Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Education for Dummies

I think I have the solution to America's failing schools issue.

Supposedly, our nation is rooted in the idea of democracy and an economy based on capitalism. A quick look at any government school system, by even the untrained eye, quickly reveals that these so-called "American ideals" are being violated. In a "survival of the fittest" economy that we are supposedly training students to survive in beyond the walls of these sacred ivory towers, the government education system counterintuitively creates an environment that seems rather socialist. Let me explain. The idea that everyone is equal is the driving force behind current graduation requirements and education standards. It seems that the powers that be have decided that in order to graduate from a public institution, everyone needs 4 years of math, 4 years of English/lit, 3 years of science, etc. At the very same time, leading educational researchers preach to us that there are about 8 different learning styles and at least 8 different "intelligences." While we educators are supposed to be accomodating for these 16 different niches, the very administration that encourages these ideals also sets these ridiculous equal requirements for all students nonsense.

After being in education for 4 years, I have almost come to the full conclusion that not all students are willing or capable of demonstrating basic algebra skills, writing chemical formulas, balancing chemical equations, and I could go on for days here. For some, it's an issue of laziness and for some it is the complete lack of capability. However, our "education standards" require these and other ludicrous benchmarks as a demonstration of success. Keep in mind that this illusion of success is often accompanied by the inability to maintain even a minimum wage job, a complete lack of basic reasoning skills, poor productive social skills (the minimum required to obtain most decent jobs in the absence of affirmative action), and a general absence of common sense (such as being smart enough to wear a condom). While some standards make perfect sense, such as a physical education and health, government, etc., the idea of equal everything for everyone is utterly nonsensical.

Somewhere along the last few decades, the term vocational has become a nasty word. A word reserved for the dumbest of the dumb. If you can't hack it in academia, you need a vocational track. And we all know that the classrooms are filled to the brims with the Einsteins of the future. To be honest, I disagree with this stigma that has become associated with the vocational arts. My decision is based on two principles: 1) the very multiple intelligence theory that is touted in all of the most basic of education courses, and 2) the common sense idea that no matter how many engineers, managers, IT professionals and doctors we might think we need, we're still going to need our drains unclogged when the toilet overflows at 3 AM. I know several plumbers that earn a significant amount more than I do, not to mention mechanics, computer repair techs, nurses, and probably even some janitors.

My solution? Somewhere around the beginning of the 9th grade, an evaluation has to be made for each and every student. This evaluation should probably be based on more than some standardized test, but realistically probably cannot be. However, based on this evaluation, a decision is made about whether you will be allowed to continue in academia or whether you will go to a technical/vocational school where you will learn a trade. In either case, if you want to screw around, go ahead. It just may affect your ability to continue your educational pursuits. Not cutting the mustard in academia? Guess you're on a vocational track now. The sad part is that before learning a trade became a task of the social undesirables, the goal of education was pretty much in line with this seemingly foreign concept. Just look at the schools of 30 years ago.

My proposal may seem a bit extreme, especially to those who are veiled under the illusion that our schools are doing a fine job and still suffer from the delusion that every person is capable of becoming the next President of the United States. And while it may not be the easiest solution or a perfect solution, some shift towards a system that realizes that individuals are different and that individuals are responsible for themselves and their actions should be on the agenda of every American citizen. The problem is that we have sat back quietly for too long while public schooling has become some sick, watered-down entitlement program instead of the glorious, fabled land of opportunity that everyone still seems to expect.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Hide and Seek

Have you ever done that thing where you put something in an extremely logical place and then when it comes time to remember where it was you can't seem to find the same algorithm that drove that logic the first time? I have spent my entire life perfecting this exact skill.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Indoor Pools

The pipes in my chemistry room had been groaning and knocking intermittently for several weeks. I mentioned it to several of the custodians asking if it was a problem. It has been my first year in the old building so I really had no idea if it had always been like that. Not to be a killjoy, but I was under the impression that pipes reacted like that when air was rushing through them.

So, on Thursday, the pipes started serenading us again but it seemed somewhat different this time. This time, instead of the few seconds of rumbling, the noise sounded more like a steady tapping noise. Not being anywhere near a prison or the Goondocks, I assumed that it wasn't being caused by any underground travelers. Finally, after about 10 minutes, the knocking and groaning subsided and I was finally able to bring my class back to order. Apparently, noisy pipes are more interesting than my noisy windpipes. Several minutes later, a cryptic announcment came across the PA requesting the presence of a particular class. Then, a few more minutes later, we were informed that we were without water because the main had broken and flooded the old gym with several inches of water. The gym is set into a hill so it was an obvious destination for low viscosity fluids. To understand the "severity" of the issue, bear in mind that our school has been the home of the state champion basketball team for two consecutive years.

So, the entire school spent over half of the day without water. In a move that still reeks of poor decision, the admin decided that we could still continue on with our daily schedule. Of course, with no flushing toilets or working sinks or water fountains, this was an obvious choice for anyone with an advanced degree in education administration. The middle school across the street agreed to allow our students to stand in ridiculously long lines just to perform the most basic of biological functions in a sanitary manner. I did still manage to get a bit of teaching in, but I had to scrap my idea to have a lab in AP Chem and I stumbled through an ill-prepared introduction to intermolecular forces, not that it means much to the average reader.

I suppose the situation has one positive outcome. Now, when the upperclassmen sell passes to freshmen for the pool under the gym floor they won't be guilty of false advertisement or representation.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

$0.25/hr Optimistic?

So, it's 9 PM and I finally get a chance to do my own work. We had an "early-release" day today where the kids go home early so we can have some fun and exciting staff development. Let me interpret. We sit in the library and perform high-skill tasks such as grading writing samples with a rubric and/or get talked at on how to grade writing samples with a rubric. This has been the topic of our last 5 or so at least. Apparently, teaching illiterates how to write Shakespeare is one of our school goals. I'd like to see the English, History, etc. people trying to teach science or math. On second thought, the kids are already bad enough at those subjects.

After the exhilirating yet educational meeting, I got to ride the Big Cheese with a handful of kids down to ol' Ma Tech for a Technology Enrichment Session for the robotics club. Another 4 hours down the tubes. Why do I do it? It's good for the kids, I guess that's all that matters. Finally back in my room and now I don't feel like doing a damned thing. Well, except for this I guess. I've always been the best at time management. The greatest challenge of each day is trying to trick myself into forgetting I've been here since 7 AM.

I hate that a great deal of teachers are 8-3:30'ers. Not that they aren't doing work at home in a lot of cases, but the image is that that's all of the work that they do. That perpetuates the stereotype that teachers don't really do work. Unfortunately, it is true in more cases than I would care to know about, but... For me today, after classes it's robotics, tomorrow it's planning for two presentations I got volunteered to do next week, yesterday it was academic bowl, who knows what on Friday? Not that I'm complaining, I wouldn't do it if I didn't feel like it was beneficial.

From the trenches,