All the Children Left Behind: Why I Lost Faith in Our Public Education System After Just Three Years

sad graduate

When I graduated college with a Bachelor in Science and Education, emphasis in Family and Consumer Sciences, I imagine my thinking was the same as most education graduates and it went something like this:

I’ll never be rich; the paperwork will bury me; people won’t take my subject area seriously, since it’s not science or math… but I’ll make a difference.

Like a disappointingly high number of ed grads, however, I was already aware that my future in traditional public secondary education would be short-lived. During my student teaching, my lunch breaks were spent chatting up the school librarian and filling out my graduate school application. At the time, I’d hoped to teach FACS (formerly Home Economics) for a couple of years, while working on my Master in Library and Information Studies. Then I graduated… and didn’t get a job.

Feeling defeated, I entered the MLIS program, took a steady evening job cleaning weight equipment at the local community center, and signed up to substitute teach. I threw myself into school and work in a desperate attempt to support myself and ignore my crumbling Lifetime Original Movie marriage. Graduate school was going well, the community center had brought me The Guys, substituting allowed me to choose when I worked and when I wanted to lay in bed hung over, weeping about how this wasn’t what I’d had planned. It was a rough semester. The following summer, I likely would have been offered a teaching job, had I not canceled the interviews for my current position in a library. It was at that time that I realized something. I didn’t want to teach. Substituting has its downsides and it’s not the kids. I’m at the mercy of every teacher I cover and if they can’t handle their classes, I sure as hell can’t. There’s not always work and I have to be careful to plan financially for Christmas, spring, and summer breaks. There are no medical benefits and I sometimes have to teleport from the high school to the library. It’s tough… but it beats teaching, because I have completely lost faith in the Lord of the Flies experiment that is public education…. and here’s why:

College Bound Curriculum for Everyone

climb this tree

Make no mistake as to my feelings toward Family and Consumer Sciences. I still strongly believe in the life skills that courses such as Parent and Child Development, Personal Finance, and Nutrition instill in our students, when properly taught. One of the main reasons I decided not to teach, however, is because oftentimes, the administration disagrees. As far as most principals are concerned, I’d just be there to break up the day with a little cooking and sewing. I’m nowhere near as important as the people teaching Calculus and Shakespeare.

Why is that, when the percentage of high school graduates in this country is 85.4%, however only 28.2% of adults have bachelor’s degrees?* Associate’s degrees naturally fall in between at 41.1%.* That’s less than half of this country that’s even putting all of that Calculus and Shakespeare to good use. I was one of the 10% who actually graduated from a four-year college four years after high school. How much do I rock? None. I rock none, because I made my life choices and other people made theirs. Or at the very least, I rock no more than the man who dreamt of being an HVAC guy and made it happen. There is nothing wrong with choosing not to go to college and, in fact, many professions that require no college degree pay far more than mine ever will. My brother is a contracted electrician making six figures. I will never make six figures.

My state actually has a great Career Tech program with tons of financial support… and we still act like it’s for the kids who couldn’t make it through Algebra II. That’s not fair. I’m pretty sure I’d suck as a mechanic, because this conversation has happened more times than I can count:

Jay: “What kind of car was it?”
Me: “Red.”
Jay “You don’t know what make it was?”
Me: “It was really low to the ground.”

I know shit about cars and they bore me. I do write a mean paper on the information seeking behavior of young adults, though. Everybody has their skills and our education system not only pushes its students in one direction, but stigmatizes the other. A professor once brought up a great point when the idea of a “career path” and “college path” curriculum was suggested. “Ask a high school freshman if they’re going to college. Now ask their parents. What percentage said yes and what percentage actually do it?” That shouldn’t be the case. We tell our kids they can be anything they want to be, except a mail carrier or a plumber or a hairstylist, none of which require a degree from a traditional university. Then we send them to public school with kids from all walks of life, going in all different directions and still we tell them they have to be nurses or teachers rather than welders. We push the full 100% toward college when only a quarter of them will get any real advantage from this direction. I’ve heard the argument that there’s something to be said for a well-rounded education, but our high school seniors who want to be plumbers? They aren’t likely paying attention to Hamlet and we shouldn’t expect them to do so, just as Jay shouldn’t expect me to pay attention to his damned Chevy spiel. We have eight to nine years before high school to give them the well-rounded material.

So, perhaps these classes that break up the day with practical lessons, such as managing finances, job orientation skills, public speaking, healthy sexual choices, and basic nutrition are the only classes that truly are pertinent to all students. Additionally, maybe our administrators should stop being such snobs about the idea of accrediting students with technical certificates, when the well-being of said students is supposed to be our focus. We want productive members of society and not all of them need to be able to write a bitchin’ research paper or wow people at a cocktail party, even if the guys making the decisions on education reform can.

Blow Off Classes

sleeping in class
We place such high emphasis on college-bound curriculum, that our kids don’t take any other curriculum seriously. When they do take practical courses, such as Healthy Life Skills or First Aid, they blow it off… because we let them. Blow off classes shouldn’t even exist. If the course is Communications, students should be learning public speaking and interview skills. They should be practicing to become sociable and charismatic individuals, taking part in service activities, writing papers or doing presentations on leadership, learning to have an educated debate without getting upset. That First Aid class should actually leave them certified in First Aid. These courses should be just as difficult as an English course, because the skills learned are equally important and even more so if these students aren’t planning on going to college.

My high school FACS teacher once told me that a student’s mother called her, angry that her child had a B in the class. “This really is the kind of course where everyone should have an A.” Why does she think that? Is it because finances are so easy or because child psychology is so easy? Perhaps it’s because nutrition is so easy. Tell me, how many calories per gram are there in alcohol? Carbohydrates? How many Americans are in debt, abuse their kids, or are overweight? Clearly it’s not that rudimentary. If these course are taught properly, they can be quite challenging and quite useful; if only everyone would stop expecting them to be easy and passing that assumption onto their children.

Parents

crazy parent

Why in the hell would you ask your child’s teacher why they were daring to challenge their students? I understand if there’s a concern that the work is more difficult than it should be at the assigned level. For example, if my child were in a Physical Science class that expected advanced Chemistry skills, fine. We’ll have a sit-down and maybe this isn’t the course for them. However, my high school Psychology and Sociology teacher rarely handed out A’s, and I will totally brag that I got two. This was an elective, which is often, by definition, a blow off class. I had more homework in this teacher’s Psychology and Sociology courses than I did in my AP classes. He had high expectations and he got great results. He also got in trouble for mouthing off to parents.

Why would a parent make excuses for their child? What benefit could there be in doing so? Why do we allow it? I know that these parents pay the taxes that fund the schools, but they’re doing so with the end result of lazy and ineffectual members of society. You give an inch and they take a mile. If you allow the parent to talk the child’s way out of detention or a low grade once, they’ll do it an eleventh time. Yes, teachers should be held accountable, but we’ve gone too far. Where’s the accountability for the parents and students? What option do we have? We can expel the offenders. I’m not suggesting expulsion for being tardy for class, but if the parents and students refuse to adhere to the rules and punishments for doing so, fine. Kick them out for the remainder of the school year. The parents can have a grand ol’ time finding them a new educational environment. We do have a right to a free education in this country and that’s wonderful. Why does that education have to take place alongside the kids who do respect the rules and consequences for breaking them? Free internet access is available in 98.9% of public libraries and k-12 education is now offered online. If that sounds like a pain in the ass to pursue, then pick your kid up from detention or make sure they follow the rules.

Mine is a secondary education standpoint and I know there are other issues in early childhood, like parents getting angry that their kids have homework. A common question: “I’m paying you to teach them. Why do I have to help them with their homework?” Because you brought them into the world. That’s why. Perhaps they wouldn’t struggle so much if you worked with them for thirty minutes a night. You don’t have time, you say? Horseshit. Turn off the T.V. The average American spends more than 34 hours a week watching live television and that doesn’t include your DVR time.* Even if you genuinely just cannot manage this, teach them to employ YouTube tutorials or check out helpful materials from the library. You know… give a shit.

The Props

texting in class

That 34 hour statistic is referring to the average American over age two. The average age for first cell phone is 11.6 years old.* Our kids are so saturated with media that they can no longer disconnect. Because of the aforementioned parents, we’re not allowed to make them, either. So in a typical classroom, students are texting, watching videos, listening to music, posting pictures on Instagram, Facebooking, and doing anything but learning the subject content. Having completely castrated the teachers in this country, we can’t touch a student’s property, be it a cell phone, tablet, music player, or hat. We’ve told them they have the right to dress as they please and have been rewarded with the distraction of fish net stockings and yoga pants with words on the butt. In a private school, a parent agrees to follow the rules or get their child an education elsewhere. Why not in public school, though with less strict guidelines? You want to show your camel toe in English class again? Fine. Get your education online. This is just another issue of power and how the teachers have none. If we tell a student to put up the phone, he moves it to his lap. If we take it from him, his parents call and yell that they’re the ones who paid for it. If we send him to the office, he “forgets” about detention. WHY THE FUCK ARE WE EVEN HERE?!?!?! Oh, yes. I remember. They need someone to blame for this child’s failing grade.

Skewed Priorities

slutty cheerleader
Tip: Turn on the safe search…

I’m no longer the girl who chose to skip every single high school football game to watch Varsity Blues and mock the popular kids. I get that high school sports bring in money and enthusiasm. Go team go. However, in the hopes of making said money and claiming fame, we spend $60,000,000 on a stadium to seat 18,000 for Texas high school football.* Weren’t we just having trouble buying new library books and computers?

It’s not just the money. It’s the fact that we whore out our children in slutty costumes to sell tickets. My high school actually had a pep rally where the cheerleaders put on a frozen t-shirt contest. I shit you not. Rarely, do we expect our little girls to follow a dress code in uniform that is (ideally) enforced when they’re out of it. What the hell kind of message are we sending children when we tell them that they don’t have to follow the rules as long as they’re hot? Furthermore, what kind of impression do we give by telling them their sport is only valuable if we can see some bare thigh? This is disgusting and it’s all for the love of marketing athletics.

Where we could be emphasizing team work and loyalty and physical fitness, we emphasize money and sex appeal. We turn a blind eye when a football coach gives obscene bonus points for the question “Who won the Super Bowl?” FYI, the answer was not “Tell me what it has to do with our state’s history and I’ll tell you the answer” and that coach didn’t like me very much. Instead, we could hold our football players up as role models who keep their grades high and our cheerleaders as leaders who work hard and practice modesty. I promise their legs go just as high if they’re wearing longer skirts and/or opaque tights. Perhaps we could even put them in sparkly shorts and sequined tank tops? We don’t have to sexualize them to show their form.

My Solution

closeup of a pencil eraser correcting an error

My personal solution is that I hope to send my kids to Catholic school, where I’ll agree to uphold their rules or take them elsewhere and so will the other parents. If my child is being cyber-bullied, all I have to do is talk to the principal/priest (in some cases) and it stops. There’s no discussion about the “rights” of children outside of the school. I don’t have to worry about the kids with “juicy” written across their ass when there are rules about whether or not they’re allowed to wear a scrunchie on their wrist. I used to think it was all too strict, but my Catholic-school-going cousins are all adults now and they’re plenty well-functioning. Frankly, they’re more normal than I am.

Maybe for some the solution is homeschooling. I don’t have the patience or the desire for that one, but I can see how it would be promising. If you’re the one in charge, you know your daughters aren’t being prostituted for a few corn dog sales. You can smash their phones with hammers if you like… or just not buy them their own.

Shopping around for a good, strong, public school district is, of course, an option. These complaints don’t fit all schools ever. There are good districts and I can even name a few. Shetland’s district isn’t even that bad, save for a couple of colorful stores. Asking parents in the district and attending a few events are great ways to get a feel for the morals and values behind an institution. Hell, Google it and find out if they’ve made the news in negative or positive ways.

Undoubtedly the best solution… and this one is pretty far out there… is to give a shit. Talk to your kids about what they want to do with their lives and listen and respond by putting them in the courses they require. Hold high expectations and firm consequences for failure within those courses. Don’t push your own dreams on them and always uphold the school’s rules. Stop blaming the teacher and take your kid’s cell phone away when he uses it to act like a jackass. Don’t buy the pants that say “juicy” and write your superintendent a nasty letter about the pasties he wants your baby to wear to the football game.

In the meantime, despite my adoration for teachers and my love for students, I have completely given up on the general public education system in this country. I will never be a classroom teacher.

Citations

http://www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/on-numbers/scott-

http://completionagenda.collegeboard.org/about-agenda

thomas/2012/12/wyoming-and-dc-are-leaders-in-new.html?page=all

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/24/national/24library.html?_r=0

http://www.theonlinemom.com/secondary.asp?id=1981

http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv-movies/americans-spend-34-hours-week-watching-tv-nielsen-numbers-article-1.1162285

http://www.cnbc.com/id/100001024/High_School_Sports_Have_Turned_Into_Big_Business

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5 thoughts on “All the Children Left Behind: Why I Lost Faith in Our Public Education System After Just Three Years

  1. Why are so many parents so hyper defensive about their kids? I attended Catholic school; it was a good school, but there was one sadistic teacher who just didn’t like me, and she used to make my life difficult. I told my parents about it; my father listened patiently to my tale of woe, and then he said, “You are right, Your teacher is treating you unfairly, but we are aren’t going to do anything about it: I am sorry, but you will just have to deal with it.” My husband attended a very posh school in the UK, where the teachers beat the students daily; his parents made no attempt to protect them, and he has a wonderful relationship with them. He is the best adjusted person I have ever known.

    I am not condoning corporal punishment, or psychological torture, but parents who try to protect their kids from everything are not helping their children; they are not preparing their children for the adult world.

    • I agree. Sometimes, teachers are truly being unfair, but the’yre still in a position of authority that should be respected. If a parent wants to address the treatment, fine. But they should do so privately and calmly, without having already clearly chosen their child’s side.

  2. SO agree! The parent thing even starts in freakin pre-k. There is zero respect for teachers, which is where those problems stem from. Remember when we used to think teachers were like God? I would NEVER back talk or disrespect a teacher! Now, it’s acceptable by the parents to disrespect the teacher if they don’t agree with how they handled a situation. It’s ridiculous! The government makes it bad too. If the school doesn’t perform academically how the government thinks it should, they take away funding. Yea, lots of money comes in for athletics, but they will never use that money for anything but athletics. I SO agree with you on teaching life skills in high school.

    I actually wrote a 3 page anonymous letter to admin our senior year about the dress code and our cheer and Pom girls’ attire on game days and how it broke ALL of those dress code rules, but nothing was done.

    Man, I could go on and on about this! Lol

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