It is always a trial to grab the attention of teenagers and to keep it once you have it. You would think that a guy who teaches television wouldn’t have much trouble. However, last November my lab was broken into and about $15,000 went out the window. It pretty much set us back 10 years. So now? Instead of working on newscasts we are podcasting. Podcasting is an audio program designed to share information, entertain and let people discuss whatever is on their minds. If podcasting sounds a lot like talk radio it is only because podcasting is exactly like talk radio. But it’s fun and the students seem to enjoy it.
Category Archives: teaching
I believe a case can be made that the decline in the quality of public school eduction began when Federal aid to education became Federal interference in education.
Educators and legislators need to look back at their own education and try to remember what they did in Kindergarten. Once they do, they need to take a long hard look at what Kindergarten has become.
Kindergarten Is The New First Grade
When I was just starting out in school, Kindergarten was fun. As a child I looked forward to finger-painting, playing with blocks and learning all about numbers and the usefulness of the alphabet. I remember learning to print my name and I remember learning to count to 100. I still have crystal clear memories of the accomplishment of reaching 100 for the first time. That number was such a foreign concept to my 4 year-old mind (yes…4 years old) that I had honestly thought that it would take a week to get there.
So we spent the day coloring, tracing letters, learning numbers and understanding what they represented. The teacher read stories to us and I learned to fall in love with Dr. Seuss and, by extension, reading. She showed us how to draw and paint and I learned to love art. She showed us how to carefully craft our letters so that they could form our names and I learned to love writing. We also played with toys and each other and we took naps and ate graham crackers and milk. I checked with my mother. There was never a day when I refused to go to school. Kindergarten was fun. But it was so much more than that.
Learn By Playing?
It took me a long to time to appreciate the depth of the education I received during that first year of school. I thought we were messing with paint. Turns out we were learning about colors and aesthetics and even cleaning up after ourselves. While we thought we were playing house, we were actually learning how to interact with other human beings, all about gender differences and equalities, and about fair-play. While we were playing with blocks and toy cars and stuffed animals, we were also learning how to share, how to resolve our own problems and how to deal with conflict. Everything we did, learned and experienced had one simple outcome. We learned how to learn. The lessons were simple but lifelong. And they are sorely missing in today’s education.
Getting my son to go to school everyday was a chore. Every day was a battle. Every morning was filled with tears and pleading to stay home. It took me a while to figure out why my son was so against school. His school had taken the Kindergarten lessons and tossed them out and replaced them with a 1st grade curriculum. It might have been my fault he wasn’t totally prepared but an hour of homework a day in Kindergarten is just wrong. ~Georgia Mother
If we refuse to acknowledge the importance of play-based learning, we may never reach all of our students. And instead of figuring out how to learn and to love learning, we set our kids up for failure at a very early age. Putting five year-old behinds into seats to teach them through traditional lectures flies in the face of everything we know about education. Children at that age just don’t work that way. Children learn by doing and through experience. David Elkind, author and psychologist wrote, “Learning teaches us what we know, play makes it possible for new things to be learned. There are many concepts and skills that can only be learned through play.” Social skills are first on the list.
So, instead of well-rounded eager students, many of us are getting frustrated, burned-out students who lack social skills, impulse control and simple conflict resolution skills. Instead of students who read for the sheer joy of it, who write because writing is fun and who can slog their way through Algebra and Trig simply because they can add, subtract, multiply and divide, we get students who can barely read, can’t form a sentence and can’t do simple two digit multiplication without a calculator. It is not the fault of the students. It is not the fault of the teachers. It is because of a system that has been redesigned over the past decade, not at the hands of educators but at the hands of politicians.
Fitting Into The Plan
In order to save our high schools we must start in Kindergarten. In spite of what politicians want us to believe, kids aren’t failing because their teachers are bad. They are not failing because they have failed the system. They are failing because the system has failed them. The system is flawed and it places too much emphasis on quantitative data and not enough on qualitative data. Sure, a kid could be terrible at math but that same child could grow up to be a great author or songwriter or artist. We will never know if that same child learns, in Kindergarten, that he or she just doesn’t measure up. And that would be the real failure of our education system.
Yes. The country has been taken back. Back to a time when gentility and civility did not exist. Back to a time when divisiveness was de rigueur. Back to a time when disrespect was common, racism was fun and facts never got in the way of a good story. The so-called Tea Party Movement was able to shift this country even further towards the right with a simple grass-roots movement which, in turn, was backed by a simple corporate news conglomerate and some billionaires who want to keep the conservative agenda alive. The best way to do that is, of course, to keep the huddled masses huddling.
Facts just get in the way of a good story. Why bother with finding out of a story is true when it plays so well on the radio and TV? Point in case? The President’s trip to India. Earlier in the week, an unnamed source from an unnamed agency stated that President Obama was on his way to India and that the trip was going to cost $200 million dollars a day and that there were to be 34 warships and an aircraft carrier going as well. Once the story hit the Internet it was picked up by the conservative news services. Suddenly Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck and Sean Hannity even the freshly elected Michele Bachmann were all harping on the President’s big, extravagant, luxury ridden trip to India. Never mind the fact that the Pentagon laughed at the notion of committing 10% of the US Navy on a peacetime visit. Never mind the fact that Factcheck.org did the math and pointed out that $200 million a day is more than the Iraq war cost. Never mind the fact that no one in the White House ever said anything. That the Secret Service doesn’t release this sort of information to anyone. Ever. And why shouldn’t we mind the facts? Because they just get in the way of a good story.
When pressed by Anderson Cooper for some additional information about the numbers, Michele Bachmann stated, “Well these are the numbers that have been coming out in the press…” Well of course they are. And that leads us back to Beck and Limbaugh and Hannity and Fox News and every other member of the corporate conservative news machine. They have stopped reporting the facts and started reporting what each other reports about the facts. To say, “It’s in the press” is tantamount to saying “Fox News is reporting that Fox News has said (insert fake scandal here)…” Fox News is now a self-perpetuating, fake-scandal reporting, fact-ignoring juggernaut. It exists by feeding off of itself to the extent of hiring the very same people they pretend to report on.
It’s On The Internet
Eric Bolling from Fox Business News might actually deserve the credit for getting this ball rolling on his Fox program, “Follow the Money.” He ran a package with numbers quoted from an Indian website. Numbers that were not substantiated, verified or accredited. But hey, it’s just the news…right? And to absolutely prove he was right, Bolling added this little gem:
“I will tell you unequivocably, I am not making this up, this has been reported, go to the Internet, go take a look.”
Go to the Internet and take a look. Does that mean that if it’s on the Internet it’s true? Good. What else is true then? Let’s start with one I found on Drudge. “REPORT: US Military to build kilometer-long bomb-proof tunnel – so Obama can go to the Ghandi Museum…” Really? I thought that I should read the article before commenting on it. Or linking to it on my blog. Drudge should try that once in a while. The article starts out by condemning the American mind-set. The author, Pandurang Mhaske, writes, “It could give a sense of superior American organization, or be an indicator of a deep-set persecution complex. It could also be a manifestation of Uncle Sam’s penchant for a show of strength.” Deeper into the article, Mhaske describes the tunnel. “The tunnel would be a kilometer long and measure 12ft by 12ft — enough to let Obama’s cavalcade pass through. The tunnel would be centrally air-conditioned, fitted with close-circuit television cameras, and will be heavily guarded at every point, including, of course, its entry and exit.” Sweet. But wait! There’s more!
Mhaske wrote, just before describing the tunnel that it would be built by American military engineers IN JUST ONE HOUR! “They came up with a quick solution which left the Indians accompanying them amazed: A bomb-proof over-ground tunnel — to be installed by US military engineers in just an hour.” Amazed indeed. The only amazing part will be if any of this is even remotely true.
Other “True” reports on the internet include:
- The Pentagon was not hit by a jet liner on September 11, 2001. BUT…
- The Pentagon was built on occult symbols that can only be seen from the air but that are hidden and “barely discernible albeit almost complete.” It was done for undisclosed reasons by undisclosed people.
- The moon landings were hoaxed.
- UFOs have been visiting earth for centuries and much of what we are, we owe to our alien pals.
- Atlantis existed.
- George W. Bush was a Mass Murderer.
All on the Internet so, according to Fox News, all true.
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.
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.
The picture is a pile of paper wads from a single day. Paper wads. The custodian forgot to finish sweeping the floor and left this in the middle of the room. (Sweeping floors is difficult for a one armed man I guess. He’s not an amputee or anything. I have just never seen him working without a cell phone plastered to his ear.) I have actually watched a student who regularly comes to class with no paper get up, walk across the room and borrow a piece of paper just to wad it up to throw it at someone. Mind you…This particular student won’t use paper to turn in an assignment or anything like that. He just likes to throw paper at other boys.
It made me start to wonder something. Is throwing paper wads a childish activity? Does it rate up there with pulling pigtails and spitballs? Or do grown-ups throw paper wads as well? I know that, as an adult, I have never thrown a paper wad at a colleague. Well, maybe once in a newsroom back when we still used typewriters. And I was either frustrated or flirting. Or both. Probably both. So maybe it is not the paper wads themselves I am worried about. It might be the importance of the paper wads. They just aren’t that important to me but to my 15-18 year old students, paper wads rank up there with cell phones, iPods and girls. And way above education.
So I soul search a little. Was throwing paper at another boy or in the vicinity of a trashcan as important to me when I was in high school? I think I have to say, “No. It wasn’t” I think I was way too busy doing other stupid things but I really can’t remember what those things might have been. Girls were definitely on the list. So were cars and making money. Music? Perhaps but it was all on LP and AM radio. I worked a lot in the summer and after school too. Maybe I didn’t have enough time for paper wads. So I am going to go out on a limb and say that it is a pretty silly thing to do at school when learning is supposed to be taking place.
SpongeBob Is The Antichrist
A sixteen year-old boy or girl should not care about cartoons. Cartoons should not play a significant role in any teenager’s life. But is this as true as it once was? A decade or so ago, some broadcasting genius realized that there was a vast and relatively untapped market out there to exploit. A veritable Bakken Formation of potential ad sales. That market was, of course, tweens. Entire networks soon opened up and were marketing directly to the 8 – 12 year-old demographic. The market expanded as program directors ordered shows that appealed to a wider age group. Parents could chuckle at the Fairly Odd-Parents and the little side jokes their kids would never get. They were too busy laughing at fart jokes and animated spit takes. And then there was SpongeBob. I think that SpongeBob just might be the Antichrist. Or is he?
I read this quote in the Atlantic. The article was SpongeBob’s Golden Dream by James Parker.
“SpongeBob is one of the greatest believers in the American dream in all of children’s entertainment,” says Greg Rowland, whose consultancy, Greg Rowland Semiotics, has performed brand analyses for Unilever, KFC, and Coca-Cola. “He’s courageous, he’s optimistic, he’s representing everything that Mickey Mouse should have represented but never did. There’s even something Jesus-like about him—a 9-year-old Jesus after 15 packets of Junior Mints.”
SpongeBob. Not only has he surpassed Mickey Mouse in terms of potential, he is like young Jesus on a sugar rush. Of course this might just be the definition of Antichrist…That and a broad appeal. Certain cartoon characters work because they reach across age demographics. Instead of being for 8 – 12 year-old viewers or 13 – 16. Now we can market to 8 – 25 or 35 or 55 year-old audiences. And that way, we never have to grow up. And that is a problem.
I don’t remember my father watching cartoons with me. He may have watched Bugs Bunny with me but I am sure that if he had, I would remember. Dad was a very busy guy and he worked very hard. Please recall that years ago, if a kid wanted to watch a cartoon, he or she had to wait until Saturday morning where the big three networks aired them for three or four hours. That was it. And my dad used his Saturdays to sleep in. He deserved it. And he knew that Mom would be up and that the cartoons we were watching were harmless. So we sat and watched cheaply animated cartoons like Space Ghost, the Herculoids and Jonny Quest. Some weirder shows like H. R. Pufnstuf and the Banana Splits. And the Monkees. I have to admit, I still love the Monkees. And Lancelot Link.
So anyway…these broad appeal cartoons that started popping up in the 1990s have helped stunt the emotional and intellectual growth of our teenagers. I can mention groundbreaking TV shows in my classroom like Seinfeld or 24 and it results in blank stares. If I mention SpongeBob, even in passing, I can lose control of the room. Everything from a rousing chorus of, “Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?” to “SpongeBob? That’s my show, Boyeee!” Nobody gets that excited over Masterpiece Theater. But if we live in a perpetually stunted state of intellectual development, when will we willingly grow up? I once heard someone say that the definition of being an adult is developing the ability to listen to the William Tell Overture and not think of the Lone Ranger. I guess that doesn’t really apply anymore…