But first! Can I tell you that I had some frustrating work news today and it clarified and cemented a decision I've been waffling on, all wishy-washy like, for well over a year? (Remember? I don't do change well.) I can't go into more details, but it was frustrating. And so I finally made a firm decision on what to do for next school year. Because combine the news with the fact I am finding, increasingly, that children who come from generational poverty in schools that are located in overwhelmingly economically depressed areas are being given a raw deal. And I am not magic. And I have my own child to raise. And sometimes Love doesn't save anybody. But mostly, I'm finding low income kids are being given a raw deal. In that they are not being met where they're at, to be given the real basic tools they need to succeed. That their parents are not being dealt with realistically, or firmly, or in ways that help them succeed as parents. I think it's one thing to be sensitive to a person's situation, and another thing entirely to not do the necessary thing because you're terrified someone's going to call News Channel 1 or get a lawyer and sue. And thus. We are becoming a land of entitled wusses who can't bear to have our feelings hurt and when those feelings are hurt we lash out like wounded animals. This is going to come back and bite us on our Collective Bum at some point. It may already have.
But I'm also finding this is not any particular school's fault, or any particular school system's fault. It is the fault of ALL of us; a failure on us, those that have. And it is a failure on the part of our government, those that could fix it but won't and either find ways to make it worse or actively block ways that could make it better. And it is a failure on the part of society, those that could gang up on those that could fix it and won't but instead choose to slink off like Quasimodo with Esmeralda, receding into the dark recesses of their hoarder-like mentalities.
(Wait! Wait! Where are you going? Oh, don't go! If you stay with me, I PROMISE there is blinding, happy light at the end of this tunnel.)
Can I tell you about what's happening in education these days? American public education, specifically, but I read The Guardian and sometimes The Telegraph if I can stomach the Boris Johnson editorials from time to time and so I know England is struggling with this too and here it is:
Children are not products.
There. I said it. Children are not parts and bolts and bits of flavoring to be tweaked, molded, or processed into whatever and whichever form you think will be most marketable. Children are breathing, living beings, with hearts and minds and fears and really really really bad taste in junk food. To treat them as anything less than small, soon-to-be-adults is abusive. I once read a quote where someone asked, "Why do people abuse children so much?" and the answer was, "Because they can." (Because children don't vote, therefore have no voice, therefore no power over what happens to them. And then they grow up into adults who feel powerless and when THAT happens, they start organizations like ISIS or The Crips or serial rapists and we all sit back and go: Woah! What happened there?)
And I am not your assembly line factory worker here to mindlessly do your bidding. Children are not products and education is not an "industry." It is not a "business." Stop talking about being in the "business" of educating people; education is a science but mostly an art. There is nothing business-y about it, other than the dweebs at the state and federal Congressional levels who are in some business person's pockets giving them kickbacks off the backs of children and calling that "reform" so they can guilt trip people into silence.
On Thursday, C and I had an intense discussion in which I became very passionate about education and what's happening to it. We mostly got into a big discussion about Common Core and technology in education.
Let's talk about Common Core first: I see the allure of it; I get what they're trying to do. "Go deeper." Sounds catchy in a slightly creepy way. My concern is the One Size Fits All mentality of it. Not all children are one size fits all--did you know? Some children are autistic, high and low spectrum. Lots of children have attention span issues (good god, lots of adults do too these days, thanks Internet and smart phones!). Some kids don't test well, ever. Some kids are good to go on Monday, some aren't quite all there 'til Tuesday afternoon. Some kids only pay attention when you start talking about dinosaurs because they're the Dinosaur Learning Style.
And the reality of many, many, MANY children's daily lives is that some children don't have anyone talking to them at home, or reading to them. Some children go to bed hungry. Some children wake up hungry and there's nothing to eat so thank god for school breakfast. Some children watch their moms get screamed at by their dads. Some children watch their dads get drunk every night. Some children watch their moms do meth every night. Some children are completely, utterly, totally ignored, their only friend the iPad or the television. Some children are being raised by wolves. Yes, you heard me: some children are being raised by wolves, and Common Core simply isn't going to fix that. Ever.
(You know what will fix it? Addressing poverty and requiring Parenting Skills and Sex Education (NOT abstinence; exist in Reality, friends) classes at puberty and making sure politicians can't defund education accounts in order to give obscene tax breaks to their business cronies. But if I can't have all that, I'll take: addressing poverty.)
Some times, children need to be met where they're at, and given the basics. Not everybody's a future rocket scientist. Do I want everyone to go to college? Yes. You know what else I want? Five hundred trillion dollars and permission to rule the planet. I think it's okay not to go to college--college isn't for everyone. I'm not a horticulturist because I kill plants; I suck at DIY projects so I don't fix my own plumbing. Which is why I'm so thankful no one ever got in my face and pushed Horticulture School onto me. And that time I had to take Wood Shop class in junior high school? Thank god for getting a teacher who was humble enough to recognize I didn't need to even be near the jigsaw cutter-of-death machine and just gave me industrial sandpaper and a C at the end so my GPA wasn't trashed. God bless you, Mr. Wood Shop teacher, wherever you are.
Last week, we all agreed Kim Kardashian's sizable ass was worth commenting on for 24 hours. It was stunning, watching Humanity come together on one topic. If we can do that, I bet we can all come together and agree that Reality is often a better place to exist. As soon as we're done talking about people's buttocks? Maybe? Because what I've noticed is that the people who are touting the "Everybody should be able to go to college! Everybody should be ready for, and desire, a higher degree!" are the types of people who came from homes where a college education was the norm. Or they weren't, but they had some intrinsic need, some inner understanding, that college mattered and they wanted to go. And they defied their odds and went--good for them. (My college roommate was one of them, by the way: she knew, at age 7, if she didn't get herself up, dressed, and to school, her life was going to turn out very bad. And so she did that, her whole school career and then she put herself through college. She was a unique human being, and she would tell me this: "Not everyone was like me--I knew kids who could have done that too, but they just didn't want to or care to. I don't know why I did. I just....knew.")
I understand the passion for wanting everyone to be okay, thank god for this kind of passion because god bless them: they want to save the world. Magical Thinking: I own millions of shares in that company. But it's still OKAY NOT TO GO TO COLLEGE. For some people. For me, it would not have been okay not to go to college; my father would have disowned me. It will not be okay for Miss M because her father will disown her. But for some other kid? Going to be just fine making an honest living answering phones or installing cable lines. Because some people are fine without it. Some people are perfectly happy fixing plumbing, building houses, wiring electricity, laying tile, flipping hamburgers, and making hotel beds for a living, and THAT'S OKAY TOO. Is there something wrong with jobs that don't require degrees?
Some people are going to read that and accuse me of the soft bigotry of low expectations. If you are one of those people, with all due respect: Fuck you. Come walk for a month in my shoes, come see what I see day in and day out. At the end, let's go have drinks and you tell me why your belief that every single kid from every single home in this country should go to college still makes sense. Because I think you're a snob who looks down on hard-working people with trade jobs and I hope you're around when a good handful of this country's citizens are self-medicating to deal with the stress and disillusionment of being sold a dream they never asked for, never really wanted in the first place. There is no shame in burger flipping, if it pays your bills and that's the life you want. I think it's better to meet people where they're at, and give them one level up to aspire to rather than take someone who can barely add 2+2 and insist to them if they just work harder they'll be mathematical enough to build rocket ships. For instance, in my classroom, if a kid says he wants to be a Ninja, I say: Cool! You could get really good at Ninja-ing and then go open your own Ninja school. That's THAT kid's dream; I'm not going to pee all over it and go: "Oh, sweetie, that's nice. But what about COLLEGE?" Please.
........(breathe)........I'm sorry. I've totally off-tracked myself. Let me backtrack.
So the district I work for is rolling out an online system, and it wants families and students to do more academics online. Which I'm down with--I wouldn't call myself a techno geek or anything, but I can find my way around the 'net (fervently avoiding eye contact with troll-ish types), create a website (as long as I don't have to do the HTML), and I'm all about social media (though angsty at the same time). But here's the thing: Just 'cause it LOOKS cool doesn't necessarily mean it IS cool. Let me explain.
There are a lot of teachers out there who do an awful lot of stuff on smart boards, laptops, smart phones, etc. And that's good. I mean, how cool to Skype with a class on the other side of the world. We are a technologically driven planet now. And I'm very aware I'm teaching kids who may be doing jobs that haven't even been invented yet. Technology matters--it's here, it does help us in many many ways, and everybody still agrees: ATM machines are frickin' awesome, especially on Saturday at 3 AM. Technology took us to the moon, lets people work from home, and helps us make friends in countries we've never set foot in. That's amaze-balls. But there's a dark side to technology and--just like addressing poverty and what's going on/not going on in many children's homes today--we are not talking about it. (Okay, some of us are. And then iPhone 7 will get released and everyone will lose their collective shit once more.)
Several weeks ago, I was teaching 2nd graders about all the different reference materials (and this is a Common Core component by the way) like thesauruses (thesauri?), dictionaries, atlases, and encyclope---wait, what? I stopped and looked at their little slack-jawed faces and went, "Boys and girls, listen. You guys don't have a clue what an encyclopedia is, do you?" (They nodded, drool dripping slightly.) "I don't know why you even need to know about all this. I'm teaching this to you because the quiz I have to give you at the end of the week is going to make you choose the correct reference material to find the answer to what you're looking for. But guess what? You know where I go when I need to find a map? Google maps. You know where I go when I need to find a synonym to a word? Merriam-Webster thesaurus dot com. Same for the dictionary--Oxford dot com. If I want to find information about penguins? I go to an encyclopedia...ON THE INTERNET. It's all free. On the Internet." (Here, I held up my smartphone.) "This is your reference tool, boys and girls. Also: iPads, Kindle Fires, and computers. So, we're going to learn this because I have to teach it to you, but just know--the internet pretty much has everything on it."
And then I thought: if the Common Core is so groundbreaking, so cutting edge, why didn't its creators know they need to teach Internet Smarts & Safety instead of antiquated reference materials? I'm shocked I'm not teaching the card catalog system, too (that's probably taught in 5th grade).
But I'm worried about how fast we're replacing the tried and true, our Old World sensibilities, with all this new, shiny, fancy crap. You know what this reminds me of? The Velveteen Rabbit. Remember him? And the old Skin Horse. Surrounded in that nursery by all those toys made of wind-up metal gadgetry, all snotty and stuff, so sure they were the best. But their parts rusted if left out in the rain. And eventually, they broke and were thrown away. They had a short shelf life.
And also (and mostly), the boy couldn't hug them. He couldn't make tunnels in his bed late at night with them, or take them on picnics, or whisper his secrets in their ears. When their parts broke, they were thrown away and replaced. But when the rabbit's whiskers wore off and his fur became shabby, he was still loved. And being loved so hard hurt but it was worth it because, in the end, it meant he was real. Because love is real. And those of us who've truly loved know it hurts, it isn't easy, but it's worth it. Real things always are.
I think about that when I think about some of my veteran teacher friends, the ones who were teaching when I was still in high school floundering about, the ones who've watched the educational fads pendulum swing back and forth many times. They're usually the ones who are only on email because this is how people communicate in 2014 but if you ask them to create a simple web page by plugging in some data points here and there, they look at you as if you have toes growing from your eyeballs. Those ones. I think about them.
I think about how awesome they are with kids. How, magically, they know how to get a child with very little impulse control to sit still for 10 minutes when the four other teachers that kid had before went home exhausted after working with him every day. I think about how they understand how children's brains work, and so they know that children need exposure to certain things and frequent repetition and hugs and high fives and lots of fresh air. They know kids need a sense that, if they just keep trying, next time they play Around the World, they're going to make it. THEY'RE GOING TO MAKE IT. All the way around the world. Or at least past that little twerp Bobby who laughed real mean when they blurted "SIX!" as the answer to 3+2 last time.
Some of those people know exactly how to make school exciting and cool, even the Parts of Sentences lessons. I teach next door to someone who makes it sound like The Price is Right is being filmed in there every day, and those kids rock the end of year tests. Every time. And they learn good manners while they're at it--and I'm finding good manners are increasingly scarce, too, these days.
Computers don't give any of this to you. They don't give you a sense that you're going to MAKE it next time. They don't teach you manners. They don't hug you or listen to your secrets or lay quietly with you when you're sad or sick. They don't high five you. When they break down after 5 years you go get a new one because after 2 years they're ancient anyway. They teach you to be impatient, and they keep you feeling just connected enough to keep you disconnected. They give you a false sense of security. They can lead you to believe you're smarter than you actually are, or make you feel dumber than you actually are.
And I know all of this because I'm on them. A lot. You know what else technology does? It helps you veg out. It helps distract you from the problems in your life. You can mindlessly pin things to a hundred different boards on Pinterest. You can endlessly scroll through your friends' Facebook feeds. You can scroll through strangers' Twitter feeds. You can create blogs that nobody ever comments on. You can google insane things, and spend hours giggling at college humor YouTube videos.
And you will never learn a goddamn thing. ....Okay, fine. You may learn a lot from Russell Brand's brilliant The Trews YouTube videos, but honestly, that's it. I was re-organizing my Pinterest boards last night--I have well over 10,000 pinned images and not a single thing to show for them. ....Okay, fine. I did learn how to make ceiling lanterns out of tissue paper, but honestly, that's it.
What I'm attempting to say is: technology is here, it's occasionally helpful, and we all need to embrace it. But aren't you worried it's making us distant from each other? It's making the world smaller, and yet we're becoming so disconnected. Aren't we? Because we're playing with the tin wind-up toys, and forgetting to hug our Velveteen Rabbits. Don't throw away the Velveteen Rabbit! He's REAL. Love is real.
At work, I can't get my Mimio (a device that turns a white board into a touch screen computer board) pen to work. So I don't use the Mimio--I simply don't have time to play with it to figure it out. I teach from paper and books and stories and talking with my students. But I've noticed they're much more attentive when I turn on a video, and it concerns me. I feel like I'm balancing on a tight rope--I want technology to help them learn, but I also want them to know how to connect to others. For instance, I show YouTube videos to enhance what I'm teaching, because it's like virtual field trips. And I take my students on virtual field trips because 55% of their parents won't pay for the real ones and/or return the permission slips. (40% of the parents won't even read the monthly newsletter I send home or practice the reading books.) Technology enhances what I do, but it's not all that I do. It's an enhancer. As it should be. In all jobs, unless you work at Apple, Inc. or Microsoft.
C thinks we're moving into a Khan Academy-style age, in which children will eventually sit at computers all day and learn while monitors walk around making sure they're on task, answering questions, etc and so forth. Jesus God is that not depressing?! The thought of children being mined at computers all day long depresses me, and I'm a person who LIKES sitting in front of a computer all day; some days sitting in front of a computer is all I can handle. But I'm also a grown up who thinks quiet, peaceful rooms are best. I can't imagine being a wiggly little kid, desperate for sunshine and laughter, having to sit in front of a screen all day. If that happens, if we go to school in big warehouses where we sit at computers all day, Humanity's going to become one big ol' attention deficit obese disconnected blob with carpal tunnel syndrome by age 10, mark my words. Don't even get me started on what Vitamin D deficiency can do to a person.
So C and I had this intense discussion about all of that--because I said: "Some of the older teachers are a tad freaked out by all the new, sudden emphasis on technology," to which he said: "And those teachers won't be teaching M." To which I said: pretty much everything I just said here in this blog post.
Except the Velveteen Rabbit stuff only just occurred to me as I was typing. Don't you hate that? When the perfect example to defend your argument pops into your brain 32 hours after the argument ended? I hate that.
Anyway. Back to where I was at when I started this: I WILL NOT BE A DOWNER. I will NOT be a downer. So here's this. This LINK is your antidote to downer-ism for the rest of the weekend: