As I watched a talking head on TV discussing our “failing schools” last night I wondered how many educational experts have spent time in in a modern elementary classroom as opposed to remembering how it was when they were in school. How many realize that no matter what the district’s stats say instead of 44 feet on the floor in your room their are actually 64 and I’m not counting desks here. How many are aware that of those 32 students in that crowded classroom several have special needs, several are gifted, several are learning English and others may not have any English at all? How many students in that class also have an overlay of social or emotional maladjustment due to parental neglect, lowered expectations, natural disability or the realities of extreme wealth and poverty in the same classroom. Do you or the pundits believe that all students now arrive at school for kindergarten knowing their colors, counting to 10 and potty trained because they could do that when you were in school or they can in your child’s school? Elementary teachers can’t and don’t just go into the classroom and say open up your book and read chapter 23 anymore. Elementary teachers are not preparing just one lesson for 30 students in reading, math, social studies, and science but instead are often preparing 5 different lessons in each area to meet the needs of the students in their rooms. That could be more than 20 different preps per day for one class. Of course the number 20 is only valid if science and social studies are still being taught in their school and have not disappeared from the curriculum because of the mandate for increased test prep, reading and math time under the NCLB. It takes time, creativity and skill to make preparations for, produce, and gather materials for successful educational activities and yet no one seems to want to admit that fact as they seem to want teachers to become accountants, clerks, and factory workers who can produce, count and document a uniformly average product. It would seem to me that the pundits and politicians seem to be troubled by the fact that teachers might have the professional skills and training needed to create quality lessons tailored to the needs of their local district and students instead of lock step drivel created by politicians, touted by so-called out of touch ivory tower experts, the NCLB, or the requirements of high risk testing. Many educaational editorial writers apparently rather strangely want more and more quantity and uniformity in our schools as they tout strict national standards and longer school days or school years; rather than increased quality and creativity. Perhaps they have forgotten that meaningless quantity and slavish uniformity are the antithesis of almost everything good including editorial writing. At times I feel that editorial messages have been inconsistent, not timely and vague, perhaps editorial writers and media talking heads need to be trained in a consistent formula and method, with some quarterly or weekly testing and re-training to make sure that all editorials written nation wide cover the same material using the same words and syntax.
If you are an editorial writer or educational columnist do yourself a favor before your next editorial screed and conduct a poll of students, not parents or politicians or even teachers because parents, politicians, teachers, and society in general have learned when and how to cover up their own failings while children at least at the elementary level tend to be at times painfully honest. Ask elementary students questions like, “What time do you go to bed?” In my experience you will find that the most common time for an upper elementary student is now 10:00 or later and it goes downhill from there into middle and high school where many if not most students stay up past midnight every night. Sleep deprivation and its attendant problems are not a theory they are a reality in our schools today. If you have doubts about that statement stand in front of a high school door some morning and count the number of 5 shot Americano’s, expressos and litre bottles of Dew that are being carried into the school(they learned this behavior at home not at school). Ask a high poverty student, “How many books do you have in your house.” and then avoid a shocked expression when a child asks if they can count the phone book. Ask a simple question such as, “When are news programs on TV?”and in most cases receive a blank stare as an answer. Do a newspaper unit in a class and discover that you have numerous students in 8th grade who are seeing a newspaper close up for the first time. On the flip side ask an 8th grade boy how they improve their health in the video game , ” Grand Theft Auto” and many will gladly inform you that all you have to do is visit a prostitute and your health increases.
Check on how much time our students spend immersed in video games, the internet, and TV and don’t be surprised if it is more than the time they spend in school and then ask yourself one more time is it really our schools that are failing our society or is it our society that is failing our schools?