Tag Archives: education

Keeping Hope Alive

As I wrap up my dissertation, essentially finishing twenty-one long years of formal education, I’m reflecting on the path I’ve taken and the road before me.  Thirteen years ago when I earned my bachelor’s degree I was elated, a bit nervous, and yet wonderfully excited to start life. Never mind that I’d been living plenty all along, but that lesson is one that often comes with age.

I can’t say I have quite the optimism I had at 21. Yes, in my innermost soul is still this hopeful belief that humanity and the world can be great– that we can stop bombing each other, hating each other, and fighting wars over god like toddlers who refuse to share a toy.

The recent events in Missouri, which in truth are simply a brush fire in a long sequence of policies which have led to militarized police, a disappearing middle class, and as much racial segregation now as when my mother rode the bus and blacks sat at the back.

I must admit, I spent many years of my youth trying to reconcile the patriotic history in the school books and the truth. When your third grade teacher tells you how police beat her when she marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, it’s hard to see anything positive in the fact this country was built on slavery. I think her name was Mrs. Horne, maybe, but I was in awe of her and all like her who had made the world a better place, or so my 8 year old self thought.

Oh and manifest destiny– can’t forget that gem. My school books made it sound so great, like this wonderful, grand achievement. Oh sure, we killed off as many Native Americans as we could, nearly drove a species (Bison) to extinction for spite, but let’s not look at that stuff too closely.

I grew up with the rhetoric that racism was a thing of the past. Sure there were crazy KKK folks, but no one takes them seriously anymore. I sadly realized it wasn’t. I’ve seen it at play all around me. It’s the folks that paint all minorities with broad strokes. It’s the hiring managers that offer a job to a less qualified white dude rather than anyone of color. It’s the average person that thinks nothing of the fact that when lunch break is announced on the job site, all the whites congregate, all the blacks, and all the Hispanics in separate groups. No one even tries to bridge the divide. It’s the insulting jokes made in front of kids, spreading the hate to another generation. It’s all that and more.

Folks say that a lot of problems need to be fixed internally (i.e. inside the minority communities), well, yes, but the whole system is corrupt, which makes fixing anything difficult. Our whole government needs an accounting, because they owe the people a whole hell of a lot. We have not sent brothers, fathers, cousins, sons, and friends off to bleed and die to have our country rip away our rights, steal our opportunities and jobs, and crush us under debts and fear.

As someone who did not come from money, and who has worked very hard to get where I am, I’m more aware than many how important education is. Education creates leaders and thinkers. Education gives us the tools to be more than our parents dreamed. It creates informed voters. It is what can make America truly great.

In key parts of my life, it was very often a teacher that made all the difference. My sister teaches middle school choir in a school populated by primarily low-income children. She’s one of those teachers, the one that doesn’t see a kid that statistics say won’t succeed, but rather a child. She challenges each one, demands nothing but the best, and also, when the time is right, nudges them to envision a future beyond the ghetto, barrio, slum, or whatever you wish to call it. The first step in trying is believing you can. No matter race or class, that type of mentor-ship is invaluable. It can change lives. Quality education then provides the means for children to grown into adults that have more than prison and welfare as a future.

We pay our teachers crap, give them so much paperwork they are lucky to get sleep, and yet we expect them to work miracles year after year with naught but blame heaped at their feet. Even at the higher level institutions we are seeing the results of decades of this. Good teachers are giving up. Good researchers are retiring. Their passion has been choked by red tape and red ledgers created by futile wars.

Just as hate is taught, so is hope. I say that it isn’t too late. Help a neighbor. Help a teacher. Help a child. DO something.

 

 

My Fifteen Seconds

Last week I wrote about the crazy line procedure that is a Memphis staple for getting your child into a passing school. I could be generous and say, “good school”, but after what we parents have to do, I think my kids deserve more than fake P.E. and teachers who think fish have eyelids. In most cases, it seems to have degenerated to the point that good means your kid will not likely be jumped by a gang member. Of course, seeing as how they write their own standards, I’m not really all that surprised. At least the district merger got rid of the phasing out grades program.

Test scores tell us that there are less kids reading below their grade level now versus ten years ago. Judging by the every increasing insanity of the Optional School process, it may not be so much that the schools are better, but rather that more and more parents are moving their kids from ineffectual schools to ones that at least are mediocre.

I have high expectations. An excellent school would have physical education more than once a week, and they would play sports rather than watch them on a screen. No, cup-stacking is not a sport and neither is the Wii. Kids would be able to run and play. There’s a place for fancy computers in the scheme of teaching, but there’d be a library overflowing with books of all kinds. It would be standard to teach a foreign, basic computer and typing skills, and the arts would be a core part of education. Teachers would understand that children should not have to be quiet both in class and in their free time. Lunch rooms and playgrounds are loud. Buy earplugs.

Granted, not even the schools I attended boasted all of that, but many had pieces of that mythical excellent school. Even when I was a kid, funding for the arts had dwindled to a trickle and I think some of my playgrounds were older than the teachers.

In reality, such a school is unlikely to rise from the ashes of the Memphis Public School system any time soon. Charter people are coming in and trying to overhaul schools, with mixed reception. I’ve looked at charter schools over the years, but none of them have impressed me. Putting fancy uniforms on students and making them into little tin soldiers that follow rules well may make for good PR pictures, but doesn’t teach the kid how to be anything more.

I had my share of teachers that were there to collect a paycheck and go home. I distinctly recall my seventh grade history teacher chatting with the teacher in the next room while we were supposed to be working. She hated teaching and was working to become a banker. She complained often and didn’t seem to care that kids might hear. I doubt I was the only nosy student. She left the following year. Still, despite the outliers, I received a good education and was well prepared when I went to college. In all honesty, much of the material I covered my freshman year was review, which made the transition from high school to college less daunting.

When I have to re-teach at home what a teacher supposedly taught at school, why are my kids in school? I don’t want a glorified baby-sitter. Some of the fault lies with the policy makers. Changing how a teacher presents a subject does no good if the teacher does understand what they are presenting. In one case of Miss Diva being confused on an assignment, I suspect the teacher had no idea why the lesson was there, let alone how it applied to multiplication.  I always ask, “Why?” It took me a minute, as algebra II was a good eighteen years ago, but that rusty little file cabinet in my brain squeaked open. “Matrices!” I could not for the life of me solve a matrix math problem now without the aid of Google, but just that little spark of memory helped me understand why the book presented it as such and explain it in a way Miss Diva understood. Maybe that teacher had not had that sort of math, or had not done it in so long that she forgot it entirely. The system should help teachers stay up to date, not just on the latest ways to teach to a test, but staying qualified to teach.

Maybe if the Shelby County School system supported the teachers better (less ipads and more training), got rid of the ones that are idiots (eyelids on fish…really?), and regularly expelled the kids that posed threats to the class and the teachers, parents wouldn’t have to jump through hoops just so their kid is safe, let alone educated. It would improve the entire city. Instead of a handful of neighborhoods being desirable, any neighborhood with a school could become a good place to live, because children and families are the cornerstones of a community.

Until then, we parents get to wake long before dawn to stand in frigid temperatures, in order to do nothing more than fill in a scant three or four lines of information. The rest is all online. One would think in this age of computing that the school district could find a way to make the entire process online, at least for those already in the district’s system. Of course, what else can we expect from a system that thinks parking a kid at a computer qualifies as tutoring or hires substitute teachers that tell kids, “God’s gonna get you!” when they misbehave?

I stood outside in freezing wind for an hour and forty-five minutes. The parents around me were all very nice. We huddled together and chatted. You know it’s cold when your smart phone does not respond because your finger is too cold. Also, thank you to the nursing student who loaned me the blanket!

A news anchor with the local Channel 5 news interviewed me. You can click here to watch my fifteen seconds of fame. After the interview, I realized I forgot the year I moved Mr. Smarty Pants from one middle school to another, so I’ve done the idiotic line-a-thon six times.

http://www.wmctv.com/story/24554009/scs-optional-school-application-process-begins?autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=9771650

Here a line, there a line…

When I was a kid, your parents registered you at the neighborhood school and that was that. Only once did my parents ask for a change in school, and that was so my siblings and I would I ride the same bus. Otherwise, the whole thing was pretty simple. A perk to knowing where you were going, and the district also knowing, was they had a whole summer to sort out schedules. Sure, there were always a few problems, but by the end of the first week most kids had things sorted out. Mr. Smarty-Pants wasn’t in the correct classes for over three weeks.

Kids that got expelled, in trouble with the law, etc, were transferred to “alternative schools”. So, as it should be, the problem kids got punished rather than everyone else.

Memphis, in all it’s infinite lack of wisdom has it all backward. Sure, kids can get expelled, but they just end up somewhere else causing problems. Since there is no real punishment for being little turds at school, a lot of the good teachers give up and leave. They make more rules, which of course, the less experienced teachers have trouble enforcing, especially with the kids who think nothing of flouting the rules to begin with.

Less than stellar teachers result and/or environments that make it hard to learn, especially for kids coming from low socioeconomic groups that may not have the resources other kids have, culminating in failing schools. It’s become epidemic.

So what’s Memphis’ solution? Assign certain schools as “optional”, i.e. they get the option of picking and choosing who gets to walk through their doors. The number of schools which are passing after the elementary level is abysmal, which means oodles of parents jump through the school board’s hoops to get their kids into a good school, and I use “good” in the most vague sense of the word, because none of the schools in this city measure up to the ones I attended. I’m only thirty-four. What the hell happened?

The optional process is convoluted and a pain in the ass. For example, on Monday they will hand out bar-coded applications. You pick one up, fill out a small form, and then fill out the application online, assuming your child isn’t an incoming kindergartner, from out of state, or previously attended private school and so is not in the system. Sounds simple, right? Yeah, one would think so. Due to the insane demand there are parents that begin lining up FIVE DAYS before. Seriously? WTF?! Don’t you have jobs? Who is taking care of your kids?

I despise the optional process because it artificially inflates the reputation of schools. My kids have attended optional schools since Mr. Smarty-Pants entered first grade. He’ll be in eighth next year.

A brief list of grievances:

  1. My kids watch videos for P.E.
  2. They can’t play tag, or any sport in elementary school….they might hurt themselves or *gasp* wear out the equipment.
  3. A teacher made my kid eat a snack he wasn’t supposed to eat.
  4. A principal was clueless there was a highly infection stomach flu going around and allowed a kid who puked on the sidewalk, right outside of the parent’s car, to attend school. We missed at least a week of school that year from that virus.
  5. I’ve lost track of the incorrect science my kids have been taught, of which the infamous 50 Shades of Math topped it all.
  6. Their idea of tutoring is parking a kid in front of a computer.
  7. I once argued with an elementary history teacher over the importance of spelling. I was the one insisting kids needed to spell properly.
  8. The schools complain about lack of parental involvement, but staff was rude and condescending. I wonder why the parents don’t want to work with you?
  9. They enrolled Mr. Smarty-Pants and then, suspiciously, after I had complained about the 50 Shades of Math debacle, they called and told me my son needed to be picked up immediately. He did not belong in that school. Long story short, he was on their list, they couldn’t read their own lists, and they had already called the school board office and knew what the problem was. See #8.
  10. Mr. Smarty-Pants got into an optional program and no one bothered to tell me. No letter arrived. Nada. Thus, the problem in #9 in entering him into the school’s system.

I could probably go on, but I’ll stop now before my head explodes from frustration.

In regards to the optional school process, the parents, I believe, add to the problem. Instead of showing up the morning of, like a sane person, they’ve decided it’s like an iPhone release or something and camp out. I noticed that those people tend to be more affluent, with jobs that allow them to take vacation days and they can afford sitters or whatever to take care of their kids. Yay for them. So, thanks to these over-achieving “must make a line” parents, the school district reverted back to their “parent organized line” system. The bar-codes were supposed to get rid of that extra step. Want to know how well that worked?

So, I saw a FB post remarking on the fact that people had started to line up on Wednesday, and because of the freezing temperatures, the school board was issuing placeholder cards. I utilized my cursing vocabulary, left work at the end of the day, picked up the girls and headed to acquire my magic card.

I signed in on a clipboard, got a number, and got to wait in line (at least there were chairs), for close to two hours. Then, when we were called we moved to another room where once again we got to wait in a line and sign yet another clipboard.

Finally after about two and half hours we got to form yet another line to pick up the magic card.

What does this card do? It holds my place in Monday’s line, provided I show up prior to 5:30am.

So let’s summarize. I waited in line, to wait in line, to get in another line, which gave me a card for yet another line.

Is it just me, or are they feeding us a line of B.S.?

That’s my girl!

I’ve posted in the past about Miss Drama’s struggles in school. I never did hold her back, but rather had her evaluated for ADHD, treated, and also tutored. It’s taken time, but she’s steadily improved in school.

As a parent, it hurts to see your child struggle, especially when it is clear they are capable of so much. You want others to see the same potential that you see, but far too often teachers are over-worked, underpaid, and cannot provide the extra help needed. In Miss Drama’s case it was very much that, but also a mismatch in teaching style and learning style. Miss Drama is one of those unfortunate souls that learns best by doing and traditional classrooms do not often accommodate that learning style.

By the end of first grade Miss Drama had adopted an attitude that she just couldn’t succeed. Her vivacious thirst for knowledge was drying up. I knew I needed to step in before it was too late. Meds aren’t for everyone, but they made a huge difference for Miss Drama. She’s on a very low dose, but it’s just enough that she was able to learn what focusing was. The tutor I hired in second grade helped her to read and get past her dyslexia. When I got her test scores from the end of her second grade year I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, she was in the “basic” category in a couple of areas, but she had high marks in others. Little-Miss-I-can’t-sit-still-and-focus-for-3-seconds had learned to pay attention with the aide of medication and successfully take an all-day boring test.

This year her tutor is focusing on spelling and study skills. It’s paying off. For the first time Miss Drama made the honor roll. She told me that now she wants to make the principal’s honor roll. I could see her pride and I felt it too. Things that have come easy for her brother and sister always seemed harder for her, even though she’s just as smart.

She asked for a microscope for Christmas and is hyped to sample pond water once the weather gets warm. She might not like school very much, but her thrill for learning has not dimmed and she’s regained her confidence. There have been days we forgot her meds, but she’s learning to focus without them. In time, I believe she’ll be able to ditch them, just as the psychologist predicted.

My little Miss Drama tries my patience and wears me out at times, but she’s creative, fun, curious, and full of exuberance. So even if her room is often a disaster and she still thinks skipping underwear is a good time-saving method, this Mama is very proud of her baby.

 

 

 

 

The Age of WTF

There’s a computer game called “Age of Empires.” Well, technically there’s the original and eleven sequels and/or spin-offs. It’s a real-time strategy game, and it sucked me in. I could play that thing for hours, over and over. The premise is that you are the leader of a civilization, and you must advance your people out of the stone age through various eras, such as the bronze age, Medieval, etc.

In real life, we are supposedly in the technological age. I propose we redefine our current era as the “Age of WTF?!”

Why? So glad you asked. You didn’t? Eh, well, I’ll tell you anyway.

Ignoring the inanity of our obsession with movie stars and sports players, and the overall lack of common sense (as noted by the number of videos out there depicting people of all ages doing dumbass stuff), let’s take a look at education.

  • In my own little corner of the world less than half of the schools met standards, so they made their own standards, referred to as “adequate yearly progress”.

Translation: We suck, but so that you don’t feel bad about it, we’ll instead show you that we suck a little less than we sucked last year.

  • If not for a computer screw-up and Memphis City schools giving up and dumping all of it’s schools in the lap of the county school board, there would be no grades.
  • On the radio this morning I heard that a school in Canada was ending the honor roll program. I searched for the news story and found this. The author says just about everything I could, but without the sarcasm I would drip into every word. I’m a parent of three kids, and they are not carbon copies of each other. One is uber smart, but inconsistent. So, sometimes he makes honor roll, and sometimes not. Another has yet to pull all A’s, but she generally succeeds in earning all As and B’s. She’s proud of that, as she deserves to be. Little Miss Drama is a bundle of energy and brains, wrapped in hilarity, and boxed in randomizer….if randomizers existed outside of the internet. She’s smart, but getting all of those neurons to focus on such mundane stuff as spelling can be a task.

Is she or Mr. Smarty-Pants any less of person for NOT making the Honor Roll? Of course not! I very rarely made the A honor roll. I managed now and again, but I was more like Miss Diva. Still, having something to work toward gives them a goal with a tangible reward.

Instead of teaching kids to learn what they are capable of doing, to learn that they can’t be best at everything, so find what they are good at, and rewarding them, no let’s just make them toil for 13 years with no reward. Yep, that will definitely be good for their self-esteem.

  • Schools have sucked most of the fun stuff out. No tag, or running, and PE is a joke. Don’t climb on the monkey bars, you might fall and break something. Half the goofing around and antics my friends and I did in school, and note, we were the “good” kids, would now get us suspended or expelled.

Two of my friends favorite way to mess with me was to sneak up behind me and goose me. It didn’t matter how often they did it, my reaction was always a high-pitched screech. Yes, I still have that reaction, much to my son’s amusement. He claims I sound like a pterodactyl.

In today’s school: “ZOMG, he TOUCHED her! File a sexual harassment lawsuit! Put that kid in jail!”

  • Teachers get in trouble for the idiocy of other people.

Just yesterday, Mr. Smarty Pants shared with me that his science teacher felt the need to close the door, lest someone hear him teaching science and be offended. It seems in a prior year, when covering “touchy” subjects like evolution, a student berated the teacher for insinuating his ancestors came from Africa. That wasn’t the first time someone had taken exception to his teaching of science, which happened to disagree with their worldview. The poor man has to tip-toe around science. Really?

I’m sure I could go on ad nauseam.

I won’t even touch the insanity of politics.

I think I’ve presented enough evidence to support my theory. What say ye? Shall we henceforth refer to our era as the “Age of WTF”?

 

I’m with Pink on this

From the age of about four or five I wanted to do something amazing with my life. Sure, I wanted to be a mother too, but that was a single small portion of my grand life plan. As I got older and learned about the women’s movement and read hosts of biographies about women who achieved in spite of the establishment, I felt a keen thrill that I could do anything.

Growing up, most of the girls I knew shared this “dream big” attitude. In recent years I’ve heard a disturbing amount of young girls and women say things like they want to grow up, find a man, and have him take care of her.

Really?

Seriously?

I was talking with a young woman today who said, “I didn’t even realize I was smart until half way through high school.”

I think I just stared. How can someone not know whether or not they can learn, retain, and use higher reasoning skills with ease?

Society.

If people treat you like a pretty, pretty princess whose most complicated thoughts revolve around coordinating your wardrobe, you will believe that’s all of which you are capable.

Let me be clear that an intelligent woman can be beautiful and coordinate her wardrobe. So, maybe it took me a few more years to learn those skills, but I was busy learning important stuff, like calculus and chemistry, and how to not “hit like a girl”.

Pink asks, “What happened to the dream of a girl president?”

That was on my nine-year old to-do-when-I-grow-up list. I’ve got the scientist and writer part down. Never say never. If I decided unraveling the mysteries of cell signalling and creating literary worlds is as much as I wish to tackle, I have two daughters, whom I will make damn sure, know they can aim as high as they want.

Don’t make me hit you…

After a bike ride around the neighborhood I put dinner on and then went back outside to practice some jo staff moves for a few minutes. The staff is heavier than it looks, so it gives my arms a bit of a workout.

Along comes one of the neighborhood kids.

“Hey, Mr. Smarty Pants’ Mom!” (Of course, he used my son’s actual name.)

“Hey.” I keep right on doing my figure eights, imagining that I’m whacking someone on the head with each strike.

“Man, I just had to come down here and say you were like rollin’ on that bike.”

I pause in my jo staff exercises as he comes within striking distance. I may be able to make it look like I know what I’m doing, but in all honesty, my jo staff skills are rudimentary. I’d rather not hit him on accident.

I reply, “Well, yeah, it’s called exercise.” He laughs and I continue talking. “If I don’t want to break bones and stuff when I get older, I have to build muscle.”

“Yeah.” He pantomimes a hurt back.

“And you are?”

“K*. I used to ride with J and Mr. Smarty-Pants.”

“You go to Woodale Middle?”

“Woodale High.”

I nod. “I didn’t want Mr. Smarty-Pants there because of the gangs, although, I’m not so sure his current school is all that much better.”

“Yah. Although, they got pedophiles over there.”

“At his school?”

“No, Woodale.”

“Jeeze.”

“Yeah. I may just finish my eleventh year and then get a job.”

I launch into a pro-education pep talk, encouraging him to stick it out, maybe see about transferring to another school. He nods, but I get the feeling he’s blowing it off.  I keep the pep talk short and then say I have to go see to dinner.

He extends his hand and I shake it right as he says, “I just gotta say, Mr. Smarty-Pants is lucky.”

In my head I’m filling in stuff like, “for having a mom who cares about education, or who watches out for him”, or any number of other things.

“Cuz you are beautiful.”

I’m suddenly quite thankful for the jo staff in my hand, just in case. Uhhhh, kid, don’t make me hit you. He grins and walks away.

He shall henceforth be known as Mr. Creepy Hormones. Unfortunately it occurred to me that there may be a disconcerting number of creepy hormonal teens in my future.

Maybe I should practice knife katas outside instead.

*Name redacted to protect the player.