Monthly Archives: October 2010

And Now This Important Message…

Spencer Tracy recited these lines in the 1960 movie Inherit The Wind.

Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!

Of course he was talking about evolution in a movie loosely based on the so called Scopes Monkey Trial but he could have been talking about the current state of politics in America. The favored hark and cry of the Tea Party supporters is some variation on “We want to take America back.”

Back To Where?

“We want to take America back.” Back to where? Or is it back from where? Who has it that shouldn’t? Or is it the whole progress thing? Listening to the candidates, it seems that the new conservative movement wants to take us back to a time where women and minorities knew their place. Back to a time where only land owners could vote. Back to a time where the poor were left to die and only the wealthy had health care. Back to a time “when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind.”

VOTE!

The madness has to stop. Where are we in this country when followers of a candidate are wearing uniforms? When private security guards are arresting reporters? Where political candidates are discussing revolution as a viable option. Armed insurrection against the government of the United States of America as a political option? And why? Because they lost an election two years ago?

Please get out and vote. I really don’t care if you vote Democrat or Republican. Just don’t vote for the lunatic fringe. And don’t vote for anyone these people represent.


Fixing Education: Part 2

Of course the education system is not easy to fix. Of course simple solutions can’t possibly work. Of course because the world is a modern, technologically driven, globalized community, nothing is simple anymore. But that won’t stop me from offering a simple solution. Now…where was I?

Step One: Write Off The High Schools…For Now.

In certain circles, I can offer this bit of advice and people will look at me like I have grown a second, evil head. I am proposing that any plan that seeks to “fix” the educational system of the United States of America should leave out our high schools. Is it harsh to say that by a time a young person has reached his or her teens, the damage is done? And, for that matter, do they require “fixing”? I would have to say no and yes.

Every generation has its “These kids today” moments. When my parents were young, they couldn’t watch Elvis from the waist down. The holders of morality for that generation were afraid that Rock-and-Roll would destroy a generation. Post Elvis, there was the Beatles and their “long” hair. Along the years we experienced the Rolling Stones, Blondie, Grandmaster Flash, Devo, and about a thousand others. “These kids today” of every generation survived the onslaught of Jazz, Rock-and-Roll, Rhythm and Blues,  New Wave, Hair Bands, Grunge, Alternative, Hip Hop, Rap and everything in between. They survived the movies, television shows, comic books, concerts and Playboy and emerged on the other side as fully formed adults who broke the sound barrier, flew to the moon, and invented everything from microchips to Velcro. They became artists and doctors and rebels and politicians as well as plumbers and masons and electricians. They raised families and watched their kids do better than they did.  And we look at today’s “These kids today” (TKT) and weep for the future. Why? What has changed?

The Blame Game

It is easy to blame the media but it is unfair to blame any one medium for the ruination of this year’s graduating class. But when a child is walking, talking, media showcase, how can his teachers compete for his attention? I have six students in here with me now. They have an assignment and they know what to do and when the deadline is. All six are either on a computer or sharing one. From here I can see two screens are on Facebook and the other two are playing games. (Might sound like bad classroom management but part of the assignment is to meet deadlines and then, if the deadlines aren’t met, to analyze and problem solve the breakdown of the group dynamic.) I see two cell phones out and texting and I can hear another one vibrating in a pocket. All six kids have headphones on and are listening to their MP3 players. It’s not one medium that is making it hard, it’s all of them.

Yes. I understand that my kids are breaking the rules and wasting their time. Yes. I know that I should march up and down and gently reinforce the importance of education and cajole them into getting back on task. I should know each and every one of them by name, understand their home situation, know what each one wants to be when grown and make damned sure they have the tools they need to get there. But I’m tired. I am tired because I know that after the bell rings and I return from a half-hour of bus duty, I have another hour’s worth of work to do, a long commute home, a family of my own to engage, dogs to walk, papers to grade, lesson plans to rework, bills to pay and errands to run. I can’t get my own kid to decide what she wants to be when she grows up and she is already in her first year of college. College that she is only able to attend because of scholarships and grants. All of this and I am still expected to care more about the education of these six kids than they do or their parents do.

But I can’t compete with iPods and TV shows and Facebook and Video Games, all of which are now available in portable form. When I was one of “these kids today”, my music was on 12″ vinyl records or eight-tracks that required a player the size of a cinder block. My phone was attached to the wall with a 12 foot cord. The school’s computer required punch cards and Video Games were as exciting as…uhm…Pong. But they did require more of a commitment because I had to drive to the mall to play them, a quarter at a time.

But I Digress

I am not suggesting that we actually write these kids off. They are, for the most part, good kids who did not get our best collective effort. There were too many boutique math options, too many feel-good moments and too many politicians involved in their education along the way. All of these chefs worked this stew and no one ever questioned if they knew how to cook.  The result is a generation of kids who were sent mixed signals, alternating curricula and tested to the brink of distraction. They were told to succeed by people who no idea what success should look like. They have been trained to memorize but not to think and, as a result, they require their education to come in concise, easy to memorize facts and figures and they become flustered and uncomfortable when asked to reason or infer. It’s not their fault but we have to help them graduate the very best that they can, fill out their FAFSA Scholarship forms and hope that their colleges and universities and employers can sort things out.

But in my solution, the fix begins in Kindergarten. Not high school.


How to Fix The Education System In 4 Easy Steps

Don’t worry. This will be short.

It seems that everywhere I turn, someone is teacher bashing. It is all over the news and the yahoos who post in the Yahoo News comment section love to teacher bash too. It’s fun.  But take a look at just about any school that was failing and taken over by the government. The teachers have all been switched out. The administration has all been switched out. And yet, the school is still “failing.” Why? Because of the one component that can’t be switched out. The student population.

The educational system has been interfered with for years. No Child Left Behind all but gutted any chance teachers had to succeed. So I decided to fix it. Ready?

Step One: Write off the high schools…for now.

Step Two: Put the Kindergarten curriculum back into Kindergarten where it belongs.

Step Three: Teach math.

Step Four: Everyone reads at grade level or no promotion.

OK. That’s pretty simple but every step can be explained and broken down into more detail.

Just ask.


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