Education in America

What do I know about education?  Absolutely a little bit…I did go to school you know.

Prompted by crazy trouble makin’ librarian, Karyn Brinks, I read the following article:   No I’m not going to go into detail – read it yourself.  I also don’t know all of the players involved in the current debate on education except for  Bill Gates and a one time donation from Mark Zuckerberg.  If you listen to politicians and political pundits you can catch the popular buzzwords: unions, tenure, No Child left behind, money, dropout factory, Obama, anti-christ, teacher performance, standardized tests – yes…it all sounds so very scary.

Additionally, Jaime makes me watch Oprah on occasion and in one episode she profiled the movie Waiting for Superman.  In that particular episode, Oprah and her audience did a whole lot of head nodding and “Amen!” type stuff.  Apparently, we, the viewing audience was supposed to support the one-sided view that teachers are bad, unions are bullies that suck money and performance from schools and that kids have an enormous potential for learning but our public schools make them stupid.  I’m paraphrasing, of course.

My kids finished high school not too long ago: Emily in 2008 and Xavier in 2010.  I can say with utmost confidence that both of my kids are geniuses (of course, I’m bias) and that they absolutely HATED high school.  Furthermore, I would go so far as to say that high school sucked every bit of joy they had from life.  They were also really whinny, got in trouble a lot over the stupidest little things, and the bitching was incessant.

I did have my beef with the faculty too.  Seriously?  Send a kid home for holes in the knees of their jeans.  Did I read the handbook?  Yes.  Did I know they would get sent home?  I knew it was a possibility.  However, it was still stupid.  Did teachers send notes home?  No.  Did teachers communicate with me at ALL?  No…although they would call when it was too late to do anything about performance or behavior.  Teachers used Power School and then some other program to keep parents apprised of attendance and performance.  Did I check it every day?  Yes.  Did it ever change?  Yes, the day of report cards.  What the hell?

This contrasts greatly to my high school experience.  I was a nerd type person.  My parents were middle class, the kind of middle class where my mom bought one pair of every half-size McGreggor tennis shoes when they went on clearance at Kmart so that she didn’t have to buy shoes from junior high until I graduated high school, the kind of middle class where my parents still have reams and reams of college rule notebook paper that Walmart and Target were selling for $0.08 per pack in the mid 1980s.

I had lots of friends.  I wasn’t a jock.  I did play in the band for a few years.  I didn’t do my homework and I had good grades.  I was so adamant about not doing homework that I was singled out for special recognition on the last day of my 12th grade physics class for the only student that had never opened their book.  It wasn’t true though.  I did open it once so I could put the book cover on it.

I got paddled – a lot.  I liked to talk back.  I preferred not to pay attention and I spent a lot of time either in the hall or in a desk at the front of the room.

From all this, I still loved high school – mostly I loved the cafeteria food.

What did school give me?  It made me feel special.

For some strange reason, unknown to me still to this day, my school did something for me that forever changed my life.  Nine girls and four boys were selected to be in an experimental Gifted and Talented program.  Again, I don’t know why, but I was one of the four boys.  This one was an English class, but it was so much more.  In the successive years it morphed into a class called “Humanities”.  The most valuable skills I ever learned from this experience were brainstorming, critical thinking and nurturing my creativity.

It’s a sad story from there.  I was offered a tuition only scholarship to Boston University and M.I.T.  I couldn’t figure out a way to get there or pay for housing so I went to the local University of Arkansas at Little Rock.  At the time (my parents now apologize for not helping) I had no guidance; I didn’t know that student loans or financial aid existed.  I opted instead to drink, party and not attend class.

I’ve had 20 years to reflect on how to fix the education system in America.  If I were dictator of the United States these are things I would address:

  • Corporal punishment: Bring it back.  There are rears that need busting.  This alone is a great motivator and would shut many a smart mouth.
  • Uniforms: Make it so!  Why?  From my time in the Air Force I know how awesome it is not to have to decide what to wear each day.  Even though some stupid parents would bitch about free speech (WTF?) if your kid wants to express them self they can wear a cool button or Underoos.  Trust me.  A $20 pair of slacks is soooo much cheaper than a $90 pair of jeans.
  • Air conditioning:  We didn’t have it and it was Africa hot in Arkansas.  The humidity was so thick you didn’t even have to wash your hair.  Every student had a salt lick just to keep from passing out.  It makes you tough.  When you’re learnin’ and sweatin’ it makes you feel like your accomplishing something.
  • Block scheduling: It sucks!  “We want the kids to experience what it is like to be in college.” B.S.!  If you wanted that then the classes would be on Tuesday/Thursday or Monday/Wednesday/Friday and you would charge several hundred dollars per credit hour.  I found that in 100% of my kids classes, the lessons only lasted 50 minutes and the rest of the two hours was spent shooting spitwads or doing “home work”.  Seriously folks, you are not doing your kid any favor by trying to squeeze 1/2 of a subject into one semester for four classes.  Seven class per day at one hour each was great for me.  You cover a lot of material and it is all year long.  Homework was real.  Learning was real.
  • Curriculum: Here is one of my real peeves.  Education should be offered equally.  What do I mean?  If you have one public school that can offer violin lessons and robotics classes and another public school down the road can only offer “keyboarding” classes on 1986 Tandy Radio Shack TRS-80s then there is a real problem.  I don’t hold to the notion that you buy a house in a nice community and your kids deserve to go to a nice school.  Bull shit.  All children of a state should be offered the EXACT SAME education as every other student.  For instance, Maryville City Public Schools are apparently the bees knees and so is Alcoa.  However, William Blount would come in 3rd and Heritage would come in 75th if it weren’t for the fact that there are only 4 schools in the area.  The city has all the commerce.  The city gets all that sales tax revenue.  The county people work in the city, shop in the city, eat in the city and the city gets county tax money AND city tax money.  No…that’s not right.  Your PUBLIC education should not depend on the means of your parents.  If you are a kid living in a poor district you not only suffer AT school, you don’t get the same competitive advantages that kids that go to great schools get when trying to get into college.  So robotics classes for all schools or none of the schools.
  • Books: Seriously?  We still have books?  Oh…we still have those books – that same ones your parents had.  Look…there’s dad’s name on the cover.  I can’t believe we spend so much per book on printed books.  We could buy generic eBook readers for half the price of printed books and it could stay updated forever.  Sure, the publisher would want a licensing fee per electronic copy.  Sure some idiot kid will spill milk on it or drop it in the toilet.  I can’t be bothered with the details.  I’m brainstorming here not creating a fiscal plan.
  • Teacher Performance:  I’ve got one better.  If you want to base teacher pay on student achievement then why not make it a 3/3 option?  1/3 student achievement will be placed on the student, 1/3 will be place on the teacher, and 1/3 will be placed on the parent.  Is your kids the asshole that never does his homework, disrupts class or is always absent?  Guess what, you’re getting a fine from Johnny Law.  If there were economic sanctions against my parents for me not doing my homework, I guarantee there would have only been one instance.
  • Sports:  Sorry folks, but you get no sympathy from me here.  At Heritage High School, the football team gets an actual credit toward graduation, the wrestling team: nada, the soccer team: nada.  You want a credit because you sit on a bench?  No way.  Folks take sports way too seriously in this area.  Schools and communities should be lauding students that excel in music, art, math and science.  Jocks should be the ones that are bullied and ridiculed.  No one ever cured cancer by throwing a football.  We didn’t land on the moon because we could hit 3-pointers on the court.  Take care of your body: yes.  Enjoy sportsmanship: yes.  Make it a way of life: no.

What are our educational priorities as a nation?  Learning should never stop.  Learning should not be partisan, liberal or conservative.  Learning is not about the clothes you wear or the sports you play.  Learning is a delicious gourmet meal.  However, we’re serving it cold and two weeks old with too much salt.  Our children and adults should be asking for seconds, not leaving the food on their plate.

To learn we must have people that teach.  I would never teach seeing what teachers have to put up with.  I understand why so many teachers feel disinterested or disheartened.  They get no respect, they make fraction of what they deserve AND they still have to pay off their student loans.

We will not find the answer to our education woes listening to Glen Beck or Oprah Winfrey.  Will will not produce truly talented and gifted adults by turning to private corporate charter schools.  If we wanted to pump out mindless robots that can take a standardized test, then yes, charter schools are the answer.  I want students that create!  I want students that innovate!  I want my flying car, a lightsaber and and a transporter beam and I’m not going to get these things if schools keep pumping out morons!

Okay, I was teasing about the air conditioner thing.  No, we really didn’t have it and it was so miserable.

That’s right, I have no answers.  I’m just ranting.  I can do that.  I have my own website.