Why Our Education System Fails, by a Fly on the Wall

After six years of substitute teaching, it’s quite possible that I’ve “taught” my last class. I use quotations, because I’ll readily admit that I was a moderately compensated babysitter. Sure, my bachelor’s degree was in education and I have a current teaching certificate, which raised my daily pay by $10, but my job has generally been to take attendance and make sure no one sets anything on fire.

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I jest… a little. I did just recently announce to a table full of teenage girls that they were going to have to change the subject, because I could hear every detail of their sex lives. There was also that time I didn’t really stop the teenage boys from paying each other to eat dead flies…

… but hey, they were quiet.

 

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I’m practically Dumbledore.

It’s not that I was a bad substitute. They knew my limits. I just also knew theirs. I dare you to go into a public high school classroom and tell everyone to put away their phones, when their teachers let them use them every day. Go ahead. Report back. I’ll wait…

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… which brings me to my point. As a substitute teacher, particularly one with a degree in education, I’ve had the privilege of a unique perspective. You see, no one really pays attention to a substitute teacher. No teacher worries that I’m observing the daily anarchy that is their class, as long as they get a good evaluation from their principal. No student worries that a substitute teacher is going to overhear them discussing their cheating methods. I have truly been a fly on the wall for the past six years, in a wealthy public district that scores quite well on state report cards. For this reason, I can declare, with certainty, that our public schools have hit a downward spiral, and here are my top reasons why.

Cell Phones
Zetus lapetus, what a cliche am I, lamenting the tragedy of youths with cell phones.

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Fine. It’s cliche, but it’s cliche for a reason. I won’t even focus on that time “53 percent of boys and 28 percent of girls (ages 12-15) reported [viewing pornography]”, or that “four out of five 16 year-olds regularly access pornography online”*, or discuss those who’ve been prosecuted as child pornographers for taking naked pictures of themselves*.  For the sake of this post, I’ll limit my rant to school specific issues.

Every day, even the best parents send their child to school with a cell phone, where their teacher competes not only with it and all of the information, entertainment, and communication it contains, but with 24 other devices in the classroom seven times a day. Most people hear the opening statements of my rant on this subject and interject with “They’re allowed to have them out in class?!?!” Do you have any idea how exhausting it is to monitor whether or not 25 people are using their phones for 55 minutes? I’m only speaking from my experience giving tests. The teacher is actually trying to teach what’s on it. If he stops every time he sees a phone, demanding someone put it away/put it on his desk/go to the office, he’s going to accomplish nothing, particularly since he has to uphold this standard throughout the year, because as Sebastian the crab says, “you give them an inch, they swim all over you.” For this reason, most high schools have gone “technology friendly.”

Technology friendly simply means that we’ve given up the fight. If we forbid students from bringing the phones to class at all, their tax paying parents insist they’ll need it “in an emergency.” Keep in mind, these are the same parents who use said phone as a bargaining tool and confiscate it every time they get ticked off, despite the dread of these vague emergencies. The result of this is students discussing the fear that they won’t be able to pass their end of semester Spanish test, because they’ve been using Google translate all year. It’s students watching Netflix on the affluent school’s WiFi, because they know how to get around the safeguards. It’s teachers making the assumption that students will have the internet in their pockets when assigning work, because heaven forbid they create a thought, as opposed to regurgitating ones they find online. It’s students asking to be dismissed from class for a moment, because their parents are calling them. What, might I ask, is so important that you have to call your child’s cell phone, when you know they’re at school?!?

Ultimately, cell phones have created an environment where students are not learning.

College Preparation
My bachelor’s degree was specifically in family and consumer science education – occupational and career technology. Translation: I could teach at a career tech (vo-tech) center as easily as at a high school. Unlike most teachers, my degree focused a great deal on those not going to college. Here are the facts, according to the US Census:

86.8% of Americans have a high school degree.
28% of Americans have a bachelor’s degree.

Why the fuck are we teaching 100% of our high school students as if they’re going to earn a college degree!?!?! 

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This is a blatant waste of funding. You can argue all you want about a “well-rounded” education, but why can’t we redefine what “well-rounded” means? Why does it have to mean five core subject classes and two classes that potentially prepare students to immediately enter the workforce? Why aren’t we allowing students not planning for college to sign up for two hours of core classes and five hours of real world skills? In my state, we have an amazing career tech program, but it’s poorly promoted. We encourage the kids who aren’t “smart enough” for college to take advantage of the free welding, nursing, and computer programming courses and that’s ridiculous. There are skills involved in auto mechanics that I don’t know that I could ever possess. I couldn’t tell a carburetor from a… I CANNOT EVEN THINK OF ANOTHER KEY CAR PART.

We need to end exclusively college preparatory public high school. We need to have real discussions with students about their interests and capabilities. We need to admit when they aren’t suited for a four-year degree and stop implying that that means anything other than that every person has different skills and capabilities. I have a master’s degree. I sit in a temperature controlled library and offer customer service all day long. I have a dozen uncles who lay pipe in subzero temperatures. Could I do that? NO. Could they smile politely when a man hurls a DVD in their face? NO. Does that make either of us less intelligent? NO.

The problem with the current system is that a good 50% of students feel public school curriculum is entirely irrelevant to them. They enjoy their career tech courses, if they’re in them, but get nothing from literature courses. They’ve found a use for marketing class, but chemistry has been a complete waste of their time. So, why are we funding it?!?! Is our society any better for the Shakespeare forgotten by your plumber? NO.

 We’re Wasting Instruction Time
I would vote for a complete removal of funding for art classes in my district.

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I know. That statement doesn’t make me popular, but you substitute a middle school or high school art class and tell me what you see. No matter the instructor in my A+ school district, art class has always been a total waste of time from my vantage point. It’s not because what they do accomplish isn’t worthwhile. It’s because they accomplish so little of it. I get it. These are the Freaks and Geeks, the kids of Empire Records. They’re the outcasts and this is the only place they feel they belong. I wore overalls all of sophomore year. Believe me, I get it.

Art class, however, should be a place for self expression. You don’t have to let students come and go as they please, without a word of explanation, just because you want them to feel accepted. If this is a place of creativity, then they need to be doing something creative. I know I was only substituting these classes and I didn’t get the most accurate sample, but never have I taught another class where students just followed their whim to walk out. Never have I seen them blatantly watch Netflix as I have in art class. They do this, because it’s okay with their teacher and that is not okay. Creativity and productivity are not mutually exclusive and it’s harmful to suggest otherwise.

Art class isn’t the only place I see wasted instruction time. Remember when I stressed a need for strong life skills courses for those immediately entering the workforce after high school? Well, those exist as electives. Leadership is a great example. What a wonderful course to teach, even to those pursuing college. Or so I thought, until I subbed it and my students informed me that all they’d been doing for the last three weeks was painting banners to hang around the school.

A leadership student should be gaining public speaking skills by delivering presentations on effective leaders through history and the impact they’ve had on the world. They should be finding ways to be leaders in the community and possibly spending the occasional field trip volunteering at the local food bank or running winter coat drives. Leadership students should be presenting the awards at ceremonies and taking part in presentations on real world issues that effect teens, such as the consequences of texting while driving. Leadership students should not be spending three weeks painting banners. In fact, that’s actually a great activity for those art students!

Perhaps you’re thinking I’ve just proven we don’t really need those elective courses. You’d be right, were it not for the fact that this regularly occurs in core classes, as well. Because we don’t want to admit that some students aren’t cut from Shakespeare reading cloth, our high school English classes are paced for the mean, or average. If four students can finish Othello in a week and two need three weeks, we write the curriculum for two weeks, which leaves four students playing on their phones for a week and two in tears, because they don’t understand this Shakespeare Shit. We even add whole class blocks for “study hall” or “advisory”, which end up essentially being recess. Kids sit, talk, play cards, or play on their phones. At best, students spend four hours a day learning and another three waiting to learn.

We’re So Top-Heavy
There are a lot of reasons I never taught in a traditional setting and I’ve just outlined three. Another, however, is that my state has nearly the lowest teacher pay in the country. It’s still a living wage, but I make about $16,000 more as a librarian and the benefits are substantially better. Our cost of living is also astoundingly low, but even those states with a lower cost of living often pay teachers more. The result is a few days a year, when teachers rally at the state capitol over the injustice of it all, which I categorize as fitting into the previous heading of a waste of instruction time.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying teachers shouldn’t be paid more. I’m simply saying that they’re protesting at the wrong location. While we could certainly use a little more state funding, the problem is primarily a district one. I just counted my district’s administrators and came up with an astounding 34. If I average each of them at $80,000 per year, that’s over 2.5 million dollars. If I’m averaging too high and it’s closer to $60,000, it’s still over two million dollars in a suburban school district with low teacher pay.

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What if, and this is a crazy suggestion, we actually give the teachers the ability to discipline their students so we don’t need as much on-site administration and enforce consequences more effectively, overall? Why do we allow repeated problem students, particularly when they’ve reached the state’s legal dropout age of 16, to continue coming to public schools? If a student ditches detention X number of times, why not tell him he still has his right to pursue an education, but he’ll now have to do it, either through another district or online schooling? Over 98% of public libraries have Internet access. If that’s inconvenient, so what? They had their chance and got plenty of warnings. Should their behavior impede the learning of other students, add stress to their low paid teachers’ day, and create a need for a more top-heavy district as a whole? NO.

I’m not talking about basic discipline problems here, to be clear. I’m talking about the student who punches his teacher, repeatedly gets in fights or makes threats toward other students or staff, or gets a designated number of detentions for other behaviors that disrupt class. I’m talking about a decision made by a panel, with the opportunity to appeal in one calendar year. Perhaps, in this case, the parent would suddenly care that their child was misbehaving, were they faced with the possibility of having them at home all day and being responsible for helping them pursue an education until age 16. Why don’t we expel students anymore?!?! When we do, it’s always for something that doesn’t effect the big picture or anyone in it, such as a student having a buck knife in his truck, because he forgot it in his truck after his hunting trip or a girl who carries her asthma inhaler on her, even though it’s not allowed. Let’s kick them out, regardless of their lack of previous discipline problems, but nooooo, not the guy who screamed at his teacher that he was going to set her cat on fire.

If the major problem students were gone, usually a very small percentage of the school and a very large percentage of the discipline issues, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to cut administration. If my district cut half its administration, we could afford to raise every teacher’s salary by over $11,000. Carry on with your protests at the state capitol, though. Maybe they’ll designate an administrator to teacher ratio.

Citations

http://www.internetsafety101.org/pornographystatistics.htm

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/09/21/n-c-just-prosecuted-a-teenage-couple-for-making-child-porn-of-themselves/

http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html

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.

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

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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