Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Getting an Education

This is a long one so hold on to your horses (or in my case dig out the reading glasses!)

I have been raging about my school board again.

I don’t know where to put my rage…… The ninnies on the school board did a holiday run around and gave our inept superintendent a contract extension and a raise on top of a raise while we were all out caroling and making sugar cookies (in my case slurping down latkes and spinning dreidels) and watching our retirement funds self destruct-- meanwhile the teachers union issues a report that teacher morale is the lowest on record. Based on the constant turnover over of teachers and principals I could have written that report. Now they want to raise our taxes and take out a 20 million dollar bond issue. It is an absolute financial policy of the school administration to drive anyone with money into the private schools because it saves them gobs of money and if you say any of this in public they will lob the charge of racist (and several other nasty things) at you. And have our test scores gone up –well it depends on which test you are looking at. The elementary school district puts out press releases saying how great the improvements are, and the high school issued statistics that one in 7 kids show up completely unprepared for the work there…..and the scores on the one test calibrated for the college tests shows that less than half have any chance of getting a high enough score to get an ACT score that will get them into a state school. It reminds me of that shell game they do on the subway.

Oh for the days when we could afford private school and I could blithely ignore all this and send in my tax check and feel like I was doing my part for public education in America. Now my kids are in the system and it’s really really scary. My kids went from being really into learning and loving school to feeling like they are in prison.

But are they getting an education? And in what?

They are learning what it is like to be a part of a mindless bureaucracy. And I hope they are doing a pretty good job at navigating it. I mean that’s a life skill. They have gotten really into outside indicators of success, even though I really don’t know what the grades mean.

What I think of as a good education is being exposed to the great ideas of being human. The fact that two of my elementary school children have been beaten up bad enough to be able to come home says there is a little problem there—one of the great ideas is Do Unto Others What You Would Have them Do Unto You—but maybe my kids are more on the heros journey and learning Survival Through Adversity.

Some basic math would be nice so you can figure out that Bernard Madoff is too good to be true—yes, one definitely needs to understand economics. I also think you should know how to get from here to there, preferably navigating a crappy transit system like our own so geography (and problem solving—heroes journey again) is important. You need enough science to cook a decent meal and know why something is inherently unhealthy before you put it into your mouth. And enough science to theoretically grow food.
You need to know how to make things, basic things like sew a pair of pants and how to nail boards together. You never know when the economy will crash and you will have to do these things, and working with one’s hands gives a person great pride and happiness. You should have a basic appreciation for music and know some musical structures and forms because music is about one of the most fantastic things that humans have ever invented and you appreciate what you know and understand even more. It is a crime that kids today know rap and not Mozart, Beyonce and not Puccini. The Chinese listen to Puccini, and to stand and hear an opera singer makes you believe that humans really can accomplish anything. Given how much film has influenced culture, you better get a pretty good media education, including history and forms, and all the European Educational Ministries are with me on that one. We haven’t caught up. And in this world economy you are hopefully not only looking at American films—education should include learning to love subtitles.

I think everyone should learn to dance, but I will save that one for another post.

If you can’t draw, at least learn to appreciate art because it will help you when times are tough. And of course, in our house, you better know good theater from bad and how to make it, but maybe everyone doesn’t need quite so much of an education in that.

It is a great tragedy of the current era that the amount of time dedicated to history has shrunk so drastically in order to prepare for the dang tests that seem to be the way we take the measure of our child. There is no other discipline that is so important as history because we cannot know where we are going until we know where we have been. We are lost without history. You cannot understand the world you live in until you look at how it became that way.

I do not give a whistle about Language Arts and Literacy. I care about Poetry. And I want to know what good books you have read lately and Why You Thought They were Good. I want to know what characters have made you laugh and which have you wanted to murder. I want to know what plots you thought were believable.

I am completely clueless about the math my kids bring home—the new math, the new new math. Two of my kids get it and feel good about it. My other child does not get it (neither do his parents) and we all feel awful.

I had this epiphany the other day. Math is a language but if you do not want to speak it and it does nothing for you—why do we force it? Maybe everyone who CAN do calculus doesn’t have to. I mean I hate administration, but I am good at it and I’ve been pigeon holed there and it has eaten my real life. My brilliant gifted child is talking about going to trade school. And that may be ok. The most important thing is to be lit up about the life you lead, about the world around you. We can’t let school get in the way of education.

A good education becomes part of who you are, just as a bad one does. I just can’t say right now what kind my kids are getting. And here is a totally radical statement from a bleeding heart liberal: it is a crying shame that education ISNT a free market. If everyone in my town who has grown disgusted and left the system (we have the largest Homeschool chapter per capita in the state) things would change pretty quick, yes they would.

Quick show of hands out there—is there anyone who LOVES the school their kids are in? If you are in private school put your hands down.

I thought so.


2KoP said...

OK, I do not understand our board's fascination with the good Dr. superintendent. It almost seems like he has them hypnotized.

I have to respectfully disagree with you about some of your comments. Overall, I've been relatively pleased with the districts in question. I have 4 profoundly different children, ranging from an off the charts math guy to a teenager with multiple learning disabilities, and several in between. I hate that you can only be smart in math this district, and that my daughter (an excellent writer) got to high school without knowing how to write a thesis statement, and that the high school has a ridiculous new baseball field with an electronic scoreboard and brick dugouts, for God's sake, but they don't have a creative writing club. I hate that the middle school playground is patrolled by police and that my son was intimidated by a fellow student early in the school year.

BUT, my problem with the public school/private school debate is this: I believe it is our society's responsibility and best hope to provide public education and that our monies, efforts, passions and abilities should be devoted to improving that admittedly underachieving system.

When you syphon funds away from public schools into voucher or school-of-choice programs, you will damage the public schools. Private schools get to pick and choose who they accept — public schools do not. Private schools charge extra for each special service provided, if those services are available at all.

We chose this city for it's diversity and all that implies, particularly in the public schools. I know the system doesn't work perfectly — hell, sometimes it doesn't work at al, but I think we need to keep trying, keep talking about it, keep working at it, poking it and prodding it to making it better.

Great post. Good talking points. I'm done.

S@L said...

Lovely post.

Your post today was also quite compelling.