Here's some advice from a teacher in the public schools of Philadelphia to everyone who wants to know what's really wrong with the whole system.
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There are several truly important factors bogging down an educational system that is being led to the chopping block by politicians and capitalists who really don't want it to exist anymore, and here they are, one by one:
Politicization of Education:
At the heart of the American education system is something called the School Board. Often seen as a springboard for beginning political careers, this morass is sometimes staffed by people you'd never expect - nor want - on a board of education. I've seen school districts with board members who never finished high school and were vocally dead-set against providing students with access to various viewpoints. Such individuals desire to put their hands into the waters of education so that they can manipulate society to fit their megalomaniacal needs: limit the education to produce a smaller mind. This is similar to the next factor in the destruction of American public education -
When jobs go oversees so people who are already millionaires and billionaires can get even richer by cheating workers of their deserved shared wealth, there is less opportunity and wealth. America, while supposedly democratic, then becomes more of a slavepit as bosses ship the jobs overseas for wealth they don't need and make life harder on families already rife with increasing poverty, homelessness and unemployment. How can people send their children to trade schools and college and pay for their medical and other needs when the only jobs available are increasingly found at low-wage retail outlets such as Wal-Mart?
Why is this happening? Powermongery and greed. For example:
The descendants of Sam Walton, now the owners of Wal-Mart, are spending a lot of money in promoting a voucher system that will eventually destroy American public schooling. The working class in general is never going to be able to afford private schooling in large numbers without making insane sacrifices, and I say this remembering my own family's privations due to their sacrifices sending me to twelve years of Catholic school. My father was a disabled veteran who could not work at all due to paralysis. My mother desperately pinched pennies so that I could avoid the neglected public schools and eat good food and see good doctors. We were barely middle class, and at this time that class is nearly disappearing. And why should working class people, with whom I identify myself, suffer privation simply to acquire education? Part of the theory behind 'America' as an improvement of the human condition is free education. Once this is destroyed, Wal-Mart will have all the small minds it needs to toil endlessly for virtually nothing, as it expands its grip on an American economy increasingly characterized by service and retail outlets and very little skilled manufacturing labor. Then the billionaires can be trillionaires, and what they intend to do with this wealth, I cannot tell you.
People are just beginning to see how socially irresponsible the big capitalists really are with the revelations behind the corporate embezzlement scandals. My sister's retirement plans went out the window years ago when her boss, the fourth generation to own a family construction contractor, embezzled from his own company and completely ruined it and the lives of all the people working there. Somehow he avoided jail and has tons of money in a Swiss account. My sister and all her fellow workers who also helped build his company and his wealth had to start over again. This kind of thing happens to whole towns and large communities, for example Bethlehem and Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, purely to put more money in the pockets of people already rich, although in different ways: sometimes the companies don't self-destruct but simply pull the labor out of the country or mismanage themselves into oblivion and sell the remains for profit. The workers left behind in these economically decimated communities now cannot afford to send their children to private schools, vouchers or no, because the costs of these schools are rising dramatically from year to year. Also, teacher turnover is increasing as many of the same strains appear in them as are already seen in public schools. Imagine the massive influx of todayís public school students into the private system, which isnít anywhere nearly ready to absorb them. Who will build the new private schools? Certainly not the parochial institutions, except for very rich religious communities that will make the tuition costs exclusionary to the vast majority of applicants Ė again, regardless of the presence of a voucher system.
Despite the Founding Fathersí promise of freedom of information and free education and a free press, never was there a nation of people so easily indoctrinated and controlled as the American People. As an educator, I find this character flaw in a 'free people' and a 'democratic nation' staggering. Oh, yes, with the destruction of public schools and the majority of the public unable to pay for private education, vouchers or no, the average working class American will rely even more on military employment to advance him or herself. Today they find themselves on an illegal battlefield at the behest of people who lie to them and use them to commit unbelievable crimes that would astonish the American People were they to concentrate on what is really going on.
Of course, the media won't allow that, since its owners are working with their fellow billionaires to keep 'the system' going. Witness the Disney corporationís censorious refusal to distribute Michael Mooreís new film, ĎFahrenheit 9/11í. This refusal stems from the board membersí fear that it will cause the American People to remove G.W. Bush from the White House in the coming election, which may well happen anyway: nonetheless, a board of directors controlling a mass media outlet has defied its responsibility to provide access to information to the American People and Freedom of Speech to Michael Moore, who is trusted by many Americans, including this writer, to honestly inform the Nation, whatever his faults. Donít be surprised by the fact that supposedly family-friendly Walt Disney Corporation is doing this: Walt Disney was a Hitler collaborator and sent him millions of dollars before the American entry into World War II, which is a documented fact.
Getting back to the original subject:
Politically-Motivated and Manipulated Educational Methodologies and Incompetent, Negligent Parenting:
Please don't buy into 'No Child Left Behind'. Under this innocent-sounding moniker, with phenomena such as institutional racism, cultural and intellectual neglect and social decay marching in parallel, methodologies are being introduced into schools that guarantee that children will not learn. The children I teach now, while no less intelligent than myself, are now the most apathetic that I have ever seen, and are vastly less culturally literate and far less intellectually stimulated than Americans have ever been. What has been removed since I was a student?
The sabotage is deep and wide-ranging (Caution: Personal Sentiment Alert):
Parental negligence and ignorance is epidemic in America, across the board. It is not universal but it is massive and it is brutalizing children in unseen ways. Parents must get the damn television out of children's lives now, as well as a capital-driven youth culture that is teaching nothing but moral corruption and consumerism. The moral corruption is a necessary factor in the consumerism, of course, which is why young children are the ones buying the majority of the Britney Spears CD's. There are ten-year-olds walking around in the Philadelphia neighborhood where my mother grew up in the 1930's, with thongs and short-shorts that make me want to throttle their parents. With stores selling thongs made for and marketed to young children, there is something seriously wrong. Since there would be no manufacture of these items without a market, there is a cycle here that parents have no will to break. Parents are teaching their children nothing, in any regard - not just morals - and if children are taught no social propriety there is very little, if anything, that we can do with them. Personally, I'm tired of constantly telling my ninth grade girls to stop shaking in front of boys like pole dancers while I try to get the lesson going.
People, please teach your children to act like civilized human beings and not retarded, whorish poodles. This just isn't working. We finally have a generation of children who are effectively unteachable. Is that going to help bolster democracy in America? By the way, Wal-Mart is selling the thongs. I wonder what they have against the CD's they want to censor...?
This is the only nation on earth, in history as far as I know, that has advertising campaigns across the media telling people to parent their children and to act like adults in front of them.
If it sounds like Iím venting, yes, I am. However, everything I just said is essentially typical in at least a large plurality of Americaís families and schools, and Philadelphia is deep in this morass.
Now, for the methodologies:
Pennsylvania has a separate certificate for teachers of reading skills. This is extremely crucial: reading deserves to be an entirely separate subject from English language arts, and there can never be anything wrong with having a separate effort dedicated squarely to bolstering reading skills. That's democratic, and even the Puritans recognized the need to guarantee that every citizen, surprisingly even their women, read and wrote. However, the school district of Philadelphia eliminated these certificates from its faculties in the early 1990's, citing funding difficulties. Many schools also lost their technical education facilities and teachers. Also, after this year (at this writing, early 2004), students are not required to pass anything but English and math to finish high school. They won't have to pass history nor science. The standards keep falling. I note that the foreign students, even non-native speakers with difficulty with the language, are most often not the ones failing, but the native-born kids.
Why? Kids could pass these subjects in years past. It's because due to neglectful parenting and the media-driven youth culture, kids are too distracted and anti-intellectual to care about learning. Now, as kids becoming more difficult to teach, the schools just can't force them to learn subjects they don't care about. To be truthful, the kids don't care much about English and math, either, but these will fall to the wayside, too, at about the time the public school system finally implodes under the weight of the social decay and the Walton's campaign to destroy the schools.
Teachers, also, have increasingly less authority in their classrooms as they are blamed more and more for ingrained problems that appear in these children long before any teacher sees them, including increasing occurrences of problems resulting from chemical abuses in utero. In Philadelphia, there are entire communities of children and parents who are victims of this illness. Imagine what it is like for a teacher to cope in such an environment, where there is truly nowhere to turn. Parents often go absolutely nuts when a teacher tries to take action against discipline problems and will not take an objective view of what a teacher tries to tell them. To discuss the classroom methodologies:
The actual methodologies being introduced pander to this surrender to the negligence and cultural decay. Phonics, although powerfully effective for many years, has been essentially buried except for the now famous tv-advertised 'Hooked on Phonics' books. I benefited greatly from phonics, and enjoyed learning them as I became a college-level reader and writer before entering high school. It didn't hurt that my father taught me to read beginning at the age of two, since he was a parent who valued learning and saw himself correctly as his child's first teacher, although he didnít go past the eighth grade. But such a parent is an increasingly rare bird today.
As for the teaching methodologies, they are increasingly centered on children with issues, and gifted and 'normal' children are being virtually ignored. Furthermore, true special education teachers are being pushed out of the equation, at least in Philadelphia, as a very false implementation of the so-called 'mainstreaming' philosophies turns classrooms across the district into shambles. Teachers are spending the vast majority of their time disciplining students while they lose the kids who want to learn.
Special education works. Mainstreaming could even work if properly implemented, which takes a LOT of money and additional personnel in every single classroom. However, it is a philosophy that ONLY works when implemented PERFECTLY. Going halfway with it and insisting upon it as a matter of policy, then not following up with providing every single classroom with the trained personnel absolutely crucial to making it work turns a good idea into a complete disaster. This is what is happening the majority of the time. Mainstreaming must NOT be used if a school district doesn't have the money, personnel and training to implement it COMPLETELY and PERFECTLY. Many school districts are simply using mainstreaming as an excuse to avoid paying the needed number of special education teachers, yet the true use of the system demands even more of them, including paraprofessionals. To really make mainstreaming work successfully, the districts need to spend even more money and hire more trained and licensed people.
I'd also like to remind everyone of the Commonwealth (state) of Pennsylvania's disastrous and strangely forgotten flip-flop on educational methodology in the early to mid-1990's. The legislative body of Pennsylvania ordered in the late 1980's that Outcomes-Based Education (OBE) be the order of law throughout every school system in the state. Yet the implementation of this paper-based farce of a methodology failed so unutterably miserably that NO ONE is hearing of this method of schooling today, and hasn't for many years. Outcomes-based education was supposedly the crux of my teacher education, yet I never saw any instruction that showed me how all this theory could be implemented, nor did anyone else with whom I have discussed this. It was a lot of theory with virtually no method, and the people who promulgated it spoke a lot of 'shop talk' and did much political legwork to promote it to lawmakers. However, they never really showed anyone how to DO it, which never happened in education before, and hasn't happened since. There has always been someone to actually demonstrate the practice of educational methodology, even when it's been poor; here, a gaggle of incompetent politicians bought into something that was never completely baked to begin with, just to be seen taking some kind of action, whatever the consequences later.
Sounds like American Politics, doesn't it.? That's the order of the day here in Philadelphia. Demand, order and implement some sort of change, spend millions of dollars on it, no matter how unsound it is. Then people will believe at least that you're doing something about it.
Right now in Philly they're moving towards script-based education, in which a teacher will simply read a script to students, who will fill out a mindless workbook by a company called 'Kaplan' in which they are asked questions after they read stories. One question they are consistently asked is 'What does the Who do?' This is the case even when the true subject of a passage is not a living person or creature. This will truly confuse a child in terms of semantics and syntax and is only one example of the mother-lode of bad ideas in the 'Kaplan' system of scripted education. It's also a subtle attack upon the professional standing and educational investment of educators, since someone who generally holds a Master's or close to it is wasting all that training and knowledge on reading a script by someone who seems never to have stepped into a classroom.
The children know what kind of garbage this is, too. My fiance teaches in the same district in the school I transferred from last year, and they're also using Kaplan. I have the option of using it but refuse to do so except as part of substitute plans when I'm out sick; a colleague I know in my school has to use it with her Transitional English classes. Both my fiance and my colleague inform me, along with others, that the kids disappear from the classroom exponentially as the Kaplan program proceeds. The longer the teacher persists in using the system and the script, which is being required, the more kids begin consistently cutting the class, because they are being bombarded with stupidity disguised as teaching. (As of my final revision of this writing, late May 2004, the encroachment of this horrid method has been stopped by a quiet mutiny of the teachers of Philadelphia, a rare but important victory.)
I have met exceedingly few educational methodologists who seem to remember what it was like to be in the same classroom from day to day, or who really seem to understand how children think. I suspect that if a methodology appeared that didn't reinvent the wheel (so many of these 'new techniques' are complete rehash) and actually helped learners learn, it would be glossed over by the educational establishment. Why? I so often see the most profoundly insensible things happen in the schools where I have taught.
I come to the reader being a teacher who has taught every grade from Kindergarten to twelfth grade, every subject (as a substitute in all cases outside my specialty, English, but often for terms longer than a week) in every basic demographic of school: rural, suburban and urban. I've taught every ethnicity of child found in America (at least Pennsylvania). I've taught in private and public schools, including Catholic.
There are better teachers than myself, even with less experience, but I know my business and I have an excellent nose for bovine fecal matter, to put it politely.
Thus, the culprits include: Politicians; the social irresponsible but wealthy captains of industry (who are beyond bordering on treason, in truth); opportunistic methodology hawkers who often have little or no background in education (who simply seek to exploit a market); negligent parents and blatant social decay that are decimating our schools and their work, which is supposed to be that of laying the foundation of the lives of our youth.
I personally believe that the problem cannot be fixed unless America is first reduced socially and politically to veritable ashes and shattered as a society, then rebuilt from the ground up. I can already see that conditions will become vastly worse before they get better.
It's an easy prophecy to speak, because even our flawed 'Founding Fathers', who could not have foreseen all these things that have passed to us since their time, knew that a free education was critical to a free-thinking society. American education is the victim of deliberate and willful neglect, and the occasional prodding towards the precipice. It is proof that American society, if it has ever been a truly free-thinking society, will soon be impossible to describe in such terms.
A nation whose citizens cannot think nor evaluate effectively cannot choose for itself. The end of the United States of America as a society, a cultural and political entity and a people is coming upon us quickly. Be prepared.