Devoid of all Reason and Heart

3 10 2007

This is an example of why I find it difficult to follow my rule of not completely hating people.

Is this f-ing nightmare over yet?


No Unimaginative Child Left Behind

10 05 2007

I had quite the shock yesterday.

I went to an employment open house at a local charter K-8 school. I’m still not sure how I feel about charter schools in general, and have followed the public/private school debates with keen interest and a hefty dose of skepticism that privatizing vital public services is most likely not a good thing, for multiple reasons. But more on that in a minute…

So I proceeded to this open house with an open mind – honestly. Upon walking in the door I started to have my doubts. All the students, down to the wee kindergarteners, were wearing collar-shirts and ties or dresses, all in the same shade of blue. The teachers, and particularly the administrators, were dressed to the nines – I had to double check that I had actually entered a school and not the high-rise insurance company down the street. I engaged in some friendly banter with a gentleman also there for the open house, who told me he was glad at the last minute he had decided to wear a tie.

I am pretty much one of the most casually-dressed people I know (currently wearing jeans and a polo shirt), but nevertheless I decided to give this school the benefit of the doubt. After all, were school uniforms really that important?

As it turns out, the stiffness of the school did not end with finely-pressed blue collars. The group of us met with the administrators, who answered our questions about the school. It is a charter school, meaning tax money for schooling follows the child there, and there is no extra cost for attendance. They admit students by lottery (98% students of color and more than half from low-income families). OK, sounds pretty good.

Then the meat of my discontent with the school was introduced: no art, no music, and no physical education classes. They don’t even have a gym. I asked what the philosophy was behind this, and was given an answer to the tune of “we focus on academics, and encourage teachers to incorporate art and music into their lessons.” Um, OK, but you don’t care enough about artistic and music education to have particular classes on them? Plus, as I’m learning in my classes, music and creative expression help the brain learn. Plus – it’s fun! But I would soon learn that fun was not a top priority in this school…

The discipline plan for the school is EXTREMELY strict: you hit once, you go home immediately. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. To paraphrase the Dean, “Someone’s circumstance or bad day does not matter…we all have bad days…and we don’t tolerate misbehavior in our school.” Hmmm. Seems a bit harsh. I wondered if they also took the time to discuss conflict resolution with the kids before sending them home.

Most of the conversation on the part of the administration centered around the school’s high performance on state standardized tests. Percentages of students who were selected for AP classes in High School and who eventually went to college were also mentioned. As the Dean put it, and I cannot make this sh*t up, “We are not raising the next ‘hoochie mamas’ on the street, we are raising the next CEO’s.”

Woe. I was stunned. This school was clearly an answer to the vast poverty and lack of opportunity in the area. But at what cost? Someone else in the group asked, “Can students really sit that long and do academics all day?” The answer we received was, “Yes, if they start getting used to it in kindergarten.” I suppose so. But the extreme content focus and near obsessiveness with test scores was so worrisome I half expected G.W. himself to pop up from behind the desk.

Although I wouldn’t teach at this school if you paid me a million bucks (and slim chance since their pay-scale is less than the local public school’s), my visit was a fascinating experience. This school embodies what can go wrong when we try to turn institutions of learning into quantifiable corporations. Investment and output. Supply and demand. Accountability. Higher standards.

This article and this article from Rethinking Schools explain a bit about why we should be cautious of the privatization movement. I know that not all charter schools are as scary as the one I visit, and not all charter schools are bad. But studies show that for the the most part, students are not doing better academically in charter schools, nor are charter schools offering the opportunity to low-income and students of color that they claim to.

I am just beginning to learn about this debate, so I don’t have all the answers. But I know that seeing all those kids dressed the same, replying to the teacher in unison, in this tiny school without even a gymnasium, left me feeling cold and uninspired. Is it a better situation than the crumbling public school down the street? Perhaps. But my gut tells me we need to find the in-between, and start realizing that much of the education that matters cannot be measured by a test. Sure, this school might turn out some great CEO’s, but who will inspire the next generation of artists, musicians, and athletes?

I’d rather teach at a school that encompasses different types of learning and recognizes that kids do in fact have bad days, especially when they come from the very situations our government refuses to address, and sometimes they need to let off some steam. Yes, that makes learning hard. But it also offers us an opportunity to advocate not only for our students to score high on tests, but to see how we can understand the other parts of their lives that impact their learning and well-being as a whole, such systematic oppressions that will keep a full range of life opportunities from our kids, no matter how many small charter schools we create.

Call me crazy, but I’m much more excited to teach the whole student, not just the part of the brain that can prepare for a test. At least yesterday’s experience taught me that.

A More than Partially-Gloomy Day

18 04 2007

Bad news for women’s reproductive rights.

The supreme court passed the “partial birth abortion” ban.

I usually don’t rant and rave about my politics here, but this is such a dissapointment. This decision bans a medical prodecure that is usually safer for the woman having an abortion in the 2nd trimester (only 10% of all abortions).

Quoting Planned Parenthood in the article:

”This ruling flies in the face of 30 years of Supreme Court precedent and the best interest of women’s health and safety. … This ruling tells women that politicians, not doctors, will make their health care decisions for them.”

And thus reproductive rights continue to be chipped away. A very sad day indeed.

If you are not familiar with this issue, you can read more here.