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

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.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Ghetto School

The idea of a school stands as something of a paradox in people’s minds. They will know school, often very intimately, but their knowledge means nothing because their school has changed drastically, often for the worse. In half a decade, student populations can double or triple; two dozen portables can eat up the extra space meant for the soccer field; minorities in a school can become majorities; the norm for student behavior can plummet dramatically; and only a tenth of whole staff remains to see it happen. This happens often, especially in growing cities. People today have yet to know what the average school is like, and this causes a serious problem. The primary obstruction towards serious reform in education frequently originates from people’s memories taking precedence over reality. In order to truly understand and correct the problems of education today, dutiful citizens must acquaint themselves with today’s school, otherwise known as the ghetto school.

The ghetto school’s name derives from the colloquial understanding of ghetto, which generally refers to a closed off community that is often crowded, ugly, and wrought with problems frequently related to ignorance and poverty. The ghetto school shares this meaning, but in an educational context. They are overcrowded, ugly, and wrought with problems due to the misallocation of funds and depleted brainpower from students. Students in the ghetto carry the dreams and ideals of peasants. Those dreams sadly derive from most of the garbage they inculcate from television, the internet, videogames, or the kids around them. Thus, instead of dreaming of the future and making their mark in the world, they dream of owning loud stereo systems, sleeping with the opposite sex, and acquiring hideous but expensive fashion accessories otherwise known as “bling.”

The primary attribute of the ghetto school that affects everything else is overcrowding. Public schools rarely have quotas, so their student populations have consequently exceeded capacity. Everyone suffers from this. Students and teachers jam themselves into a dank room, scuttling into their chairs since space for walking ceases to exist. The teachers will often share rooms with other teachers because the lack of classrooms. This forces some of them to pack all their supplies into a cart with which they “float” into different classrooms every period. In schools that truly bust at the seams with students, the auditoriums, cafeterias, and libraries will also serve as classrooms.

Naturally, the preponderance of children diminishes the authority of every adult as students organize into mobs letting troublemakers weave in and out of mischief with the protection of a boisterous crowd of adolescents. At this point, the school will forego many designated consequences because of mere logistical issues. Forcing detentions or parent conferences on kids with too many tardies, prompt intervention for failing grades or truancy, or simply keeping the halls clear of kids during instruction are unfeasible actions to carry out. While school efficiency plays an immense role in this system failure, the sheer number of students will sometimes make enforcement of basic rules near impossible. Consequently, a massive portion of students comes continually late if at all, fail classes, and loiter in the halls with impunity. Students that lack a strong guiding presence at home -and this is very common- are doomed in this setting. When given the choice to learn in a classroom or waste away time doing nothing or something illegal, these kids will always opt for the latter.

In this situation, school administrators will pick and choose what behaviors deserve a serious response and requires the least administrative work. This means that they often end up handling illegal activity only. This includes: fights, theft, drug abuse, drug dealing, vandalism, gang involvement, prostitution, and truancy (although this one usually ends up being an afterthought). Fortunately, the truly dangerous students will face some kind of resistance. The less dangerous students, who still eviscerate the learning environment, will fly under the radar and wreak havoc in classes. They will disrupt any semblance of order, shatter any expectation, and will deprive any student of feeling comfortable in class. They are the suicide bombers ready to bring everyone down to hell with them. They do this because, like suicide bombers, they know that destruction is the only thing they can do successfully. Destruction will make them known, the teachers learning their names before anyone. All the while, their world will not lift a finger against them because it does not want the responsibility. In vain, teachers will document and try his best to at least minimize the constant disruption and its degenerative effect on the class as a whole.

As a rule, ghetto schools always contain the shoddiest accommodations. They are poorly built and usually have the most wretched Soviet-inspired designs. The bathrooms suffer from bad plumbing that turns them into literal cesspools. The ceilings leak after rains. The fire alarms go off at random moments, effectively blowing out everyone’s eardrums. Students further assist matters by littering every corner, plugging up sinks and toilets to further flood bathrooms while defacing the walls, desks, doors, and pretty much any surface with graffiti.

Therefore, the deplorable physical setting will naturally take its toll on the mental and emotional setting of the ghetto school. Candidly speaking, school is often the place where dreams die. Students learn to lie, cheat, steal, and embrace despair. They put their heads down for hours at a time shunning work. They silence their minds in fear of the other students stigmatizing them. Those who had a chance, sit idly for hours because the work that the teachers assign is easy. In general, students learn how to not learn. Rather they seek happiness and meaning by destroying things or engaging in sexual relationships way before they have the proper level of maturity. They become parents, causing a blow to any future they, or their newborns, might have had. Teachers infused with passion and zeal for education harden their demeanors, gradually assuming the role of an unflinching cynics all too familiar with the mediocrity of their situation. Very few of them stay; most of them leave.

In the end, the ghetto school favors the worst from all groups. Only the idiotic students get by unscathed by the experience. Only the worst teachers pass the days without any murmurs from their clouded conscience. Only the most corrupt administrators keep the school running poorly without reproach from the outside. The rest just keep from perishing.

The atrocious atmosphere of these schools now force parents with any income will find a private school nearby or move out altogether. Hence, those without any means but many children populate the ghetto schools. Public schools in normal cities now primarily serve the poorer classes while the middle class has to pay dearly for their children’s education, either through living in an expensive suburb or finding a private school. In order to entice a few middle class white students, some ghetto schools will provide an honors track, which provides a protective bubble from all the surrounding trash. Unfortunately, even these bubbles sometimes pop and become corrupted over time.

Schools have changed enormously in the past decade. The ghetto school has ceased to be the exception found only in pockets of an urban community. It is now the norm. People that reminisce of their teenage years so many generations back need to look again. Otherwise, ghetto schools will expand and continue producing the people society deplores most: convicts and beggars.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Mission

In the movie, “The Mission”, Jeremy Irons plays the role of the missionary entering the Amazon to spread the gospel and civilize the savages. Viewers can recount the amazing trials and tribulations that the missionary went through to reach his lost flock in the jungle. He climbs up a waterfall with nothing but a knapsack and calms a tribe of hostile natives by playing his oboe. With time and unbreakable conviction, he raises the mission and the quality of life for the savages and an errant Spanish conquistador guilty of fratricide. Even the unbeliever will marvel at the determination of this missionary and his accomplishment. In the course of Western history, he was simply one of many to help colonize and civilize the untamed New World. The missionaries carried an unflinching resolve to lead a moral religious life and ward off the evil influences of barbarism present in both native and European cultures. Now that times have changed, modern secular educational institutions must assume these duties or watch the progress of the human spirit deteriorate.

The school needs a mission that fights the pernicious influences that abound in the world and at home. This has not always been the case in American society, but times have changed. A surprisingly large amount of parents have abrogated their parenting duties to instill morality in their young ones. Children today grow up without a code of ethics, a sense of the honorable, or an ideal. Atrocities that occur more frequently in the news confirm the deterioration of character; to name a few: school shootings, gang shootings (Chicago has more than 22 students killed on a school campus), student brutality, rising teen pregnancy, and unmitigated drug abuse. People shouldn’t make the mistake of likening today’s miscreants with lovable fabrications of Mark Twain, stupidly quoting, “Kids will be kids.” While they are still human, adults have let youth become morally barbaric (for lack of a better word) because they neglected their obligation to civilize. Reasons for this may happily fill the lucubrations of any periodical or blog, but the schools are the ones who need to cope with this challenge.

Unfortunately, many schools and educators will not acknowledge this challenge. This would naturally require more accountability and more energy than the current mission of most schools: Keep ‘em in the building and make sure the pass that stupid state test. The challenge of civilizing children would require schools to adopt measures that assume a new authority that oversees the academic and moral growth of each individual student. Schools shudder at all these measures because most of them have adopted “one-size-fits-all” approach that somehow leads to college. This approach is cheaper, easier to implement, and much easier to define. If any aberrations occur, usually among the extremes on the intellectual spectrum (the brilliant and the slow), the parents would normally supplement the school’s glaring inadequacies. Parents would also address the moral education of the students as well. Now that parents do not take on either of these responsibilities, schools must now adapt like missions had to adapt to the natives and take up the responsibilities themselves.

Successful civilizing measures contain these elements: flexible curriculum that allows alternatives for blooming adolescents, a discipline system that actually corrects behavior, and some indoctrination of values. All three elements feed into the other. A student freely and happily determines his fate when given the opportunity (alternatives) and the training (discipline). This student can embrace this training in usefulness and civic responsibility by having a strong set of priorities and values (indoctrination). Almost every successful educational institution in the world follows these three precepts, and it’s time that the United States follows suit.

Naturally, instilling these three aspects will meet with some objections that, however deleterious, hold sway in the educational conscience of the United States. People argue that promoting each of these parts would somehow diminish equal opportunity as advertised by the present educational system.

Detractors will say that creating alternative tracks prematurely posits a social hierarchy that denies an all-including route to higher abstract education. They overlook the fact that many students do not need to go to college for what they choose to do in life. They also hold a quixotic assumption that all students can do college work, which they cannot. This one-track goal, weakly held by students and educators alike, actually limits the freedom a person can choose in their profession and simply wastes time and money for an end that could be reached at an earlier time.

Similar objections are used in implanting a discipline system that corrects bad behavior. Detractors will claim that this should be done by the parents. They will also claim that actively correcting a person’s behavior might hurt their self-esteem and traumatize their educational experience with exaggerated personal anecdotes aplenty. Above all, they will always question whether the behavior even requires correction. However, schools uselessly rely on parents who in turn rely back on them for discipline, so the school still has the problem. Correctional measures will always overrule inaction or temporary isolation. Bad behavior usually spawns from a low self-esteem and often serves as an indicator that the child indirectly craves real (not fake) encouragement that comes with a correction in behavior. Harmful or disruptive behavior endangers the student as well as the students around him or her. Their education suffers; their view of school suffers (humans naturally desire order over chaos); and they suffer from emotional and sometimes physical distress. Both academic and social problems should be addressed with discipline that can correct it. As everyone averts their eyes, the disruptive students will either wreak havoc on a classroom, or they will be taken away and sent through a disciplinary system that further abets delinquency and eventually leads to a life in the penitentiary. This situation should never even arise if it were fully addressed early in life.

Modern citizens of the United States have learned to shudder at the word, indoctrination, especially in the context of their children. However, there is really no better way to describe the process of creating a moral and academic foundation for a developing human bring through constant and unremitting exposure. In some cases, parents believe that such a drastic move in creating an objective good and bad in a person limits the poor kid’s freedom, so they go ahead and spoil their offspring, hoping daycare or school can do it for them. In a majority of modern situations, the child will often lack a responsible parent, let alone two parents, to indoctrinate them in a wholesome moral upbringing. In any case, parents forget to realize that this formative part of a child’s upbringing will come from some other source if it doesn’t come from them. Many adults shun their duty to inculcate virtue; children now receive their indoctrination from undesirable outlets like videogames, Internet, televisions, or thugs on the street.

The school now serves as a bastion to culture and tradition whether people care to acknowledge it or not. These cultural and traditional values that have brought civilization’s greatest achievements should rest in the mind of every developing adult. Like missionaries that viewed savagery and faced it with absolute purpose, educators must now face a new savagery devoid of consciousness and responsibility and face it with the same resolve. In the past, the wills of missionaries helped society ascend from the Dark Ages. In the future, the wills of teachers might need to prevent a frightening return to those Dark Ages.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Got to admit, it's getting better...

We’ve hit April now, and I feel like I’m hitting my stride. The students have calmed down. The potential dropouts have either grown out of it or finally dropped out. Those extremely dysfunctional students now warm the seats at the alternative campus or have been finally rescheduled by the counselors. My classes have started on The Pearl by Steinbeck. Right now, I feel completely in control.

This wasn’t always the case. Many different challenges plagued each day. After freshman thaw from the first shock of high school during those first few months they can really be a thorn in the side of a young teacher filled with hopes of changing a student’s life. The multitude sway in the direction the disruptive kids blow. The disruptive kids try to establish their territory and are happily cultivating the disciplinary records with perpetual flare, triumphing in a teacher’s failure to teach. Students report to class tardy, disheveled with attention to the latest ghetto fashions, and without supplies. Coming out of summer, everyone flaunts with pride just how stupid, lazy, and destructive they are. Those with a gram of maturity hide it for fear of their lives.

For a teacher, even a new one, this situation is not impossible. I had strategies to neutralize the rotters, to pacify the most active disruptors, and to push the recalcitrant yet pliable multitude of students. Still, employing these strategies never assured a calm day. I remember almost everyday dreading at least one or two moments that I know would arrive. There were a group of students that I knew would raise a scene that would wreck my class’s attention and my authority into pieces. Like a general planning his next move, I played a chess game that anticipated the moves of these problematic children strategically placed in my class to make my job that much harder. Other times, I would worry about the acceptable format of lesson plans, staff development sessions, the growing number of rotters sleeping in my class and failing, the frustrations of teaching reading to adolescents still struggling with phonics. Somehow, I made it and kept my cool. I credit getting a sufficient amount of sleep (this was vital), and those close to me serving as sound boards (this was even more vital). Unfortunately, I got to see some others break down under the strain.

Throughout the first semester, I tried and retried different methods of teaching the students about plot, about characters, about setting. I reviewed these terms, modeled them countless times. Repetition was my middle name. I lectured and brought out real world examples. Two thirds of my classes defied the odds and made good progress. Still, my last classes in the afternoon would always manage to dampen my outlook on the day. The students in my 4th and 8th periods (it’s a block schedule) never finished their assignments. I could prod them, explain every question, hint at every answer, but they just languished like cows in the field. A few of them are roused into some kind of activity now, but they still could do better.

Like a composer listing his monumental operas (think of that movie, Amadeus), I like to list my novels that my students have successfully finished: The Outsiders, Animal Farm, and hopefully in a few weeks, The Pearl. Between these, the kids have hustled their brains on short stories, newspaper articles, essays, and vocabulary and grammar exercises (much of this material, I had to write up myself). I’m happy to say that all my classes have expanded their vocabulary and comprehension, becoming better readers and thinkers. The time it took in the beginning for 10 pages ranged around an hour (yes, that long!), now that has been cut in half with more of the material retained. I have been able to eventually sneak in some more mature concepts and higher level thinking with a better reception. Quite a number have finally touched the big black monolith and discovered Reasoning. With this, I keep on chugging, knowing that I have made a difference and that I'm doing a pretty swell job teaching, so I can’t stop now.

Over the year, I find it interesting how a separation emerges between classes because of the dynamics of the students. The level of progress between my two best and my two worst classes fascinates me and confirms a few notions I’ve had about the impact bad and lazy kids can have on a class. To put it concisely, they’re disastrous. A disruptive lazy kid can hold back months, even years, of academic progress the adjacent students might have. They stop activity, delay instruction, annihilate motivation, and will utterly demolish a teacher’s will to help those struggling.

Case in point, I have made substantial progress in my morning classes (1st and 5th), which now prompts me to make a higher track for them with more novels and more opportunities for analytical discussion. The kids are polite, they work, and their minds and abilities have grown substantially. They can rise above my current work. My two worst (4th and 8th) have made the least progress though I’ve worked the hardest with them. Those two classes account for at least 80 percent of my failures for all six of my classes. They are the most recalcitrant towards any new material and they carry very little motivation. The relevance of my material, the failing grade awaiting them, the disappointment of their parents, and the damning stamp of stupidity; all those things have only change a few of their habits. For them, I’m considering a lower track that they might be able to follow, but I almost think this is amoral. They aren’t that different from my other students; they’re just immature and suffer from some dead weights in the class.

One of my duties as teacher is to isolate, mollify, and hopefully extract these bad influences. Like a ruler punishing criminals, I have to punish the bad kids. Those who aren’t in a school in any capacity will assume I’m just a vindictive teacher out to get those free spirits. Where I work, my bad kids are ones that flirt with crime and dropping out, and many of them come from severely wrecked homes. They thrive on violence, aggression, disorder, and emotions. They’ve never been taught to think or to take responsibilities for themselves, but that have learned to make excuses. They need help in the worst way, and sticking them in my classroom only fuels the fire instead of stopping it. A suitable alternative for these kids needs to be developed so this growing number of children doesn’t end up in prison like they do now.

For now, I’ve done pretty well to keep my classes calm and the students have started listening. Even fourth period is starting to turn around. A teacher once told me that Thanksgiving break will be a teacher’s low point in the year, and that by Spring Break, things will start becoming pleasant. This has been true so far. With only six weeks and a bit left, I can say that this year has been frustrating but somewhat illuminating. There are problems beyond my control, so I can only write about them. Just read this blog. Still, through all the miasmic cynicism that looms in a low-performing urban school, I know that there’s still a good part to salvage.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A rose by any other name might forget to smell as sweet.

“He’s smart but he’s just lazy.” Parents say this to their children. Children say it to themselves and their friends. Even teachers have to say it to irresponsible parents to abnegate any guilt on way they raise their young ones. Actually, in many conscientious districts, many teachers have to substitute the word “lazy” for something less accusatory like “unmotivated” or “unengaged.” While this little phrase happily obviates accountability from all parties, it has wreaked havoc on the developing minds of way too many students. Many sassy little urchins neglecting to read, write, or think early in life will fail miserably when they grow into adulthood. They read at lower grade levels, their maturity is greatly delayed, and they defy reality by claiming intelligence. It’s time to let these students and their parents learn the horrible but liberating truth: They’re stupid, and it’s their own damn fault; it’s up to them to change that. Otherwise a teacher will just be wasting a criminal amount of time for nothing.

This is literarily utter blasphemy for any teacher to even think, but it’s sadly true for a growing amount of students. Try as educators or parents might, their explanations for the struggling students are false. All students being intelligent in their own way is a myth. On the other side of the argument, people should recognize that intelligence being solely dependent on a favorable genetic code is also myth. Common sense can easily thwart the former myth. If one student can successfully read Moby Dick and analyze its plethora of symbols, allegories, and allusions while the other can only read Dr. Seuss and achieve comprehension through the charming illustrations; then there is a tremendous disparity between in their verbal intelligence regardless of how they approach texts. One knows more while the other knows less; this is undisputable. The latter argument parallels a similar argument that genetics determines obesity. There is truth that genes can increase the propensity of acquiring intelligence or weight, but practice and discipline play a far greater role in how a mind or body develops. Perhaps coincidentally, scientist work as ardently on a cure for obesity as they do for mental acuity.

Acquired intelligence does not mysteriously descend on some students; rather, it’s earned. Intelligent people acquire knowledge and skills through solving problems, practicing logic, reading a variety of challenging texts, and composing ideas. Stupid people disband the possibility of acquiring knowledge by turning their brains off at every opportunity. They do not read; they ask others to solve their problems for them; they fidget and daydream at the first mental challenge; they have a very difficult time following directions; they lack any sort of curiosity; they seize every conceivable distraction that will delay the anguish of the boredom to which they’ve irrationally submitted. In concise terms, laziness creates stupidity and exists in conjunction with stupidity. The moment the brain stops working, it starts to degenerate. The moment some youth decides to give up books of a certain grade level, he stays at that reading level until he changes his mind about his reading –unless the grade levels adjust to suit his inferiority.

People must understand that learning process does not skip any steps, but it’s a gradual climb. A student that neglects his children’s books, then young adult books, then some provocative classics, will not be able to read and enjoy Shakespeare. He will simply whine, fidget, and eventually fail –assuming the teacher holds steady on grading standards and doesn’t cave in to the student’s desire for the easy art project. The same thing applies to a student given complex algebra when he still clings to the calculator to do simple arithmetic. All academic disciplines come in steps. People often forget those illustrated children’s classics or those little math games that made a picture, but these types of activities set the foundation for the books or professions that made their life. A stupid person lacks that kind of development and pursues every mental escape from breaking pencils to boozing later on in life.

The debilitating effects of a mentally lazy life will always trouble the person suffering from it. However, just like this person escaped working their minds, they escape taking blame for their inadequacy. Psychologist make their money by whipping up new theories for incompetence like a new strain of ADD, a various learning disorder, a new mental disability, or any various emotional disorder. Most people, smart or stupid, can claim some kind of special education hindering label -and its accompanying “medication”- by the time the graduate. Only a small minority truly qualify for such categorizations. The vast majority of them suffer from nothing except their laziness and its resulting ineptitude. Some even take pride in it, saying how lazy they are but how they cleverly they get away with not being clever.

Teachers have taken on the most abuse for the misunderstanding of stupidity. Most of them can spot the problem quickly, but they have no right to call it a problem or to attempt to solve it. Obviously, solving a problem without acknowledging is simply illogical and thus impossible anyway. Therefore, many teachers avoid the problem altogether by lowering the standard for intelligence thus nullifying stupidity. The stupid kids keep their self-esteem and the teachers are spared from the impossible task of bringing an unwilling kid up to grade-level material. Even the standards for certain grade-levels will decline for the purpose of assuaging spoiled kids that hate thinking. A quick glance at a English textbook in the mid-twentieth century and a glance at one now will instantly show the frightening decline in literacy.

For many people, the epiphany that illuminates an ignoramus of his own ignorance will be the spark of curiosity and lead to a respectable livelihood. For others, they will have parents devoted enough to take away their televisions and leave them no choice but to educate themselves. Unfortunately, the rest often fidget and vegetate their way through life and eventually find themselves wondering at their poverty and ongoing depression. That is the fate of the “lazy but smart” kid. Many of them had a warning from their old-fashioned teachers about this reality, but they heard from their peers, the media, and their parents that they were always smart enough but only a little lazy.

Consciously ignoring stupidity inhibits the work of educators while simultaneously disenfranchising the students who unknowingly suffer from it. Only stupidity results from the vice of mental laziness. These two qualities should never be permissible in a school or home for obvious reasons. A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but stupidity by any other name might stink up a child’s opportunity for enlightenment.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Tracking (Part 3: Allegory of the Thirsty Horse)

As far back as Ancient Greece, the poet Hesiod rightly acknowledged the natural hierarchy of civilized societies with three divisions: those who think for themselves (a small portion), those who think as others think (a big portion), and those who don’t think at all (a small portion that seems big). This hierarchy has carried over through the millennia with every society, thinkers teaching and guiding the doers to solve problems while the non thinkers create more problems. As history progresses, the thinkers have established schools to eliminate non-thinkers somehow. Today, American schools try to do this by forcing all students to learn the minimum in the same way whether the students comply or not. Despite the lack of logic in the policy, and the cultural and productive standards diminishing year after year, this is the fair system. This is also an educational system that creates more and more purposeless non-thinkers unable to cope with reality.

Acknowledging this failure of a principle that neglects those who think for themselves and nurtures more non-thinkers, a new policy must arise to spare young Americans from a damning ignorance that they don’t want. This policy must promote independent thinking among the elite (those that strive for excellence), an adherence to good thinking for the rest, and a merciless contempt for ignorance and incompetence that plague a vulnerable few. On this principle of satisfying all three groups, schools must create a relevant institution that will serve the needs of thirsty young minds eager for the power to affect their own destinies. As it stands, too many schools are utterly irrelevant, and they inadvertently lock formerly energetic human beings into vegetating derelicts.

The following allegory illustrates the solution to schools’ responsibility to nurture young minds, and how they have handled them instead. “You can guide a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Instead of heeding this advice, schools have perpetually tried to come up with new ways to make their horses drink. They have tried punishments, coaxing, and a myriad of mind games with the students, but to no avail. The horses resent being forced to drink water and ask for Coca-Cola instead. Finally, the schools give up and comply. They replace the life-giving water with dehydrating Coca-Cola and await praise for at least leading these horses somewhere instead letting the owners have to worry about it. While the owners would prefer their horses drinking water instead of Coca-Cola, they have no solutions of their own. These owners have no water of their own, and the horses don’t seem to like it even though they need it so badly.

One just needs to remember the quote of these recalcitrant drinkers and stop trying to force these horses to drink. Simply forget the Coca-Cola and let the horses drink the water on their own. They will appreciate the water more because it substantially slaked their thirst instead of the cheap sugary thrill that left them even thirstier. The conflict does not stop there though. Coca-Cola has much more power and influence with famous computer generated polar bears gracing their commercials as opposed to water, so the horses will still vehemently demand the soft drink even after they enjoy the refreshing glass of water. The owner knows that a lifetime of drinking soda will rot the young one’s teeth, make one fat, plague one’s brain with headaches, and leave one sluggish and dehydrated. The horse does not know this, but he does know that he is thirsty and that he will get his Coca-Cola if he holds out on water long enough. The adult will vacillate in his reasoning, “Well, I know he really needs water, but he doesn’t like it. I remember that we never gave Coca-Cola to these horses before. But things are different these days. Younger horses have computers and internet… maybe they need soft drinks to quench their thirst. After all, that’s what everyone else gives them. And he is much happier when I give him coke…. And though I hate to admit it, it IS a lot easier.” And the unknowing horse of so few years has now determined how he will live his life; first, with the consent of his owner; then with time, the sanctimonious approval of the owner. The horse will eventually get tired of Coca-Cola and desire something more nourishing, but it won’t be there. The adult will just force more coke down his throat until the horse forgets the idea of drinking anything altogether, and lives an unhappy and unhealthy life forever after.

Now, replace horse with student, water with relevant nourishing education, Coca-Cola with idiotic busywork (otherwise known as the “Crayola Curriculum”), drinking with thinking, and the owner with school. Schools give busywork to all kids equally, allowing students to not think. By the time their minds beg to be used, the schools reply with more pointless busywork. Even if their souls cry out to be useful and virtuous, schools will tell them to wait for college and leave them to listen to the rappers sponsored by Coca-Cola in the meantime. By the time they receive their piece of paper, they have already lost their dreams, their capacity to achieve those dreams -had they existed-, and they desire the life that will keep them from thinking and achieving, two things they have associated with their low self-esteem.

These poor students needs purpose, and school should have provided that purpose. Educators could have done this by removing all sources of time wasting in the young person’s distraction-filled life. They could have shown and provided all the paths to a productive life. They could have thwarted the destructive messages that inculcate young minds today. They could have let the horse find its own place to drink from the long waterway instead of leaving only one place in the river or providing a harmful soft drink. Although illiterates and pleasure-seeking drones graduate in higher and higher proportions every year, this trend can be reversed with a different approach to education. Schools should just allow the students to choose what they will learn and track them according to their abilities.

As it stands, all kids follow the same educational requirements, sit in the same classrooms, and learn at the same pace. The majority either hate what they learn or they hate how they are taught, and they eventually develop a dislike for any kind of learning whatsoever. They need to have a choice in what they learn and how they learn, so they will not learn to hate and blame school.

Of necessity, the choices provided to the student must actually serve a productive purpose in society. Normally, the students could choose between high academic disciplines or vocational disciplines. With the exception of a few necessities for every functioning citizen like literacy, basic math, and basic civics; the student will pursue the required studies of his chosen discipline. Each discipline should allow two tracks: one for the exceptional students who strive for excellence, and another for students who desire competence. As for the students who prove to desire neither excellence nor competence, they will remain isolated from the rest of school where the issues that cause such a aberration can be fully addressed and corrected without stopping the other students from learning. The number of students needing drastic intervention would decrease significantly if elementary schools employed these measures instead letting the problematic study habits fester until high school.

Moreover, when a school gives a student a choice, it also gives that student a goal to pursue. This goal can be an actual set of skills that can help the student and distinguish him from an ignorant child he once was. On the other hand, college is not a goal. Like school, college serves as a means to a goal in life rather than function as a goal in itself. When students have a real goal like obtaining skills for a profitable or fruitful enterprise, they will actively seek edification and develop the discipline necessary for it instead of escape it.

Those that object to tracking and individualizing education as a means to establishing elitism and unfair segregation should look at the rampant apathy that hits American children as soon as they leave elementary school. They find out that they are tiny anonymous ants in a huge mess of a school working with a floating standard of quality. The school has set their unsure path, and the students will have nothing to do with it except how well they comply. They will drift each year through classes and it’s up to their backgrounds in how they respond. However, they know their response, good or bad, will receive the same treatment, so they really don’t exert much of themselves. For their whole academic career, they have no goals except some ambiguous sequel to high school known as college, which many of them could care less about since it offers them little more than what they already have learned to resent in high school. Most of them end up where most people without goals end up, in a life of unceasing mediocrity.

It’s time to give them a choice and stop relegating American students to this vicious cycle. The world’s best educational systems like Finland, Taiwan, and South Korea have recognized the necessity to track student and diversify the curriculum to suit their needs. Maybe it’s time to learn from them, so American students can start learning themselves.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Tracking in School (Part Two: The Shortcomings of Inclusion)

In efforts to level the playing field and ensure everyone the right to an education, many public schools have practiced the philosophy of inclusion. Inclusions means having the sluggish kids, even those with mental handicaps and severe emotional disorders, sitting and working in the same classroom as the best and brightest of the school. This practice naturally inflicts a blow to the idea of tracking, which separates students into different levels according to their ability. Those who advocate inclusion reason that those sluggish students will benefit from a mainstream education that provides proximity to normal kids. They reason thus: Like someone getting better at tennis by playing with someone better than themselves, these students will improve their study habits by being with better students. They will also find questionable (though never actually questioned) studies to support their argument. Unfortunately, they forget that the tennis players playing with those worse than them leads them to stagnate in their progress and even make them worse tennis players. Almost all intelligent people who have endured classes with ignorant troglodytes because of a school’s mission to equalize what nature has left unequal will tell you how little they learned and how much time they wasted in that class.

Most public schools have forsaken the remedial and special education track, so they could put these students in regular classrooms. They compensate for the kids' handicaps by providing a co-teacher to assist the teacher in the classroom. In theory, the co-teacher monitors the progress of the sluggish students and assists them when necessary. In practice, most co-teacher hardly show up to work (most of them seem to be coaches) and the teacher has ten extra students in his classroom that slow down the learning process of that classroom considerably. Rather than having the same expectation maintained for the whole class, teachers lower those expectations to cut down the failure rate and accommodate the mediocre students who normally act out when asked to actually learn. After a few years of this, the regular students internalize the academic ineptitude of their “special” peers and they plunge into special education status themselves. Due to this inclusion procedure, the number of special education students grow exponentially and the regular level descends into a greatly remedial level with the title of "regular".

Fortunately, thanks to ratings of U.S. News and the administrators who desperately need a few smart students to redeem their feral student body, public schools will try keeping an honors level geared towards taking AP tests at the end. By necessity, this honors bubble that holds about ten percent of a school body escapes the onslaught of inclusion advocates and allows those teachers (who are envied by every other teacher in the building) to set some actual expectations for their kids and work at their level without endangering themselves to a high failure rate.

Naturally, most schools have tried expanding the honors level with the same ideas of raising the general level of student performance and earning a place in U.S. News by practicing inclusion while still achieving. Unfortunately, the same deterioration of expectations results from this. The Honors teachers have less freedom in how they evaluate their students because the administrators have set a higher quota for more honors students, which must not be violated. Once more, inclusion knocks down a level, making the honors track just regular.

Therefore, for the sake of a few knuckleheads, all the other students have been sacrificed. Parents now fear of their children become dumber by going to school, which happens depressingly often. Most kids in public school who actually tap their intellectual potential will do it on their own. Too many times, school only serves to bring them down by asking them to put down Jane Eyre so they can pick up a glue stick and colored marker.

Charter schools, private schools, and schools in affluent suburbs exist and thrive because of this simple phenomenon. Desperate parents will do anything they can just to keep away from the dullards that now dictate public school curriculum. These are the schools that nurture the leaders of tomorrow and offer a glimmer of hope in the future. They also expose a disturbing disparity between the fortunate and the less fortunate. Those less fortunate, which include many middle class families, have simply accepted public schools functioning as daycares for kids until they reach legal adulthood. Like the teachers, they have also dropped their expectations of what education should be.

Luckily, more and more parents now call for reform, usually in the forms of charters, schools that run outside the guidelines of a district but still receive government funding. These schools allow an outlet for parents who can't afford to live in a rich suburb or pay the tuitions for private schools. The trend of charters will rise due to the choice they offer kids who want to achieve without the heavy weights of kids impatiently waiting until they day they can drop out ruining their classes. Unsurprisingly, public school districts will do all they can to deter their success, so they can remain blameless of neglecting the young minds that overpopulate their ugly campuses.

However, a great majority of children will remain imprisoned in the public schools filled with the detrimental miasma of inclusion. These schools need tracking to restore quality learning back into the building. This would address the needs of the good students, the regular students, and the poor students. Moreover, it would allow teachers to teach the whole class instead the ones that require the most attention, who are coincidentally the worst students. Noting the shortcomings of the present system, tracking for the three levels seems like a much better idea to explore than the irrational notion of forcing all kids into the same physical proximity with the hopes that intelligence will somehow radiate from the good students to the bad ones.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Crumbling of the Ivory Towers

All schools now want to push all their students to college. It’s in their mottos, slogans, mission statements, “educational philosophies”, etcetera. All kids must pursue a four-year degree in some abstract study whether they like it or not. This academic priority is based on some brilliant research that shows that people with college educations earn higher salaries than those without college educations. Never mind that these statistics reflect basic pattern of American workers over ten years ago and not an actual guarantee of success. The schools remain convinced that this ensures a higher quality education, better numbers on tests and graduate rates, and step towards progress.

Unfortunately, the opposite seems to occur. Education, especially the seemingly untouchable ivory towers of higher education, suffers from these campaigns for a college education. The standards fall, the numbers for tests go down, and dropouts continue. It also doesn’t help that most school leaders can only feel obliged to preach and set deadlines but have absolutely no clue how to achieve it. Their method usually involves maintaining the same atrocious learning environment for the students while yelling at teachers more often and assigning them more useless staff development sessions. Obviously, when this does not work out, most people recognize this ongoing drama for what it is: Another way of hiding the gross inadequacies of public schools today.

However, this drama of making every student a scholar has successfully wreaked havoc on educational standards. Colleges must now sustain the vast onslaught of unprepared slackers ready to get their priceless piece of paper known as a college degree. To do this, many colleges have created developmental classes (in other words, a mini-high school sponsored by the exorbitant tuition of worthier students) or they have sacrificed their standards altogether. This sacrifice has led to a disturbing trend among universities who now forsake the fine-tuning of academic aptitude for “practical career know-how” in order to save face about plummeting standards. In particular, literature courses have opted for shorter multi-cultural books and contemporary short stories rather than tomes of the respected Western canon. While these books might exhibit openness to diversity, many of them are easy reads, and even the most sanctimonious professors acknowledge that. In the other disciplines power point presentations replace writing compositions, Wikipedia replaces actual sources for research, and derisive jibes (often spouted from asinine professors) replace competent discussion.

The academic standards of high schools have also suffered. In the spirit of making every student a college prospect, many schools have streamlined honors courses and loosened the methods of tracking that separate the wheat from the chafe in the student body. They now drag at-risk students (educational term for prospective drop-outs) literally kicking and screaming into an advance placement class where they continue to kick and scream for the whole year. The teachers would normally fail these dunces, but they have so many of these students that failure is not an option anymore. At this point of no return for the teacher, their expectations normally take a beating on their grade book for a few weeks before they inevitably drop to a lower level.

Naturally, schools pushing college have done away with programs intended as alternatives to college. Many have disposed of useful vocational programs that could immediately equip kids with practical skills that the job market always requires. Rather, they are forced into classes that attempt to teach them the beauty of poetry, obscure theorems in advanced algebra, and the cultural celebrations of Mauritania. While a minority might appreciate this well-rounded though not altogether practical curriculum, a majority usually space out and hone their skills as slackers just to get through their days. Kids who might want, or need, to work after high school often come into the workforce handicapped because school has trained them to lazy, dishonest, and irrelevant.

The strangest fact that high schools seem to somehow overlook is that most universities lie outside the price range of most kids, even middle-class ones. Parents and students begrudgingly paying off their loans understand that universities, both public and private, presently charge extortionate tuitions. These costs especially encumber students in states that have deregulated tuitions. Considering the quality of education received in these institutions that cater to profitable endeavors over educational ones, the notion of paying the equivalent of year’s salary of a white-collar worker is downright absurd.

Community college has become the only choice for many young adults seeking some kind of credential that might attract an employer. Unfortunately, they provide financial relief at the cost of accepting all students indiscriminately. Thus, the hopes some smart kids cherished in their bosoms of finally separating from the imbeciles of the class fly away. The state that needs them so badly has left them an additional two years of high school in the guise of a college.

To define success in terms of a college degree limits the definition of success completely. Students come in many different forms with many different mindsets. They all have a talent and a passion, and school must tap that precious resource in each of its students. Universities do not deserve the power that high schools give them, determining a person’s overall success in life. They should humbly serve as supplemental academic training to students desiring it. Other outlets need to exist for the other students ready to work or gain a profitable skill. A high school that respect this and aspire to opening more possibilities ultimately succeeds as a beneficial institution over one that alienates students and tears down academic standards due to their narrow-minded view that college is the only way.

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