Posts Tagged ‘Education’

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Reaping

31 January, 2012

My county has seriously messed up and they are just beginning to learn the ramifications of their error. Almost twenty years ago they made drastic changes in how they educate children, which included removing the onus of personal responsibility and making social promotion the norm instead of the exception. The results of this shift in policy are finally becoming visible.

The current group of seniors do not understand that consequences are directly linked to their actions and believe they are entitled to a high school degree and college admittance just because they are eighteen. These seniors have language arts skills in the fourth grade level, they do not pay attention in class, and the ability to sit through even twenty minutes of lecture is beyond them. The county is just beginning to see how much babying and head-patting has screwed these kids and they are starting to demand better behavior and a higher caliber of work from them.

Unfortunately, these kids are incapable of recognizing how badly damaged they are. Instead, they think the world outside the high school will function on the same rules and substandard expectations. They honestly think that doing your job is for suckers because you get your pay regardless of how much or little you do. So these kids are rebelling against the oh too late attempt at intervention. We already know a baker’s dozen kids will not graduate this spring that think they are going to and there is a slew of seniors who, if they do not change now, will join that group by the end of third quarter. The guidance counselor I spoke with today said in fourteen years on the job she has never seen so many children so dangerously close to failing to graduate.

County administration, you have created this catastrophe, how do you plan on rectifying it?

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When I was Your Age: Caitlin on Computers

24 November, 2011

I am amused by students’ complaints regarding how I missed a post or message from them. They are quite indignant that their message should sit unread in my inbox for longer than twenty minutes and they are horrified when I explain to them I do not check my email or Twitter account after five during the work week and never on a weekend or holiday. Their eyes go wide with fright at the prospect of not having near instantaneous access to someone. “But . . . what if I have a question?” they ask in a voice bordering hysteria. I just smile genially; in essence patting them on the head and sending them on their way.

When I was in high school, there was no Twitter, no boards in the classroom other than the blackboard, and teachers did not have e-mail accounts. What little Internet there was existed only in privatized groups. The ARPANET had been decommissioned but it would be another five years before the first commercialization of the internet. I remember, my senior year the earth sciences teacher showed a small group of us he thought capable of understanding and appreciating the sneak peek (a total of three students) a data list he could access over the phone line through the then NSFNET. He was the most technologically advanced person we had ever met and his over-the-phone-line-encyclopedic-thing was straight out of an Isaac Asimov story. What the teachers did have was landlines at their home but their numbers were typically unlisted, so that was no help to us. We got our assignments by listening in class and writing them down in our notebooks. The advanced and savvy kids stored this information in their TrapperKeeper. If we had a question about the work after the school day we utilized the LSINET (Localized Student Information Network), that is, we used our parent’s landline to call their parent’s landline and we politely asked Mr. or Mrs. Soandso if we could speak to their daughter or son about a school assignment. If the LSINET failed, we sat down, reviewed our class notes, and did our best on the assignment, hoping we understood enough to get a C, which at that point still meant average, and not an F, back when there was still a letter for “you fucked up”—er, “failed.”

College was even worse. The professors were only available briefly after class or in a limited window called “office hours” and those coveted times were by appointment only. The appointment was attained by scheduling it with the professor in the ten minutes s/he was available after class and then dutifully trudging cross-campus to her/his office for the appointment. We did not cancel or reschedule these appointments because we would not be able to arrange another one until after the next class, if your failure to show had not annoyed the professor to the point s/he would not meet with you.

The NSFNET was finally decommissioned and the Internet commercialized my first year of college. We had one computer that could access it. It was located in the library, you had to sign-up in advance to use it, and all we knew how to do was look up the previous night’s David Letterman’s Top Ten list and Shakespeare quotes. There were no pictures. Only text and text that pretended to be a picture called ASCII Art. They looked liked this:

(__)
oo )_______
|_ / \………….|\
……..| |____ | |.\
……..| |…..W| |

Mostly they were of cows doing funny things, like kicking a lantern and setting Chicago on fire.

I did not get my first e-mail address until my Sophmore year of college. To access it I had to trudge cross-campus to the Gilbert Science Center’s computer lab. This was an amazing place. A whole long table full of computers that all had the ability to access the Internet through a special phone line specifically devoted to that purpose! In other words, you would not get booted off by an incoming phone call—just lagging connectivity, inactivity while you were reading the page’s text, or a host of other mysterious reasons ranging from faulty switches to squirrels chewing through the landline. Of course, once I got there I did not know what to do with my e-mail address because the only other people I knew who had e-mail addresses were professors who never checked their inboxes and other students, most of whom were sitting beside me wondering what to do with their e-mail addresses. So I did what every techno savvy student did. I joined a list serve. A list serve was like a chat room only slower because your e-mail message went to the central hub that disseminated it out to the e-mails of everyone else signed up on that list. I joined a The X-Files list serve, proving that the Internet always has been and always will be the home base for obsessive fandoms.

My senior year I got my first desktop computer, an E Machine. Now I was cool because I could access the Internet through the phone line in my dorm room. Of course, I got kicked off every time some tried to call.

Eventually the Internet got pictures and web pages. This was followed by IM—wow! a fast list serve that does not flood your inbox. In graduate school I was told I had to join this new personalized site called MySpace. Then it was the facebook, back when it still had the “the” and you needed a university e-mail address to join. Now it is a mishmash of posts, tweets, “likes,” YouTube vlogs, wikis, and tumblogs. All accessed from a computer that fits in the palm of your hand with touch screen input. The whole techno culture is mind blowing. But, in spite of these advancements, I still prefer my students pay attention in class and ask me questions after the lecture.

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Caitlin on American Education

27 July, 2011

3:00 am
Alexandria, Virginia

Let’s examine teaching for a moment. When I was a young man in college, still nauseatingly optimistic about my ability to change the world and not yet beat into a cynical middle-aged woman by the life lessons that begin when we turn nineteen and never stop, I told my advisor that I was not going to go into the ministry. My reasoning, there was too much politicizing and back biting among the congregation toward each other and the pastor, between the pastor toward the congregation, other pastors, and the synod, and between the denomination toward itself, other denominations, and the world in general (and when I say world I am not using that term with its colloquial understanding of humankind, I mean the whole bleeding world). I also thought the average pastor was bug-shit nuts and spent more time preaching against Christ than for him. I told my advisor as much and he agreed. Then he asked me a single question that haunts me in the three am hour, and every other hour also: If you leave who is left to teach my children? Bloody hell. Such a manipulative question. But also a legitimate one. The answer, of course, is the numb nuts I was trying to escape. (This is why the few good pastors I know, such as Mr. Hunter, are a God-send. Literally.)

I’ll come back to that question in a bit.

As I examine the last three years of my career, I find myself at a crossroads. (Hopefully not the kind Robert Johnson sings of where you bury you a hodo, deal-makin’-demon summonin’ box in the dirt.) Do I continue to teach or do I start looking for another career and, if so, what?

Teaching is boring me. Granted, with any career path there will be boredom. That’s why it’s called work and not Caitlin Song’s Funtime Hour and Polka Revue. I think, if it were just the boredom, I could handle the longterm career aspects of teaching, but it’s so much more than that.

It starts with the opposing dichotomy that is the American attitude toward education that consists of a snooty devaluing of education in general and the classroom instructor in particular as effective and socially relevant components in a utilitarian society, which leads to cutbacks, over crowding, shell game transfers of reduced but un-fireable staff, outdated and inadequate resources, and furlough days. This then leads into the other completely accepted and just as inaccurate belief about educators that they are solely responsible for the mass of illiterate, undereducated morons that our children have become. After all, if that lazy, incompetent, no-good, very bad, horrible teacher had just tried to do their job the children would have magically advanced from know-nothing puddinheads to brilliant scholars curing AIDS, cancer, and crows feet and inventing a truly viable alternative to the facebook. Am I the only one who sees the complete irrationality it takes to cling firmly to both of these exaggerated beliefs as social gospel.

The pressure on teachers to create the perfect American Scholar through sheer tenacity and sixty to eighty hour work weeks, without expecting help from outside sources like parents, administrators, local, state, and federal programs and government structures, or even the know-nothing know-it-all American Christian (we are working our way back to that manipulative question), has mounted to ridiculous proportions. For example, the FIRST program that offers a monetary incentive to teachers to perform better in the classroom and raise test scores, but actually punishes good teachers by requiring them to be a failing teacher who turns things around and becomes brilliant in order to get the money. If you are already succeeding there is no money for you. Like society, the programs designed to enhance education are all founded on the misconception that all teachers suck the sweat off a donkey’s balls when it comes to commitment and qualifications. I cry bullshit. Pick the cards up and try again.

(To be fair, some parents, administrators, politicians, and, yes, even Christians are intelligent human doings capable of original, sane, and by current standards, radical thought. These human doings are rare in a country full of human demandings who expect the silver platter package without even a thought to putting in the work that we, as entitled and sodded-up as our generation was, recognized had to be put in before that tray would be handed over.)

It’s time to get out of education because we are about one step from mutiny. And to be perfectly honest I’m not sure which side will be the ones with the blindfolds and which with the rifles. Though it isn’t looking promising for the educated human. (Hell, if we could all just become human learnings we would find ourselves in a position to succeed and maybe even grow as a culture.)

Which brings us back to that manipulative question. If I and others like me abandon the field as an unwinnable war, who does that leave to do the job of educating? I shudder even as I purchase my one-way ticket to Australia—an American-like country that will surpass America because they value education and support their teachers.

How do you spell screwed? T-E-A-C-H-E-R.

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Caitlin on Cutbacks

14 April, 2011

Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolf? Certainly not the students in Prince George’s county because we don’t have any copies to use in the classroom. I’m to the point where I would buy a copy and photo copy the chapters for the students except we don’t have any paper; not even that horrid salmon color everyone avoids using. But that’s okay because we don’t have the money to pay the teachers either.

The scuttle is PGCPS is taking steps to move to a four day week. This will cut costs and free up enough money that administrators and Grand High Pumba Muckie-mucks don’t have to take a pay cut. In the mean time we make do with furloughs and half days. You would think the upside to all this would be not having to worry about teaching or a lack of resources because we aren’t ever in the classrooms to do it. That, Dearest Reader, is too logical a thought. Despite having neither the time nor the resources to teach they expect us to instruct them in everything they would have learned—and instruct them well enough to pass a national standard test that increases the required success percentage annually—had we the resources to function like a well-funded school.

The call to battle is no longer “Children first,” but “Make your administrator look great.”