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

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.


versicherung online said...

Education is the backbone of a nation.So,we should careful about this school and education.

The Bus Driver said...

SO TRUE! this thinking also carries over onto the school bus.

Ed-School Grad student said...

Nice writing, wow, you've really summed it up. Speaking from an experience subbing at an urban school, I think when you have more than a few "bad" students in a class, things really reach a critical mass, and as you say, all you can do is reproach the most outrageous behavior while letting simple misbehavior slide. Education professors criticize teachers for avoiding these schools, (although that is increasingly difficult, as you cite) However...I don't see them teaching there!

The English Teacher: do you blame any political faction or philosophy for this state of affairs? (i.e., permissive liberals?) Or is it cultural/attitudinal/ environmental factors? I'm sure it's both, but lets here some more. Great, excellent, blog.

Ed-student said...

Actually "nice writing" is an understatement. You should be a published author, along the lines of E.D. Hirsch. Or just keep the blog, whatever. As someone entering your profession, I'm inspired. Enough said.

Do you find other educators to be on the same page as you, or do they mindlessly accept the status-quo ("inclusive" classrooms, crayola curriculum,etc) ?

Scott Walker said...

I appreciate the compliments. I actually try to put a some thought into posts. It's nice when people notice.

As for finding who to blame, it's a tough call. I'd hate to give you the banal response that it's everyone, but where does one turn? Bad parents? Bad administrators? Bad politics? Activists? Actually, education seems to be the last thing "activists" get active about.

I honestly think it's ignorance. People are ignorant of who attends schools. Parents are ignorant on how best raise their kids. Educators are ignorant on the best teaching practices. Overall, we still are ignorant on the actual purpose of school. I wrote about the school with a mission because we really don't have one now.

But I won't be so presumptuous to say I know best. I don't. I'm still learning myself. I just have to make a concerted effort to question before I make the error of fulfilling the status quo.

Anonymous said...

magnet schools seem to be doing well. a perfect example: Design and Architecture Senior High in Miami, Fl. It is located in a downtown neighborhood but its one of the nations finest, look it up and spread the word. They have to maintain a minimum GPA of a 2.5 to remain a student there and are all required to take AP courses. Also, the students take 2 extra classes 8 instead of 6 and graduate with more than the required minimum number of credits. About 60 percent of the students who graduate leave with either 50-75 percent scholarship to the school of their choice. Student to teacher ratio is about 1:10 but its only 450 students on average total from grades 9-12. Truly a gem.

gmale said...

i like the force of this post. i teach at a suspension school filled with mostly kids from the ghettos/projects of new york city. it is a brutal environment in the sense that the staff cannot help but reckon with the disjunct of symbolic order and power structures between them and the students. ghetto culture is different, gang culture is complex and subversive, a top down system with these 12 year old soldiers.

One point that the author did not make was about the brilliance in these transversal/cultural moments/encounters.
it is real. students have realizations, students heal, they learn the hard way, it is important work

ashleyv said...

Where are you???? Your posts are amazing. I found this blog today. Are you still out there?

Social Studies Teacher said...

I'm trying to figure out where you teach cause I swear I think you teach at my school. We have the SAME problems and I feel the SAME way about them. It's just like that movie Idiocracy.

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