Friday, October 21, 2011

Ed Reform, or Finger Pointing?

Two posts in two days...can you tell it was a rough day?  I stepped back from self-paced language learning  and pulled my classes together for some cultural inquiry in preparation for National French Week (Nov 8-14 for all of you who had a burning desire to know!)  Silly me, I thought I'd have them read a couple of English, of course, since they're novice learners of French.  No brainer, right?  Wrong.  Eighth grade.  You would have thought the world had stopped spinning.  Many of my students can't read.  Eighth grade.  Difficulties ranging from "a bit of a struggle", to "it might as well have been written in French".  Major eye-opener.  Needless to say, that lesson was an


Extreme Perseverance Is Crucial       First Attempt In Learning

I restructured my lesson, and it worked better with my next two classes, but it got me thinking about all the finger-pointing that goes on in the so-called ed-reform movement.  (I hate that term because it's so politically charged and ideologically motivated).  My reflection about my students, their issues, needs, and where they come from made me want to paraphrase some statements that either have been or could have been (based on circumstances) made to me by students with whom I have had contact over the years.

  • English isn't my first language
  • My mom's an exotic dancer
  • Call me Vicki -- that's my street name.  I'm a prostitute.
  • I have ADHD.  I don't always take my medication.
  • We haven't had electricity at home in over a month.
  • I have a learning disability.
  • I smoke pot.
  • Sometimes I can't control my bowels.  I smell bad.
  • I have to go to court to testify against my uncle.  He molested me.
  • I get bullied every day.
  • I won't be in school tomorrow.  I have to help my mom pack.  We got evicted
  • My rapist just got out of jail.
  • My mom has cancer.
  • None of my teachers look like me.  I'm black (Hispanic, Asian, Native American)
  • My parents are divorced.
  • My parents are dead.
  • I live with my grandparents because my mom can't handle being a parent.
  • I'm pregnant.
  • I think my girlfriend is pregnant.
  • I got so trashed last night!
  • My mom lives just down the street, but she doesn't want to see me.  Ever.
  • I'm afraid to come to school.
  • There's no food in my house.
  • I won't be in school for a while, because I'm going to rehab.
  • My family likes my sister best.
  • I cut myself when I'm sad.
  • I'm mentally ill.
  • I've been in trouble for dealing drugs.
  • My dad committed suicide over the weekend.
  • I'm autistic.
  • My mom is mentally ill.
  • You think my mom was drunk at Open House?  You should see her at home.
  • I have Asperger's Syndrome.
  • My 17 year old sister died of emphysema.  My mom has forgotten all about me.
  • If you call my house, make sure to talk to my mom, because my dad hits me.
  • Nobody else cares, so neither do I.
  • I'm on probation.
  • I have no friends because I smell bad.  I smell bad because I don't wash.  I don't wash because it keeps my cousin from waking me up for sex.
  • I'll never be as good as my sister.
  • My mom's afraid of my dad.  So am I.
  • I'm a kleptomaniac.
  • I'm a pathological liar.
  • My mom's in a nursing home because she's too obese to take care of herself.  Or me.
  • My father died. My mom doesn't know how we'll pay the bills.
  • My 20 year old sister has been taking care of me and my brother since our mom died, but our house just burned down, and we have nowhere to stay.
  • I'm in your class because I threatened to kill the other teacher.
  • I have speech problems.
  • I'm hard of hearing.
  • I'm blind.
  • I'm a junior.  I just came back to school after having my baby, but now my house burned down.
  • I think I'm going to kill my father.
  • I bashed my stepfather in the head with a shovel so he would stop beating my mom.
  • I'm in a wheelchair.
  • My parents use me and my brothers to hurt each other.
  • My stepfather is mean when he drinks.
  • I hate my mother's boyfriend.
  • My parents punish me by making me dig holes in the backyard until dark with no food.
  • I can't read, but there is not enough of a discrepancy between my IQ and achievement scores for me to qualify for special ed services.
  • I sleep most nights in a tent in the backyard with my boyfriend.  Our parents don't care.
  • I have to take care of my parents.
  • My boyfriend hits me, but my mom says I have too much invested in the relationship to break up with him.
I've only been teaching for sixteen years.  Every one of these statements comes from a student I have known in that time.  I teach in suburban America -- perhaps in a neighborhood like yours. 

To all who would point fingers at who is to blame for these students' failures, (inability to read at eighth grade):  Who would you say is at fault when they don't learn? Can you really put the bulk of the blame on teachers?  Budget cuts?  Unions? Public education? Parents? Society? Youtube?

When my students arrive in September, many of them have been dealing with the aforementioned issues (and this list is by no means comprehensive) for a lifetime, years, months, weeks, or maybe an issue comes up mid-year in the blink of an eye.  I know adults who would be brought to their knees by lesser problems than I have seen teenagers defeat and rise above.  Others flounder, and slip through the cracks of an imperfect system.  Still, some continue to insist on laying blame, because finger-pointing is easy, makes a good sound bite, and gets politicians elected. (It can also make you temporarily feel better when you're frustrated, and I'm certainly not above it from time to time, but the good feeling never lasts, and it never solves anything.)

Learning is complex, and there are any number of variables which can affect learning outcomes -- many of which are utterly outside the realm of control of any current system, or any system proposed by ed reformers.

So here is my challenge:  before you point a finger and demand accountability, take ten steps back, and look at the big picture.

Let me know if you're still pointing that finger.

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