Articles for Teachers
It's 5:30 a.m. on a summer day. I should be sleeping like the rest of the world, ensconced in a woolly blanket of certitude that there is no work today, only vacation. But I can't really sleep. It's the first day of school, you see.
There is an old theory of learning that says education isn't about teaching students new things but only about reminding them what they already inherently know.
It's a high-minded theory that assumes everyone is what my old college president would have termed "educable," that knowledge, like truth, is not relative, but exists on its own plane running parallel to ours and may be accessed by revelation.
One need only be shown the hidden path to the oracle's chamber, so to speak, and all will be unveiled.
Sometimes, though, it's not the student but the teacher that needs to be shown the way.
Perhaps we are so inured to others' needs, so accustomed to our own convenience, that we modern folk oftentimes don't pay heed to the tragedies occurring before our very eyes. Particularly for parents trying to educate our children, there seems to be a wall in front of our eyes that shields us so often from the truth.
We place our children in schools in the hopes that they will learn what is needed for them to survive in this world: facts, figures, social aptitude, an inquiring mind, an entrepreneurial spirit.
And we will show up and be supportive at school assemblies, classroom field trips, endless fund-raisers, sporting events, etc., ad nauseum.
We provide classroom supplies, chaperoning, transportation, library staffing, even office support, all in hopes that we are furthering our children's education by setting a good example and freeing up the teachers to do "what they do best."
Too often, though, what parents get out of this bargain isn't what was promised. Instead of bright, energetic, go-getter scholars, what we are handed back is children who are lethargic, beaten down and drained of any creativity they once had. We get kids who are indoctrinated into political correctness -- which is to say the art of arrogant whininess -- but who can barely multiply. We get kids who have been taught in "science" class to recycle to "save" the planet, but who can't explain to you how an airplane stays in the air or how an internal combustion engine works. We get kids who have been forced to memorize Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and participate annually in Cinco de Mayo but who can't explain one contribution of white people to the world other than bringing disease to North America.
In some schools, it's not unusual for as many as half the students to drop out before their senior high school year. Of those who hang in there, many seniors can't even pass an eighth-grade-level exit exam to get their diplomas.
And just to add to parental enjoyment, along the way, the children have almost certainly been exposed to gay sex, oral sex, premarital sex, contraception, abortion, illegal drug use, alcohol abuse, nihilism and atheism. All under the auspices of the school, and all before sixth grade -- kindergarten, if some legislators get their way. Recess and that after-school time before parents come home provide ample opportunity for kids to put into practice what they've learned in "skool."
Parents may seek relief in private schools, but often what they encounter is no better, just more expensive. If you are rich enough, it is still possible to buy your children a real education. If you're merely well-off, more likely what will happen is you will pay through the nose, and your children will receive an education that is relatively free from the sex- and drug-teaching curricula of the public schools, as well as the more violent forms of playground bullying. But for the most part, the rest of the teaching agenda is the same, particularly if you live in a state like California, where private schools are so regulated that they often just give up and use the same books, the same curricula, same time tables and same test "preparation" procedures as the public schools. If you're lucky, there might be some time to squeeze in a little religious education.
That was our experience. Not being much of a corporate yes man myself, we've often been on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. Still, we managed to put our son into private schools despite the cost. Sending him to our local public elementary school was out of the question. The first time we went to that school's office, there were three children being treated by the school nurse after getting beaten up in the halls. The second time we went to that office, the police were there having a "chat" with a boy who looked like he was in about fourth grade.
So we got our son into a local private school, with high hopes of better things. Now, when he started kindergarten, he was almost a whole year younger than the rest of his classmates because of the oddity of birthday cutoffs, but he still tested above many of them. That glowing moment didn't last long, however. Soon, we were told that our boy needed a speech therapist because he had trouble pronouncing certain syllables. We took him back to our local public school, which actually had a real speech therapist on staff, and after five minutes she pronounced not only was he normal for his age, but he was exceptionally bright and seemed like he was a few years ahead in his vocabulary, even if he couldn't quite pronounce his "th" sounds yet.
After we got over that hurdle, we learned that he was being picked on at school. Despite the school's supposedly strict "no bullies" policy, our son, who was a year younger than most of his classmates but also taller than almost all of them, was in the same classroom with a boy who was almost two years older than most of the kindergartners. So now I found myself having to explain to my gentle 5-year-old how to handle an 8-year-old developmentally challenged gorilla who liked to express himself with his fists. We finally got the principal to take action after the teacher did nothing, but at the expense of his teacher now viewing us and our son as "the enemy" for getting her in trouble.
And that was just the beginning of our experiences with private schools. At one point, our boy must have seen something on TV at the same time the class was studying Christ's Passion in school, and he made a comment to somebody, somehow, somewhere, "Oh, just kill me." I think it was because he used the wrong color crayon or something. Suddenly, our then first-grader is supposedly likely to kill himself, he could be a danger to others, yada yada. So we take him to his first shrink, who pronounces him normal but unusually imaginative and, surprise, verbally gifted, and says that the boy was just acting out something he heard. We were not really surprised, but we were still relieved that everything was normal.
Let me tell you, though, after something like that gets around, nothing's normal ever again. Suddenly, we were the pariahs who were raising the next Columbine kid. We couldn't buy a play date at that point. And our son was aware of it. He started hanging his head when he walked, playing by himself at recess, and we'd catch him calling himself "stupid" when things went awry. At that point, we had an opportunity to apply to another school. We went through all the hoops and got positive feedback from the interviewing teachers and so forth, but one of the deciding factors turned out to be a letter written to the new school by our son's kindergarten teacher. We weren't allowed to see the letter, but the tone of the interviewers changed drastically after they read it.
Fortunately, we had another opportunity to get into a different school, this one Catholic, which is our denomination. Once again, we had high hopes for better results. Once again, those hopes were dashed. Our son wound up in a classroom with a first-year teacher who right off the bat pegged him as a troublemaker for whatever reason. This teacher, we later learned, had a habit of yelling at the kids, and she took out much of her aggression on our son. He began hating school and not wanting to do the incredible amount of homework they piled on every night. The next teacher was much nicer, but by then the damage was done. Even though our boy was capable of doing his homework perfectly (when he wanted to), he regularly flunked tests because they were time-limited and he would panic because he could hear his past teacher screaming at the kids next door.
Just to add insult to injury, we finally realized that the curriculum at the school was the same state-created curriculum at public schools. They used the same texts and applied the same ridiculous schedule of 8 to 10 subjects per day, which hardly allows any time to absorb the information, much less understand it. The parents whose kids were doing well in class, we later learned, were going to Kumon classes after school. When our son needed extra help with multiplication, we were told he must be tutored. Well, the tutors at the school didn't have time for us. We approached the youth director because her teens need service credits to graduate high school. No one volunteered to tutor our son. We were finally told he MUST have a professional tutor. We were given a name, supposedly of a parishioner, but no contact information. This person was not on record with the parish or the school office. The principal, who had recommended him, never came forth with a number. We contacted the church's nuns. This particular order is charged with teaching children. That's their gig. Within five minutes, the got back to us and said one of the sisters would tutor our son, but they wanted to talk to his teacher before setting up a schedule. They talked to his teacher apparently, then suddenly they weren't available to help out.
So in the final analysis, our own church school, using lay teachers to teach state curriculum out of state textbooks, happily accepts thousands of dollars in tuition but is unable to properly teach the children math, forcing parents to supplement with either a program like Kumon or, in our case, nonexistent tutors.
We spent somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000 on tuition, uniforms and other expenses in the vain hope of giving our child a decent education. All that happened was a gaggle of overpaid strangers slowly strangled his curiosity and crushed his desire to learn, leaving him a bundle of nerves at the age of 8.
Sometimes it's the educator who needs to be reminded of what he already knows. My child is too important to me, and I think someday to the world, to leave in the hands of a capricious public or private education system that, ultimately, is designed to produce conforming drones, not thinkers. We, as his parents, cannot simply stand by and watch the life being squeezed out of him like the juice from a lemon.
The reality is that we, like most parents, have allowed this to happen for far too long because it was convenient to let our son be raised by strangers.
We had started supplementing his education with materials from a local home schooling program when he began having grade trouble and as a "backup" because of the monkey business school administrators liked to be up to, such as putting new students on "probation" for no reason.
We've decided to take the plunge and just home school. It will be a change, for sure, and a lot of responsibility, but the incredible improvement we've already seen in our boy's attitude and aptitude is making it worthwhile.
I've encountered many parents with stories similar to ours. We apparently are part of a growing movement to take back education from the millers who are running the system.
Having been through the system myself, and having seen what it nearly did to my child, I no longer believe in "reforming" the education system, reducing class sizes or raising teachers' salaries. If the government insists on dabbling in education, then what is needed is a wholesale elimination of what we have now. A replacement system would start with teachers who are trained in a subject other than "education," have an administrator-to-teacher ratio on the order of 1-to-20, eliminate the nonsensical scale of grade levels and let students achieve at their own speed in the needed skills.
How do I know that would work? Because that's essentially what we've created with our own home schooling group, and it is working spectacularly well. There are kids who have gone through the same program and entered college by age 15. Many of the teens in the program or formerly in the program have successful businesses. My son's only 8, so we've got lots of working and growing ahead to do, but for the first time in a long time, both he and his parents are looking forward to it.