Tag Archives: classroom

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.


It’s Like An Old Friend Just Died.

I know that I promised to talk about my experiences making a student documentary called “Golden Grillz & Satan Likes Puppies” but something tragic has happened. My computer died yesterday.

It’s not like I have never lost a computer before. In fact, I am on my third home PC because my seven year-old eMachine finally died and went to wherever dead PCs go. Some say the scrapheap but I like to think that it has been released from its earthly bonds and is sitting in a field much like the Windows XP Desktop wallpaper. You know the one. Green fields and a lovely blue sky…

Anyway, PCs come and PCs go. Sure, we lost quite a bit of family stuff including all of my daughter’s digital pics and her iTunes library. Fortunately she still had most of the pics on her SD card and I was able to reload her iTunes from her iPod. Not as easy as it sounds. You have to sort of trick the computer into thinking that the iPod is an external hard drive and make it show the hidden files and then start loading things by hand.

But, as frustrating as it was, it was just another dead PC. I got a new one several days later. Another eMachines, this time with Vista. Microsoft Vista is not as bad as all the critics want you to believe. What is bad, as far as I can figure, is that it’s not Windows XP. And we hate change. I am no computer engineer and I am not a hard core gamer so my computer gets used pretty much like every other computer. For e-mail, the occasional casual game and some multi-media stuff like online video and some music. And for that, Vista is just fine. But I digress.

The computer that died was my school issued Apple iBook G4. It was a 14 inch laptop with a 1GHz G4 processor, somewhere around 640 MB of RAM. It was loaded with everything I needed to get through the day. Microsoft Office, Keynote, Final Cut Pro, Photoshop, Remote Desktop, Mac OS-X Leopard and some other stuff like video clips that I show every class. It was the first Mac I ever got my hands on and it was the start of something big.

My iBook allowed me to use a real live professional non-linear editing program. Before that, most of my editing was done tape-to-tape. It introduced me to Photoshop and it was love at first sight. So much of what my class is and so much of what we do is on that poor dead computer. I knew it was starting to die so I started to make back-ups of the important stuff like the iTunes library and most of my Photoshop files and a good chunk of my Microsoft Office documents and I have a mobile lab of eight newer and faster iBooks and I can use one for my very own, but it’s not the same. I really do miss my old iBook. Eight years is a pretty good lifespan for a laptop. Especially one that has been everywhere I have been.

It could be the hard drive or it could be the software or it could be the logic board. I don’t know and probably never will. School systems don’t like to spend money. So the little iBook that could will go into a pile of broken equipment that I keep in the storage closet. But before it went in there I cleaned it. I have no idea why but I used lint-free tissue, some alcohol and Q-Tips and removed all of the smudges, scuffs and dings and other badges of honor before I put it on a shelf.

I’ll put in a request for a replacement, maybe a Macbook Pro or an iMac. The requisition will be logged in, misplaced, found, sent back for clarification, resubmitted, lost again, re-resubmitted and then I will be told that it is “Up for Bid.” At that point, eight months to a year after the initial request, no one will remember ever having been asked if I can have a new classroom computer.

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