Monday, May 25, 2009

Hey Arnie, we are teaching them the wrong things


Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan was in San Francisco this week, where he made the bold announcement that California schools are screwed, or something to that effect.

I’m less interested with the financial aspect of his statement and more interested in the statement his boss made during the campaign.  Barack Obama made it very clear that part of good education comes from responsible actions of parents to tell kids about decision-making.  In this case I’m talking about priorities, and ultimate bail-outs that I’m seeing this time of year, excusing the absences of kids.  Since I’ve taught Seniors lately, I’m not used to this late season apathy that has brought itself to my classes, and according to many, to the school in general.  One counselor told me that the sense of the school was one of “non-working malaise”.  Now that testing is complete, the shift in attitude among the underclassmen is very evident.  My numbers in classes have taken a major dip (with the exception of 1st Comp Gov and 2nd U.S. History), with my after lunch class numbers losing over 50% over the last two Fridays.  Reason?  Numerous, and pretty much totally out of my hands.  The absences are all excused, either by parents or by other school officials, and the students rarely make up the work they miss. 

So I ask Secretary Duncan, what would you like me to change?  Last week it was Student Government elections, a blood drive, and sports that took students out of my classroom.  This week it was Club’s Day and a Car Show that got the student’s attention, and left my numbers high and dry.  The thing is, these students are not being told that there is a choice and that every choice has a consequence.  Yes, there are students that can manage doing all this work and keeping a decent grade.  But many of those that have the excused absences are failing, and families are acting like the social aspect of school should be the priority over the academic aspect.  The moronic attitude towards Homecoming in the town is the perfect example.  Two weeks of social distraction are much more important to this community than the STAR tests that actually mean something to the school.  I don’t see the same community support and involvement in an activity that could help us out of program improvement, as I do in a Homecoming fortnight that gets the school………nothing. 

So I’m interested in how many of my kids will react when they realize that they do have to make a choice, and there is no other way around it.  Fine you went to the car show, fine it is excused, but you missed the quiz, didn’t make it up, and I’m not going to teach the subject matter all over again for you.  Good luck.

Of course, with all the credit recovery options for students, even the “F” isn’t much of a deterrent.  A teacher that toured another school early last week was amazed at the academic atmosphere it contained.  When I asked what we could do to match it, the reply was “Don’t inflate grades, make them earn it.  And let some fail”. 

Better the lesson learned here instead of out there.   

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