Three Ways Public Education is Doing Your Child a Disservice

Gail: So, remember how bored you were earlier?
Me: Lol. Yes.
Gail: Maybe you should’ve read some blogs. I have a GREAT one I’d suggest, but it’s only been updated once this month.

Gail, you hear these stories in person. You have a problem… says the woman who has watched nearly 30 hours of One Tree Hill in the last three days. GO NALEY!

It’s summer, y’all. Finally. That means no more 60 hour work weeks, usually opening with three 12 hour days in a row, where I’m required to be pleasant and awake. It means I have time for all of the car trouble that ended, literally, two days before the last day of school. It means I can sleep (… or not… GO NALEY!). I can cuddle and walk the dog after he doesn’t even blink an eye when I scream about how cute he is while running half naked through my apartment and ninja kicking nothing. And you know what?

I am so… fucking… bored.

I’ve cleaned my apartment, crocheted two hats, read two books, gone grocery shopping twice, developed a disturbing Flappy Bird addiction, had Niki over for one of our crochet and junk food nights, organized the kitchen cabinets, and washed every sheet and article of clothing I own… in five days. That’s in addition to The Great One Tree Hill-athon of 2014.

Sooooo… I’ll tell you what I’ve been telling the aforementioned dog (other than “I COULD JUST EAT YOUR FACE RIGHT OFF!!!!!!! HIIIIII YAH!”):

“I’m sorry I’ve neglected you, but now that school’s out, you are going to get sooooo sick of me.”

Speaking of school…

… as schools all over the country let out for an antiquated three months that were originally intended for tending the family farm, but are now just utilized in unlearning any real progress made during the school year… I bring you Three Ways Public Education is Doing Your Child a Disservice.

Now, if you read my blog, you know that not only am I a librarian, but I also have a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and substitute teach daily. Those are my credentials for this rant. Do I have a proposal to fix our public education system, as a whole? No. I really don’t. At least, I don’t have a solution beyond the exposure of each individual problem; because the more aware we are of the issues, the better we can combat them. For example…

Smart Devices
I know, I know. Kids these days and their phones, amiright? It’s an issue on everyone’s mind as they just send that one text message really quickly.

I’m not even going to suggest that the issue of device distraction is one confined solely to the younger generations. Just Monday, I was at lunch with my dad and actually said “Yeah. My generation is the problem. Dude, put down your phone!” Gail once compared the average first world relationship with technology to talking to someone in a crowded hallway, but I feel the need to add to that. It’s more like talking to someone in a crowded hallway, where there’s an orgy going on, and an adorable kitten trying to jump from one impossible destination to another, and 14 of their very best friends from high school telling them all about what they’ve been doing with their lives, but more importantly, fawning over your friend as he shoves picture after picture of his cat, his flat tire, his lunch, and that trailer for 22 Jump Street in their faces. My point?

Why are we allowing this as we teach our children?!?! I’m a substitute teacher, so I have it pretty easy. I only have to demand the attention of my students for the first five minutes of class, as I call roll and explain the expectations for the day. Regardless, you know what I constantly hear?

“He’s here. He’s just wearing headphones.”
“What page is this on?”
“Is this due at the end of the hour?”
“Wait. What worksheet? We have a worksheet?”

Parents, I know that you take a lot of blame for what’s wrong in public schools today, and honestly, that’s not fair. It is not your fault that your child, who has an aptitude for math, cannot seem to finish Hamlet. It is, however, your fault that your child brought their smart phone to class. It’s your fault if your child has 24/7 Internet access in his pocket, which he can use to access pornography (oh, yeah, that’s happened in class), watch Netflix (often shows he shouldn’t be watching), and ignore every single instructor to listen to his music and chat with his bestie all day long. 

I understand that Columbine and Sandy Hook make this a scary world. No. Really. Try spending a day in a public high school that’s just close enough to the country to know that at least 75% of these students have access to guns, but also just crowded enough to know that at least 50% feel like they don’t belong (also, just because it’s high school), without planning your reaction to gunshots. However, parents can contact their child just as easily with a phone that only has the ability to call and text. It does not need 24/7 Internet access, which a child does not need to learn. Unless…

Teachers, I know that you take a lot of blame for what’s wrong in public schools today, and honestly, that’s not fair. It’s not your fault that this student refuses to do his work, because he knows his parents will wreak havoc if you even try to confiscate his phone. It is, however, your fault if you create an assignment that requires the use of a phone. I don’t know how many times I’ve had a teacher leave a note explaining that the students are allowed to use their phones to look up information. God forbid you ask them to create something original, from their own minds, rather than regurgitate a Google search. Wouldn’t it be terrible to ask this of every student, rather than it being a perceived punishment to those with parents who’ve chosen not to allow their children to even own smart devices or those who can’t afford them? So yes, some parents are part of the problem for allowing students to bring these devices, but many teachers exacerbate the issue by creating a need for them. This need for smart devices makes a moot point of any efforts to control their usage. At this point, most schools have simply given up. The handbook now says phones are allowed. Students have the wifi password. They legitimately cannot concentrate without music playing…

… and teachers accomplish nothing. 

A Lack of Autonomy
During the last week of school, in desperation for the largest paycheck possible, I did the unthinkable. I substituted first grade.

It was horrible. My tubes tied themselves.

While I love the smart-assed, foul-mouthed, know-it-all teenagers, I just don’t get the appeal of small children. They tattle on each other incessantly. I can never figure out why they’re crying. They can never figure out why they’re crying. Even though they don’t even know me, they want to hug me and desperately want me to like them. They’re loud and sticky and it’s just too much pressure!

One thing that didn’t really phase me, however, was that these seven-year-olds had to be guided through everything. Each and every assignment they completed had to be checked by me, personally, before it was turned into the right box, which I repeatedly had to point out. All of the directions had to be read aloud. I had to answer numerous questions for which I knew they could find answers. Despite the fact that this was the only elementary school class I substituted all year, however, it was pretty par for the course.

When I substitute high school, I have to wait a few minutes to take attendance, or I’ll have to send a minimum of three students to the office, to let them know that they are, in fact, present. These kids know what time class starts. Most of them have their own cars, because Shetland’s a reasonably wealthy suburb, we have terrible public transit in the South, and children are just too fucking entitled. They have to be at the same place, at the same time, every single day. Regardless, principals walk through the halls and call out for students to get to class.

These students are, at most, four years out from having to file their taxes on time, submit that college application, or turn in financial aid forms. Still, I have to remind them when their papers are due and tell them exactly where to put them. They’re expected to read street signs, but ask for instructions, that are written on their papers, repeatedly. A third of them can join the armed forces, but they get daily reminders to hand in their enrollment forms.

I’m going to take off my teacher hat and put on my librarian hat for just a minute, y’all, and tell you that is no wonder I got several calls after April 15th, asking if we had tax help. Tax day is the same every year. It’s not a surprise and the W2’s you get in the mail, not to mention the hundreds of television and radio ads, are glaring reminders.

Customers want someone to stand next to them and guide them through every step of a job application. They don’t even want to try to work the copy machine, by themselves.

My good pal Ward actually asked me how to do laundry one day, at 22. 

I know we want to guide and protect children, but this is going too far. This ridiculous coddling of America’s youth is creating adults who cannot function. When you combine this with the problem of each child carrying a device that they think has all the answers, they feel there’s just no need to retain anything. We need to set higher expectations for our older children. I should be able to tell the difference in autonomy from a seven-year-old to a seventeen-year-old. One has more than 10 years until he enters the real world and the other has less than one. A corporate boss is not going to politely ask anyone to put the phone away six times per shift. She’s not going to wait five minutes before considering her employee late. The federal government is not going to let an overdue “assignment” go without a penalty.

Ribbons/Awards for Everything

I actually graduated from Shetland High School. On my graduation day, I even wore the Valedictorian cords… along with 23 other people. That’s right. The honor that used to be reserved for the individual who worked the hardest, is now bestowed upon a couple dozen, who also did well. I got a plaque, too.

If you Wikipedia millennials, we’re also referred to as “Trophy Kids,” because we pretty much coined the “participation trophy.” The other day, I was watching the basketball game in a bar, when a man across the room cheered for a free throw. I drunkenly shouted “Did you just cheer for a free throw?!?!” and my company informed me that I’d be paying for an bar fights I started. So, I redirected my ire at the screen, where the crowd was also cheering for no reason.

“Stop cheering! We’re not even doing anything! Fucking trophy generation!

Even drunk, this is one of my pet peeves. Now, don’t misunderstand. I am firmly in the millennial generation. I, too, received trophies for showing up. My dad just promptly informed me that that wasn’t a real trophy, because I didn’t win. I also received red ribbons for remaining drug free, at six years old.

What the hell, America? Why does a six-year-old get a red ribbon for remaining drug free? That’s like giving me a medal for not drawing social security. Why did we ever start awarding everything? It makes it all the more crushing when these kids don’t get awards for mediocre, because they always get awards for mediocre. Just last week, my cousin proudly posted on Facebook about how her son was the only kid who didn’t get an award in his second grade class. He was so crushed, that she went home and printed out two fake awards for actual accomplishments and told him the school had forgotten to give them to him. So, the kid who refuses to read, now has an award for reading. That was the perfect opportunity to explain that, if he wants something to signify hard work, he’s going to have to work harder. Not only does this cause these children to grow into the kind of adults who expect raises for the bare minimum level of work, it dwarfs genuine accomplishment.

“No, but I was the real Valedictorian,” isn’t a sentence that should have to be spoken. The title should still mean something. When I was around five years old, I actually remember explaining to my mother that she would be impressed over anything I drew, even if I just scribbled on paper. My dad? Well, I’ve already told you about his favorite sentence, when I was growing up. “That 93 is pretty close to a B. You’d better get that up.” You know what, though? When my Red Foreman Daddy brags about me? I know he’s proud. We owe that to children: legitimate pride.

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