Sunday, July 13, 2008

School Sucks

Every summer (for the past ten years) I mentor and tutor teen boys - most of whom are in summer school trying to re-take classes failed during the school year. Many of these boys have been passed to the next grade in spite of having little understanding of the past year's subjects. Is it these boy's fault? A little. Is it their parent's (usually single mothers - but that's another issue) fault? Maybe a little more so. Does any of the blame fall to our school system itself. Yes, I think that the majority of the blame falls to our government and programs like the poorly conceived and implemented (although well intended) "No Child Left Behind".

In 1940, 90 percent of whites and 80 percent of blacks were considered literate. this figure doesn't take into account the disadvantages of segregation, overt racism and other social factors of the time. . Eighty percent of Blacks could read. Seventy years later (according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the National Adult Literacy Survey) only 83 percent of white and 60 percent of blacks are considered literate. We currently spend three to four times as much money per student as we did in 1940 - but with the opposite of our intended results.
As the ability to read plummeted after WWII, crime and out of wedlock births rose. The Justice Department states that 80 percent of incarcerated inmates are illiterate.
Whites can compensate for a schools inability to teach proper reading and writing skills with the Standard American English often spoken in the home. By the time that blacks were fully able to participate in equal schooling - our dialect had become so dis-similar to SAE that it was often impossible to teach children the relationship between let's say - the phonetic; "teef" and the proper spelling; "teeth". Whichever teacher pushed for the acceptance of Ebonics more than two decades ago should never be allowed to teach again.

The architects of our modern American Educational system didn't have the best interests of the general public in mind when they set forth on it's design and implementation.
In 1917 "The Education Trust" (including representatives from Carnegie, Rockefeller, Harvard, Stanford and the National Education Association) had the goal to "impose on the young the ideal of subordination".
Rockefeller's General Board put it this way; "We will not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science."
In a speech by Woodrow Wilson; "We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks." The school system wasn't designed to help the common man but to benefit industrialists and financiers.

Our educational system -with it's practices of giving many students "free" breakfast, "free" lunch and "free" after school tutoring- has taken the place of the parent in a child's development and discipline. According to Peter Brieggin M.D. ; "The U.S. uses 90% of the worlds Methylphenidate (Ritalin)" in order to suppress our nation's children. As the state has taken more control of our children's lives, the diagnosis of ADHD has been on a steady rise. Ritalin was invented for the purpose of sedating children in school. Between the NEA and other powerful special interest groups, many of the functions of the family have been handed over willingly to those who only seem to have their own monetary interests in mind when making policy decisions. Conservative columnist Cal Thomas states; " why should we think that our antiquated education system doesn't need a make over too? What's worse, the various interest groups and this virtual monopoly has robbed too many students - especially the poor - of their right to a good education. We both know that's often their only ticket out of poverty."

Math is another deficiency in our educational system. In march the National Mathematics Advisory Panel noted that U.S. students lacked a deep understanding of basic math skills, including a grasp of whole numbers and fractions. I made it through high school Algebra, geometry and Trigonometry before my alert Calculus teacher noticed that I had problems understanding the proper method of adding and subtracting positive and negative integers. I was just passed to the next level without fully understanding concepts that should have been learned years earlier. Algebra II is important. According to the panel; "...students who take Algebra II are twice as likely to graduate from college compared (with) students with less math preparation". Teacher Patrick Welsh states (in a USA Today article); "We graduate hundreds of kids who need a calculator to figure out that nine times five is 45". This explains the dumbfounded look I often get when I hand the kid at the drive-thru window exactly ten dollars or so more than the exact change needed.

How best to teach children is a big concern for our schools. In my first few years of elementary school, I was one of two or three "token" blacks in each classroom. The theory was that the two or three higher performing blacks would help and inspire the under-performing black students. I always had to sit next to the most troublesome kid - often resulting in a fight (see the earlier post "Bring Back the Belt" for a description of the fight against Mike Macky and the resulting consequences). The next method I was to experience was the "one-up" thought of placing advanced children in a higher class grade for two hours a day. This method worked well for me and allowed me to be used as the "token' in my regular class. Finally, in the sixth grade, all of the "gifted" children were put into the same classroom regardless of grade. Many "smart kids" soon found out that they were only "kind-of smart". Mr Folger's class was ideal for me in the freedoms and responsibilities given to each student. I recently explained the three scenarios to one of my young gifted cousins and asked him which situation was the best for each student or group of students. We still haven't figured out the best answer.

Teachers are another important factor in my education equation. Former Labor Secretary William Black states that "we need the very best among us to become teachers". He further stated;" We recruit new teachers largely from the bottom 30% of entering college students". Teachers are overwhelmed and underpaid. They're the middle-managers of our society's educational industry. Many people become teachers by default after graduation as a means to a (paltry) paycheck. Many students become disenchanted with the process of learning because of these (often) unqualified teachers.

Beaumont, Texas schools may be one of the worst examples of the breakdown of our educational system. Brook Dollas writes about Texas schools: "The public school establishment clings to the notion that schools can only get better if they get more money. Yet per student spending in Texas has almost doubled in the past ten years... to $9629.00 in 2005-06 with little to show for it in student achievement, on top of all the thousands dropping out of school entirely" (42% of Blacks, 45% of Hispanics and 24% of whites).

I had a young cousin trying to go to summer school in order to get a jump on his graduating class. His mother was told that all of the summer school slots were already filled by students who had failed the previous years classes. While in California - Owen Leong writes (in a USA Today article) about how he and 200 other mostly Asian kids had to wait in line from 1am to try to register at 8am for the few slots at their summer school, trying to get a jump on the many students with near perfect SAT scores.

I still don't know why our many in our educational system put the comfort of failure or poverty ahead of the promise of the exceptional. I guess our system wasn't intended to create originality or independence but conformity and dependence. ~uglyblackjohn~

Sources; USA Today, Parade Magazine, Houston Chronicle, Beaumont Enterprise, John Taylor Gatto (Some Lessons From the Underground History of American Education), Peter Brieggin MD (Psychiatric Drugging of Children for Behavioral Control)


MathChique said...

For a moment, I thought you were writing about my middle school. I even knew a kid named Mike Macky (same scene, different part of the country).
I was a teacher in Oakland (1994-2000) when they tried to implement ebonics. The idea came out of anger that immigrant children, most not citizens, could have access to programs to learn English. But black students, whose families were American for generations, did not have the same special services to learn SAE. I thought teaching ebonics would be hugely detrimental, especially for college bound black students. I also thought that teachers needed to stop using ebonics in the classroom as the regular dialect.
Great post!

Anonymous said...

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