The English Teacher

Ideas on education, the English language, and the teaching profession.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Art of Reading

Many people often make the mistake of considering reading some sort of skill that can be learned and known forever after. Like fixing a flat tire on a bicycle or operating a dishwasher, they think that they can simply do the activity without having to really think about it. If reading really was such a simple activity that a person could know how to perform after the first or second grade, schools could easily do away with the ten years English classes that students still have to take afterwards. Unfortunately, reading is not such a simple activity that one can simply “know how to do.” Rather, reading is an art comprised of many separate skills, and it requires incessant practice and training to sufficiently master it.

Mastering reading does not arrive quickly to even the most talented reader. Every student must start as a beginner learning the sounds of letters and identifying words before they even start reading actual stories or articles, let alone whole sentences. A person cannot skip steps in this learning process, or they will struggle greatly in understanding what they see on the page. For this reason, beginners of reading start with short books with short words that rhyme (this helps a person learn the right pronunciation of words), short simple sentences to accommodate slow readers, an easy story with very few details or ideas, and big pictures to reinforce the meaning of the text. Once a reader can get through these simple books, they can progress to longer books with bigger words, longer sentences, and fewer pictures. These books will also require the reader to learn new skills that go beyond vocabulary and phonics (sounding out words) because these books will do much more complex things with language, compositional structure, and ideas. Highly advanced levels of reading will feature dense books that often manipulate and push the boundaries of language to present very complex ideas and challenge the reader to use many techniques for understanding. Getting to this point in reading which is necessary for college or professional studies, usually requires many years of practice and instruction.

When failing to understand that reading is an art, readers develop an attitude that they can avoid the practice and instruction necessary to improve and still somehow read more challenging texts. They might learn the basics and enjoy his picture books, but they will stop at that point, thinking they have learned enough. Once they are asked to read classic literature as a young adult, they will find out the hard way that they cannot do it. They will not understand many of the words, they will find it hard to follow the ideas and the story, and they will generally get very little meaning or enjoyment from the book. Although years have passed, and these readers are technically older, their minds have not grown, and they read at the same level they did when they were much younger. They will either have to change their reading habits (or lack thereof) and catch up, or suffer from ignorance for the rest of their lives.

A reader must learn many different skills to sufficiently understand and remember what he reads. For example, a beginning reader must first identify the correct pronunciation of words and the roles of punctuation marks like a beginning artist learns about lines and shapes. In understanding more complex fictional texts, a reader must learn different skills like outlining basic events in a story, identifying a character’s qualities, determining word meanings from context clues, finding the purpose behind certain sentence structures, examining details to see what they suggest, or seeing the relationships between certain characters. Students have to learn many more of these reading skills, especially when they start reading classics and various pieces of nonfiction. Learning them will not be fun or easy at first, but it will enable the reader to have much more fun reading once he has mastered them. The reader will then feel like an artist using colors, paints, and perspective to make something beautiful and unique instead of miserably drawing ugly stick figures; he will feel like a musician who can finally make beautiful music that he and other people like instead of making his audience cringe in disgust and ultimately embarrassing himself.

Eventually, all mature readers will be able to understand and work with all the different genres in literature. Most texts do have the same basic skills in comprehension, yet each genre emphasizes a specific set of skills for analysis. Both fiction and nonfiction have different genres within them that determine how a reader approaches the text. For example, a reader will look for the thesis, the outline of the argument, and the types of evidence used if he reads a persuasive speech; whereas he will look for plot, characterization, and stylistic elements if he reads a novel. A reader will certainly have a preference for one genre over others like an artist who prefers painting landscapes in an impressionist style over painting human figures in realistic style, yet having experience with all genres will still assist him in better understanding his owned preferred genre of reading and enable him to evolve intellectually. Moreover, many skills in reading will overlap genres; for instance, techniques used to interpret a poem also help in finding the argument in a persuasive essay.

At a very basic level, reaching a point of mastery in reading requires a good deal of instruction and constant practice. After a period of time, the lazy but talented reader will quickly come to nothing because reading demands work like any other artistic discipline. A violinist cannot play a fancy concerto without practicing for many hours, nor can he teach himself to play a concerto. Similarly, a reader cannot read a tragedy of Shakespeare without having read anything before, nor can he teach himself to read Shakespeare without the assistance of some kind of teacher. The brain functions like a muscle and thrives with rigorous discipline. It becomes stronger and has more endurance with regular use, but it becomes slow and weak upon neglect. Due to their lack of practice, many readers have a very hard time concentrating or understanding more difficult works of literature despite having attended ten years of English classes.

In essence, like all other arts, reading is primarily a process of creation. The painter creates paintings; the sculptor creates statues; the musician creates pleasant sounds; the poet creates poems. The reader creates ideas. Unlike watching television or playing a video game where the idea is already constructed and rendered on the screen, reading words on a page requires a person construct an idea, often with many more parts and intricacies, in his own mind. For this reason, watching a movie adaptation of a novel does not equal reading the novel; the mind does not actively construct anything but passively watches a screen, and the movie itself can only show a fraction of the ideas contained in the book.
On a practical level, reading triumphs over other arts because mastering the art of reading allows a person to learn anything. For this reason, schools heavily emphasize strong reading skills for all grade levels since it applies to every subject and is absolutely necessary for college studies and employment training. The art of reading also allows a certain freedom to the master, for what he reads provides new ideas that he can choose to use or not; the poor reader has fewer ideas to choose from and often lets others think for him while the strong reader can think for himself and be his own leader. When one cannot read and learn different things on his own, he sacrifices many things he can enjoy in life such as what he does for a living or understanding why life works the way it does. Therefore, all people must not simply learn the act of reading but master the art of reading and truly broaden the horizons of their existence.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Nipping the Problem in the Bud

A popular bromide has developed in education; it declares “raising one’s expectations for students will result in better performance.” However, a little experience in teaching will immediately trample this sanguine attitude because students will often fail before meeting those high expectations. They will rebel outwardly forcing substantial disciplinary action, they will rebel inwardly and not try the assignments and put in little effort, or they will try but fail in the objective all the same because they are years behind. Obviously, expectations eventually adjust with the level of the students, but the frustration of knowing they should be higher hits every concerned teacher. Naturally, the guilty culprits arise: parents, teachers, genetics, poverty, technology, media, NCLB, and society at large. Although all these factors deserve more far more serious attention than they receive already, they only address symptoms that manifest themselves later in life, usually adolescence. The real source of a child’s academic success, which can warrant any teacher’s ambitions of raising expectation, originates in his first years of schooling.

One of education’s gurus, Marva Collins, offers some great insight on this subject, which is actually rare among the millions of books on education. In her book, The Marva Collins Method, she describes her unusual approach to elementary school children: to actually teach and make them work. Most people ignore this aspect of the book, choosing rather to focus on the treacly stories of Marva connecting with neglected ghetto-children. For the few paying attention, they will see that Marva’s method is unusual because most elementary schools completely forego the critical instruction a child desperately needs. Most kids in elementary school hardly write, read, and many get by without learning a single rule of grammar. Rather, they play. For about six to eight years, the children grow into young adults neglect to use those absorbent brains that God gave them to learn. They enter high school, equipped with approximately the same skills they had when they entered the third grade. The only difference is that they are bigger, louder, and can procreate.

Fortunately for her little ones, Marva knew that she needed to teach phonics, grammar, and a good amount of classics. The average high school student struggles with all three. In basic, they will stumble on most words and forget to pause on periods revealing a terrifyingly shaky foundation in their literacy. Many of their minds will shut down within minutes of beginning of a classic novel, and they will put their heads down or stare at the ceiling—hence many teachers resort to using the tapes, so the students can enjoy “story time” like they did in kindergarten. In any assessment over grammar, even the most basic of grammar concepts, English teachers will usually need to prepare for the fact that over half of them will fail no matter how good the instruction.

Grammar in particular becomes prickly to teach because it is a discipline that requires some degree of memorization and a great deal of practice, very much like math. Unlike math, elementary teachers will take their chances and shove the burden of teaching grammar to the high schools. They can do this because most standardized tests will hardly test on grammar concepts before the second year of high school. Hence, many students enter come into through the door of English I, writing very much like small children. They make short sentences devoid of modifiers, phrases, additional clauses, and punctuation that strays from the period. Remedying this daunting gap in education requires Herculean efforts from a high school teacher because the students will fight it every step of the way. For the preservation of their sanity, many teachers forego any significant grammar instruction by this point, and pray that the rules will somehow come to students by them subconsciously internalizing some grammatical patterns through a book they read. Unfortunately, even if this were the case (and it isn’t), the students would actually have to read a decent amount of literature in the first place.

Most kids do not read very well, if at all. If they do, they read fairly easy texts written by Rowling or Meyers and their imitators. To say that these popular novels acclimate students to the many rules and conventions of reading classics would be like saying that a short walk through a parking lot acclimates a person to the rigors of a marathon runner. These books contain short sentences, limited vocabulary, easy morality, and a serve lack of complexity in the setting or characters. They serve ideally for escapes, but they do not challenge a reader to learn more than they know. Most elementary schools will eschew serious reading and the discipline it requires in favor of this kind of reading, or no reading at all. What this produces are children in high school that struggle with basic comprehension of adult texts and ideas; they struggle with very simple vocabulary; even discerning the moral message of a tiny fable by Aesop gives them fits.

The basic building block of reading, phonics, comes into question as districts entrust the high school teacher to acquaint callow unprepared youth to the works of Shakespeare. The na├»ve teachers will try to make the most of the Playwright’s plays by having the students play the parts and read out loud. They will learn most of the students only have a set list of words they can actually sound out and read, but they will ultimately fail with the unfamiliar words that abound in Shakespeare’s plays. The experience is thus tedious and painful for many in this exercise and betrays yet another gap in the students’ instruction. A teacher may teach many lessons half-heartedly without much of a repercussion, but they cannot do this with phonics. When they come short in that regard, they can cripple a child’s mind for a long while in the same way breaking their leg would make them lame permanently.

However, the teachers of an elementary school and their respective curriculum cannot take all the blame for such a paucity of knowledge. Most parents will gladly reinforce a lack of skills for their children. They nurture vices of attention deficiency with plenty of toys and few demands. Kids will be kids—forever. They stay lazy, distracted, and demanding throughout their academic careers. An elementary school will struggle with this, but a high school teacher will have no choice but succumb to it since the damage has become irreversible. Thus, the high school’s library is full of movie adaptations of classics, and the cabinets in most classrooms are filled construction paper and markers.

Marva Collins’s story demonstrates the difficult but ultimately necessary practice of really teaching the basics and disciplining the children at an early age. In her professional life, this eventually led to ostracism by her colleagues, so she had to start her own school. She succeeded with that school and now holds seminars. The district that pushed her out is notorious for violence, inefficiency, and poor academic performance. For the lucky few that have learned a few things in English, perhaps they can draw the moral lesson from her story and apply it their own younger students if they hope to change things for the better. High school English teachers and their students with underdeveloped intellects have suffered enough.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

News of the Day: No one cares

The Chicago Tribune shall be going bankrupt soon, leaving the famous city without a paper. Apparently, the paper was not making any business despite trying to appeal to average simpleton. They enlarged pictures, reduced text, tapped into appealing narratives of a certain politician from the area; but alas, they did not increase their readership and merely insulted the intelligence of their subscribers. Pundits have wrung their hands trying to find the guilty culprit, and they finally found their perfect scapegoat: everyone.

Since the arrival of the internet, everyone in the world has stopped caring about the journals. They have instead developed the habit of retreating to their boxes at home. Those that bother to read the news, usually the older crowd still stuck in the habit of checking on the world from time to time, read their selected articles online. Ironically, this selectivity normally leads to least relevant news receiving the most exposure while very important news passes by without a sound.

Naturally, most people have stopped reading the headlines altogether unless it affects them directly. Always keeping a finger on the pulse of the cultural bloodstream, a certain periodical released its yearly list of important personages a few years ago with a twist. In years past, the lists have included world leaders, famous scientists, important artists, and others that left an imprint in the world consciousness. This year, the magazine featured a computer with a reflective surface on the cover. The perplexed reader who looked at the magazine would see the idea emerge in the reflection. Yes, that year, the important person of the year was Everyone.

Unfortunately, the magazine made an accurate choice that could validly apply every year after that issue. Everyone is special, though not in a way that makes neighbors eager to know one another. Everyone now wants to know themselves better and forget about their neighbors. Unknowingly quoting the words of Whitman, the world of the today wakes up with the verse, "I celebrate Myself!" More people everyday now center on themselves. They devote web pages, filled with odes and hymns, to themselves. They make videos of themselves. They watch shows that feature people like themselves. They buy themselves every imaginable product specifically tailored to their increasingly vapid personalities. As they delve further into shameless vanity (shame has evaporated along with those that read the news), their ears stop hearing and their eyes stop seeing.

They illustrate the modern paradox: as the world becomes more connected the souls of the world become more disconnected. Information of all forms is unimaginably accessible, but no one wants to learn. Caught in so many webs of networks, communities, and thousands of different communication devices, people feel more isolated and detached from the world than ever. People desperately want to know themselves, but they employ every diversion they can to avoid it. Human nature completes another lap around the cycle of history and comes back to the words of an ancient mind, "Vanities of vanities. All life is vanity."

Contrary to modern dogma, the problems of today (always material, only superficially moral) will not be solved if people looked at themselves in the mirror. People need to stop looking at the mirror and look at the world around them like people have before they felt like celebrating themselves. Perhaps this approach could breathe some life into the cultural dialog that has suffered from a boorish insularity. The sycophantic pundits that pandered to this mentality are now finding out that they were simply digging their own graves.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

From Goosebumps to The Great Gatsby

As the leaves fall, the cold fronts push in, and the students become accustomed to the routine of the school day, the English teachers will finally teach their major texts for the year. Typically, their students have attention spans as fragile as eggshells, and their reading skills are hardly more sophisticated than the toddler sounding out nursery rhymes. The mere sight of books for most of these students will induce the most offensive yawns. The task is grim but quite clear for the English teacher: The kids need to be shaken out of their intellectual stupor and the fire of their passive imaginations needs rekindling. All they need is good story that an adolescent can wrap his brain around.

Unfortunately, the teacher has his hands tied on this one. The district has mandated that certain texts be taught without question. Thus, to the struggling reader(which applies to nearly 90% of American students) that has just entered high school, the English teacher will pass out copies of Homer's The Odyssey. As soon as the students try to wade through the prayer to the muses filled with Homeric similes and lofty allusions to countless myths, their little flames of imagination will now be successfully snuffed out in an instant. The book is difficult and easily overwhelms them. The English teacher must now anticipate their wrath and cope with it the rest of the year.

That is only the beginning. As these little ones sit through class after class, they will still have to endure the verbiage of Shakespeare, Greek Tragedies, and a host of stories better suited for octogenarians than kids with absolutely no concept of history or any matter of maturity. To name a few, they are: The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Scarlet Letter, Lord of the Flies, The Crucible, and Great Expectations. All of these are lovely books for a seasoned reader and thinker, but for the kid pitifully sounding out three syllables, these books will successfully kill any desire to read. They will eventually kill an English teacher's desire to teach as well.

Despite having the same gloomy results, English departments across the country continue to unsuccessfully use these books as instructional tools for decades. To be fair, teachers did have a few novels to really move the students and make them think twice about opening a book. Any novel of Steinbeck could always convey a digestible moral lesson that suited the pallets of young readers. Catcher in the Rye had a mysterious magic over students of any background. Even George Orwell or Ray Bradbury had a peculiar appeal to students sitting in windowless classrooms pondering such odd concepts as freedom or individuality.

However, these books have either been shelved, pushed up grade levels, or banned altogether. In a triumph of insanity, the same schools that teach the perverted plight of Oedipus and the unnecessarily sanguine quests of Odysseus will somehow find the few naughty words of Holden Caulfield and the subtle innuendos of Steinbeck objectionable beyond all measure. Thus, any book that the kids could call their own have been taken away, and they are left with the driest old tomes that even most teachers would pass over if they could.

Naturally, some teachers, mostly those in the urban districts, have tried fixing this problem altogether by compromising the mandated literature with more contemporary selections that nearly always have some multicultural agenda. What usually occurs is that their books ironically have the same difficulties since they mistakenly pick books with the same adult themes. Even if a story of Sandra Cisnerors is short, gritty, and Latino, it's hardly appreciated by the majority of young people. The same applies to the confessional texts of Gary Soto, Amy Tan, and Maya Angelou.

Due to this recurring result, educators might do well to consider giving books that are not specifically for adults for a change. Set the kids on an adventure, exploring new worlds in the future, in the past, or in the jungles. Quite a few luminaries (Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Rudyard Kipling, Daniel Defoe, or Robert Louis Stevenson, to name a few) have written classics in these areas that will enhance the vocabulary and language of students yet still entertain. Besides, before even catching a whiff of Shakespeare or Homer, any reader should have an extensive body of texts and histories in them first. Students could get through many enjoyable books before taking on the giants of the language.

Nevertheless, educators are under the impression that there would not be enough time, so they try to take the "short cut." They think they can merely create some little "strategy" in teaching that will solve the problem of reading incredibly hard texts. Somehow the students will catch all the lovely metaphors, similes, and puns of Shakespeare without having to work too hard at it; the teachers just need to present it the right way. Devise some happy little group assignments accompanied by Power points for the Scarlet Letter, and the kids will surely catch the multitude of symbols and themes. This has never worked, but districts never seem to stop trying to make it work. Couple this flawed approach with a resistance to spend even the tiniest amount for purchasing new set of books and teachers are stuck with the same classics that have unfairly become infamous among the non-reading public.

Fortunately, most schools will leave a few sets of fun-yet-nutritious books lingering in the corners of a dusty cluttered storage room, and the good English teachers will capitalize on these finds. When given the chance, their students will demonstrate skills that were thought to be hopelessly nonexistent all because they had a book they could finally understand and enjoy. If this could be maintained, decent levels of literacy in America could be revived, but that teacher will soon have to stab his dear little students in the back by following district requirements, giving them Julius Caesar.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Epistles of an Educator

Excerpts from two letters of one teacher writing to another. Something tells me that my sob story was pretty typical.

"...the summer has finally come to a close. I've had the pleasure of seeing what teachers do before the school year starts (as that lovable urban district decided to wait minutes before the year to hire me). Like a rock on the beach eroding from wave after wave of salty water pounding it, I sustain these blows of boredom from meeting after meeting. First, it was teaching higher thinking skills from a lady who barely had the capacity to utilize those skills herself. Then, it was AP training for a week from a new age troll-like woman who gave us her lesson plan leftovers from her 20 years of teaching and a whole bunch of treacly anecdotes with her exceptional kiddos. Finally, this week had a whole barrage of orientations and meetings explaining everything except the very basic. I know how to look up a student's 4th grade TAKS score, but I'm unsure about how to make copies. I'm well versed on the plethora of levels from Bloom's magic hat of "higher thinking," but I'm unclear about the school schedule and my class rosters. How much time could be saved by doing away with meetings altogether and letting us just talk with one another. These instructors get upset about us talking while they click away at their pointless (pun intended) power point presentations, but we're just trying to get the information we need to literally do our jobs before the kids come....

"I got to get a glance at some of my students' scores. They blew me away. All A's and Bs. I think they were even better than the advanced kids at our old school. I thought to myself, "So this is where the normal kids go." Of course, I'm probably overstating things, but I'm going to try and have fun, making these little ones work themselves into a delirium of words and ideas. Apparently, we're even encouraged to be strict with the kids. Can you believe it?! Principals want to extract undesirable elements from the start. The school has developed a reputation of being strict, so the kids coming in watch themselves and keep their stupid phones at home and their rear ends covered. I'm really curious to see all this for myself. Right now, it's all hearsay. Just let me at them. I'll keep my enthusiasm tempered however. I resolved to be much more organized and systematic about everything this year, and more vigilant than ever about lackluster performance. Excessive optimism tends to impede this..."

"As last week ticked away at these insipid meetings, I felt that weight of upcoming obligations growing heavier and heavier. I don't know if these people that coordinate these meetings understand that teachers, especially ones doing a new subject need extra time to prepare something. I have to create new assignments. I have to read over stories to give my students. I have to have all this typed and copied before the kids come. And I do this all over again for my English 2 class. This takes time! I needed that whole week to get a good solid start. They gave a few hours Friday afternoon. That was it! And then factor in the needless delay to have them copied by some goon at their copy center that oversees and protects the vestal virgin copiers from us teachers, and I'm about to have a heart attack the first morning of school because I'm cutting it so damn close for a mere one day of classwork. I had to plead with the woman there to copy mine ahead of the others with pitiful humility. Just one instance among many where the uneducated drone gets the best of us teachers.

Of course, while worrying about my worksheets and syllabi and dreading the next day when this circus would start up once more, I get this list of complex procedures with attendance. I did the best I could counting those who were there and marking those who were absent. Apparently, this wasn't enough. I needed to have this turned in before noon and accompany the sheets with more forms stating the kids' ID numbers and other information that I thought was registered with our computers. With more than a little abruptness and resentment, the woman there chewed me out for neglecting to read my directions carefully and turning my papers in an hour later than I should have. And again, the uneducated drone got the best of this teacher.

I had to spend a whole hour after school clearing my desk and putting everything in right order. All the garbage teachers dump on me that they think I can use, all the papers about upcoming school events, all the papers about beginning of school procedures, papers about technology and textbook guidelines, and finally, all the kids' work that I planned to grade but finally decided to put in a folder for ungraded "sample work." After that, I checked my e-mails packed with attachments that I "needed" to read. Soon the sun was going down, my feet were killing me, and I needed a break. I didn't take one all day. I had my pathetic little lunch of a smashed peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a cookie while toiling away on the computer. It was a pitiful scene to behold.

Don't even get me started on lesson plans. They've adopted that devious format that requires me to copy and paste from one screen to the other and discuss at length every assignment of every day and how well it engages my students. I pleaded ignorance over the program (along with some other teachers) and hopefully bought a little time and lenience. Though I now need to attend another meeting this Thursday.

I'm ashamed to say that I feel overwhelmed, and it's not even the kids. They actually seem like a pretty wholesome bunch. They tried at the work, laughed at my jokes, and refrained from sleeping through my stretched out presentation of the syllabus (a lack of time and resources forced me into eating up time this way). It's just these things that are supposed to "help" us teachers that bind our limbs and brains.

I should be good for tomorrow, and I'll try to catch up and finish up the week's assignments somehow. Pray for me in that regard..."

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Theraphist and The Technician

In the education world, many buzzwords and phrases come up to signify efforts to improve classroom education. These words will season every lengthy educational psychology study or new proposal for failing school districts to help focus teachers on helping their students on their way up the winding road of knowledge and achievement. Even those without a teaching certificate might be able to recognize these words that often fill the empty insights of newspaper and magazine articles concerning education. Here are a few: academic rigor, learning through effort, higher level thinking, engaging students, cooperative learning, connecting with technology, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, the one word people don't use is discipline, not even for behavior (this would expect too much for some students). Discipline entails three qualities: self-control, a respect for rules and guidelines, and a training in either moral or academic development, often both. Instead of the empty phrases previously listed, all padded with endless packets that contain absolutely nothing, many schools and districts could save a forest of trees by outlining their strategies to improve education with this simple but powerful idea which founded the idea of formal education to being with.

The consequences of doing otherwise leads to a pedagogical ambiguity that jeopardizes core curriculum. Many teachers end up having disturbingly different ideas of what they teach, especially English. Commanding language through reading and writing, the most vital discipline in a student's education, has formally ceased to exist for most students. English has now become the fun class that many of the students aptly identify as the art of excreting bull excrement. This phenomenon has arisen from a large amount of English teachers shamelessly deciding to teach whatever they feel like, usually opting for something easy and fun while leaving a precious few English teachers to bear the cross of teaching the arduous discipline of language mastery. The former shall be known as the therapists, and the latter shall be known the technicians.

Currently, the therapists predominate in schools. As their title suggests, they have made their classroom a platform for individual expression, preaching tolerance, raising self-esteem, and discussing life lessons. They pat themselves on the back for teaching their kids how to "think" and "make the right choices" when in fact they do neither. They promote immaturity by empathizing with it. They ease their students into a lifelong illiteracy and mental laziness by treating the activity of reading as an innate ability rather than a series of complex mental skills. Most of them will feel completely comfortable reading to the kids like a mother to her little toddlers. They jettison formal rules of composition and essay writing and instead teach the kids to make personal diaries and various pieces of doggerel in its place. Without question, the grammar books will be shelved far away in a dark closet before seeing any use, thus condemning the students to single clauses and a whole world of vocabulary they will never know how to use. In a bitter display of irony, these therapists have created the very problems in students they sought to extinguish. The students cannot express themselves since they lack basic linguistic skills. Their understanding of tolerance evaporates as they lose the capacity to reason and distinguish particular sides of an argument outside their own. They lose self-esteem when their abundant intellectual inadequacies inevitably show themselves. In the end, they do not learn any true life lessons since they have been coddled and passed on into a world with quixotic notions of their worth. Only after a few years out of school (if not earlier), they will feel reality's crippling blow leave them crumpled in mediocrity.

Fortunately, before a few of those students graduate, they might encounter a real English teacher known as the technician. Students often hate the technician because this teacher will force them to work and use their brains. Little do they know that these teachers work even harder than they do. They will grade and correct every pitiful paper they write. They will take the time to teach the abstract and complex world of grammar and ram the stolid boundaries of the students' prepubescent sentence structures. They will create and teach the complex blueprints involved in building an argument and adorning it with polished language.They will burn off the abundant flab slowing a student's brain with unceasing dissections, deep readings, and critiques on difficult but doable texts. Students under the technician will finally learn the meaning of the word discipline: self control, correct training, and an obedience to essential academic and moral rules. They will be armed to pass any examination or complex task or concept forever afterwards. Sadly, they will often resent this devoted teacher that endowed them with these life long skills and remember fondly the teacher that gave them parties and field trips.

Too many people have entered the teaching profession hoping to affect young people's hearts instead of their minds. They come inspired with their favorite poetry (sometimes their own), implausible movies showing teachers exhorting their unnaturally compliant students to "seize the day," or naive notions of simply motivating kids out of their kids out of apathy with hard-hitting discussions and therapy sessions. If they don't quit within their first few years, these teachers will take their place below a smiling indifferent principal in pushing the illiterate young American on his way. They will loudly cry foul at standardized tests until the standards sink low enough to accommodate their lackadaisical teaching methods.

Teachers need to concern themselves with the process rather than the result. It's arduous, slow, intimidating in its complexity, but unavoidably necessary. The proper word for this learning process that has gradually faded away from modern education is discipline. Until educators stop needlessly inventing those empty different definitions and buzzwords, that desirable result of discipline will be gone as soon as the bell for class rings.

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