institution that is authoritarian and didactic to its core, what system will they learn?
If we develop new technologies, sell them to our children and allow them to become proficient even expert in their use; aren’t we shortchanging them if we fail to recognize the changes in the way these children learn because of that expertise. If we continue to send them to schools run the same way that they were prior to the advent of those technologies all we are doing is frustrating our kids and wasting our tech advances. Our teachers claim they aren’t paid enough. Our schools want more money. But our children are telling us that the schools don’t work. My children aren’t interested in the Standard story of how America conquered the west. They already know that we were just a bunch of murdering marauders bent on wealth and conquest. They would like to discuss the truth of our history. We can’t hide it anymore. The internet, smart phones, laptops and Wi-Fi have all added to the amount of information and therefore truth available to these kids. They have developed a shortened attention span due to the rapid fire nature of the information they receive and process and the concise manner of its presentation. As a result, they are no longer able to sit for lengthy lectures and reading assignments. They can’t use someone who speaks to them. They require someone who will discuss and explore with them. Someone as fascinated by the journey as with the lesson learned. No person child or adult will settle for what is written in a static document like a book when they can access a continuously updated stream of information or even a blog where they can ask questions and give opinions. Why would a student want to sit in an overheated classroom and listen to an un-inspired teacher try to impart information to a group of uninterested students even if they themselves were interested in the subject. Students want real education. They want to hear the truth but more than that they want to explore the reasons behind the truth. They can accept that Daniel Boone wasn’t a clean-cut American hero of elevated virtues. They want to understand what made him an alcoholic murderer of Native Americans and why he has been held up as an example to children down through the years. They want the truth and they want it now. They want to understand the real mistakes of history so as to avoid them in future. They aren’t satisfied with fairytales and legends anymore. Hiding the truth of our history and our nature was easy before the information explosion that accompanied the computer age but the facts are out now for everyone to see. The longer we cling to our old educational model, the less credibility we will have with the generation in school now and those that will follow.
It would be difficult to understand this reluctance on the part of the system and the government to changes that would so clearly benefit our students if we lived in a democracy. I mean how many things would be different in this country if it were a real democracy? The fact that we are a nation such as we are tells us that we are no nearer to democracy than we are to National Health Care.
Keeping our children in the dark about the kind of people we are, allowing ne’ encouraging them, them to believe that our nation was founded by a group of noble freedom seekers and defenders of the people, that our heroes were virtuous and brave men fighting for a belief in an ideal. All of this has helped the government to hide their intensions and motivations, their deceptions and personal vendettas. And today they still act as if no one knows. But we should, must know better. We must give our children the truth, the reasons for it, allow them to find alternatives that are in harmony with the philosophy we wish to embrace and then help them to make the changes that would be a natural result of such contemplations and the attending revelations.
Our school systems should be a place where our children are taught the basic skills. Reading, Writing, Arithmetic. Then they should be exposed to art both in the creative mode and the historical. But instead of asking them to read lengthy chapters in an art history text book and study a selected group of works preselected by a teacher or school system, they should be able to browse art sites and find works of art that inspire them. The teacher should be prepared to discuss with them the value of the work or be prepared to find related works or artists that might also interest the student. Schools or Periods would still be respected but the student would be required to choose the individual works from the period. Also if a teacher has pre-chosen works that he/she feels are important for an understanding of the period, they could be included but perhaps related to works chosen by the student so comparisons can be made and contrasts recognized. The effects of both on the culture and politics, the social structure or how each represents themes popular at the time. Or whatever other topics related to art may be appropriate. But students should have a voice in how these classes are structured and what the goals should be. The carved in stone curriculums of the past and present are not working for many students now and there is no reason to think that will improve in future if we don’t begin to listen to the students themselves. More than ever these kids need guidance and expertise, not pouring and molding. This is true of all subjects. I have used Art because it seemed an easy to demonstrate example. Students want to learn and many are acutely aware of how they learn best and how their school refuses to allow them to learn in a way that works for them. This idea will certainly ruffle the feathers of many educators at all levels of the system. Their pride will be hurt. They will feel threatened. And they should feel threatened. Any teacher not able to make the needed adjustments to their teaching methods and style should be asked to move along because we can’t use educators that are un-able to relate to our children in a meaningful and helpful way.
This brings us to the practice of granting tenure to teachers who have worked for X number of years without doing anything to get fired. They don’t have to be good teachers just savvy enough to keep their head down and avoid getting arrested for major crimes. Once a teacher has reached this tenured status, he/she are welcomed into the co-operative protective order of the school. Now you can do pretty much anything you want. Come in late, fail to teach or attempt to teach and your job is secure. Yell at students, punish them for no reason, lie cheat, fail them if you want to even if they don’t deserve it. Your job is secure. You can’t be fired. You have Tenure. This is the most ridiculous thing. Teachers; the people we allow unfettered access to the minds and futures of our most precious possessions don’t have to be capable just careful, they don’t have to be passionate. They can actually care not at all and they will still be protected. This system of tenure needs to end. More than most, teachers should be held to high standards of ability. They should display a passion for teaching and a love of children. They should be people who choose teaching as their first choice. Second choosers should be watched carefully until they come into their own. This will require a total refurbishing of the university teaching programs as well. Renaissance. It’s a big word.
There is nothing that should be allowed to interfere with the education of our children. Whose idea was Tenure anyway? And who did they have to convince of the advisability of this farce. Who designed the method we use to teach Reading? It’s time that the students who must learn by the system have a say in how that system will teach them. You want to bet it won’t be stretch spelling they choose? I have often thought that the methods and procedures that have been used in our schools for so long were designed to make learning as difficult as possible for children and as easy as possible for the educators. The time for change is upon us. Not just in education but definitely in education. If we want the best for our kids, for ourselves and for all Americans then we must become part of the process of change. The OWS protests are a beginning of that process. But we will go on as a result of those protests to address other areas of the society beyond just the financial system. When the time comes to discuss changing the schools, the students must be the ones to lead the way. Let’s make learning easy and failure hard.