Sunday, June 26, 2011

Edjukated Idiots

"He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches" 

I've always hated this quote. I've always hated it and I'll tell you why: it takes one of the most important professions in our society and it denigrates it. It makes it appear as if people who have no skills go into teaching, when that's not true. The people without skill don't find their way into pedagogy; they find their way into demagoguery and politics. You need proof? Look at the current state of our country. And individuals who are not so much skill-less as they are the anti-skill, tend to be FOX news viewers.

America's education system is a mess today. And it's a mess because America is a mess. I could link to countless graphs and pictures, but it doesn't do any good. Everyone knows that we have problems in our system. And everyone knows, as the Right is quick to point out, that we're throwing money at the problem and - gasp - the problem isn't going away. Why not?

If you're on the Right, it's those who can't. Those who teach - it's obviously their fault. Someone has to be at fault, right? It's the government, it's the unions, it's the teachers. Dismantle the system! Arm the students, send out vouchers, but for the love of God, get rid of this education system that I have to pay for with my tax money!

If you're on the left, you're lucky if you've figured it out. The one thing that the left seems to be missing these days is a clue. But, the good thing about being on the left is that you're willing to listen to alternative ideas - you're not so obsessed with your tax dollars that you'll shut out any other ideas.

So, why could our system be failing? I'm only speaking from personal experience here, so take it for what you will. I see kids come to school hungry, I see them come to school with a lot of other problems on their shoulders - home life, strife, hunger, worried about whether or not they'll succeed, worried about whether or not they'll be bullied today because the system is so incredibly efficient at protecting these students and dealing with bullies (who, mind you, are victims in their own home. No, I won't let you take a black and white view of the world. It's not that simple). And when they come to school, we expect them to set down and learn. Put aside your hungry, put aside the strife, put aside your fears, sit down with this book, and let me teach you the way we've been teaching since the 1950s, as if you were a White middle class student.

Uh, hello? Is this thing turned on? Do you not see a problem with the above?

Good teachers will vary their teaching style. I know I do; I have a whole book of listen plans with different lessons, each one designed to cater to a different learning style and a different intelligence (MI theory ftw!) But it's not the teachers that are doing this. It's the tests that are doing that. You know - the tests that we keep fretting over, because somehow all of our kids, when averaged, can't compare to the best of theirs when averaged. These tests, that are mandated by the state, which is mandated by the feds, through which all school funding is tied, are aimed at a single, shrinking demographic: White middle class students. And while good teachers find a way to work it in, guess what it boils down to? it boils down to teaching to the test. Because if you don't, you may very well find your school next on the chopping block.

This leads me to my major point here: all of these tests are aimed at White, middle-class students. How many White, middle-class students do you know? I knew a lot of White students, but not many of them were middle class. And while I could spend entire novels on the test scores and the racism inherent in the system, I want to look at the classism at play here. In our collapsing economy, we're loosing our middle class. In loosing our middle class, more and more people become poor - which means there are fewer and fewer people who could understand some of the situations in these tests. Which means there are more and more kids coming to school, worried about their parent's finances and whether or not they'll have a home to return too.

With this in mind, I posit a different cause for the shabby state of our school system:

It's the poverty, stupid.

Think about it. A collapsing middle class means a collapsing tax base. Our schools are tied to the tax base. A collapsing economy means more students coming to school without their needs being meet, meaning we have less time to teach what we need to because we're trying help them get their basic needs. A vanishing middle class means that the tests, which are geared towards the middle class, are going to be met with a smaller base that actually understands them. And even more telling - we're working our teachers more than any other nation on the planet, paying them less than most other nations, and we're throwing money at the problem and it's not going away. Maybe that should tell you something - maybe that should tell you that it's not a problem but a symptom. And as any good doctor will tell you, treating the symptoms does not help the problem. Our collapsing education system is a symptom of our only real problem in this nation - the rampant poverty and growing income inequality. 

So, what do you think privatizing the system will do to it? Whenever something is privatized, it automatically favors those that can afford it - which would be the wealthy. Voucher system or not, the problem will not go away. Those schools that get the students who need the most help will still do the shittiest on their tests, and still be crappy schools, and still get the worst teachers. You're treating the symptom. Treating the fever does not make the flu go away. And if you don't treat the flu, it can kill you.

Poverty is like the flu. And it's killing us, slowly, undermining our nation by turning it into a nation of rich and poor. A nation of super-aristocratic elites and a nation of bottom-scrapping proles. Education is a key to a better life; it's how you advance. If you take that way, then you take away any upward mobility.

But hey, that's okay. Stick your heads in the sand. Ignore the only problem that America has today, and continue treating all of the related symptoms. And to you edjukated idiots out there that think you know the answer and it's privatization, ask yourself: what do you think an Enron-scandal in education would look like?

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