No matter what we did as teachers, the end result was the same -- lowering standards, extending deadlines and making concessions for students who most likely belonged in a job training center as opposed to a balanced liberal arts education.
For years, people have pointed fingers at the reasons why our students don't perform on the level of other developed countries. Some have said overcrowded classrooms, street gang infiltration, lazy or sex-crazed instructors, poor tax districts, moronic principals and lack of up-to-date educational materials as causes for the drop in student achievement over the years. And while many of these are real problems that do have a direct effect on a child's ability to learn, these are not the root issues affecting American kids today.
In previous generations, American schools were a lot worse in terms of size and access to materials, and students not only learned well, but they retained knowledge and applied it to their lives. In addition, students with substandard materials in substandard schools worked TWICE AS HARD in order to get good grades and prepare themselves for the future (i.e. any African-American student born south of Maryland).
From 1910-1970, recent non-English speaking immigrants and their children also managed to not only learn English, but excel in the realms of business and investment.
So what the hell happened?
Yea, Bush's ridiculous No Child Left Behind "program" did tremendous damage to the educational system by focusing too much on standardized testing and not enough on emphasizing the teaching of critical thinking skills. I can't stress that enough.
However, NCLB was an encapsulation of everything wrong with the American educational system and not the genesis of the problem. There are several real world reasons why students suck today and most of it has nothing to do with government. What I am about to say will not be PC or endearing or encouraging. I will speak on what I have seen personally as a teacher from my years in a horrible Bronx neighborhood school and in a halfway decent Harlem area school.
Feel free to call me whatever you like :)
1) LOUSY PARENTS:
It all starts at home. I would have a godawful student who cursed all the time, was disrespectful, couldn't read nor write, but acted like they were perfect. I would wonder how the hell could anyone possibly turn out that way and then Parent/Teacher Night would arrive and so would the answer to my questions.
There are some VERY horrible parents out there and nothing can be done about that. There are people who have zero morals and have no concept of conscience nor an idea of the nature of "right vs. wrong."
I know people will hate me for saying this, but all these single mothers and their bad choices in men have caused an educational apocalypse in this country (and YES, I am aware that there are reasons why a woman can end up alone with a child, but from what I have seen over the years, a lot of those women decided to have unprotected sex with the local drug dealer/thug, and when she got pregnant, he disappeared). You really need two parents in the house or at least an educational support network of people who understand the need for a child to have a basic knowledge of math, science, history and English (the subject and the language).
Why is this necessary?
A few years back, it was determined that out of all five NYC boroughs, Queens had some of the best test scores in the state. People were running around trying to find out the secret of why Queens had better scores in general, especially compared to the other boroughs and the fact that Queens has perhaps the largest community of diverse immigrant groups living in one area in the United States.
Over time, people figured out it was because there was someone at home (usually a grandmother, aunt, or stay-at-home mom) when the child got in from school who immediately demanded that the kid start studying or doing homework instead of getting online or playing video games. The importance of parental involvement in a child's educational development can not be overestimated.
Many of these families are immigrant families who might not collectively be skilled in the english language, but do understand the need for educational excellence. There is a lesson to be learned here; investing in a child's education early will pay massive dividends in the future. The era of allowing TV to raise a child has reaped a devastating crop of academic disinterest and an acceptance of failure.
2) OVER-RELIANCE ON ELECTRONIC MEDIA:
This generation of kids has spent too much time watching TV, playing video games, texting each other on PDAs instead of talking to their friends in person while spending money to buy a worthless gadget that becomes out of style 30 days after it is purchased.
Think about it, this generation of kids will never know what it is like to spend a summer afternoon running around in a park, or getting hurt on the monkey bars at a playground, or climbing trees and busting their @$$es only to get right up and try to climb the tree again. To me, that is a great tragedy.
I have had hundreds of parents ask me why their kids can't read, study or pay attention to anything for long periods of time, and whenever I ask them how much TV did the child watch as a baby, they unanimously responded that the kid would sit in front of a TV for hours as a toddler. And therein lies the issue.
Young children should not be exposed to a lot of TV watching at all, let alone be left in front of a TV for hours on end. In those early years of a child's development, they need to be held by humans, spoken to by humans and have social interactions with their peers. None of this can be accomplished by having them sit in front of a TV for hours on end.
Check out what a study from the University of Michigan had to say about the matter:
"Children of all ages are constantly learning new things. The first 2 years of life are especially important in the growth and development of your child's brain. During this time, children need good, positive interaction with other children and adults. Too much television can negatively affect early brain development. This is especially true at younger ages, when learning to talk and play with others is so important."
- TV viewing may replace activities that we know help with school performance, such as reading, doing homework, pursuing hobbies, and getting enough sleep.
- One research study found that TV's effects on education were long term. The study found that watching TV as a child affected educational achievement at age 26. Watching more TV in childhood increased chances of dropping out of school and decreased chances of getting a college degree, even after controlling for confounding factors .
- Watching TV at age four was one factor found to be associated with bullying in grade school .
In other words, DON'T LET YOUNG KIDS WATCH TV BECAUSE IT WILL ROYALLY $%#% UP THEIR CHANCES IN SCHOOL!
The abundance of electronic media in our lives makes this a difficult challenge but a necessary step in increasing the academic potential of our students. When a kid watches TV, its a one-way communication process that does not properly stimulate the academically-centered portions of the brain and it builds an expectation in the child that they need to be constantly entertained rather than engaged.
I used to have students become offended because I would demand that they read their textbooks or do homework because this took time away from their socializing or video game playing. How dare I suggest that they stop texting in my classroom or pay attention to what I have to say when there is a major state standardized test approaching?
3) IDIOTIC ADMINISTRATORS -
In the six years I spent as a public school teacher, I believe I only knew one administrator who understood that the way to fix a school is through discipline first, then educational excellence. If you have kids cutting classes and partying in the hallways, having sex in the auditorium, vandalizing property (including teacher's cars), stealing property and generally being a massive pain in the @$$, then you can't possibly teach anyone anything. And by the way, those events I just mentioned were commonplace at the Bronx school I where I began my teaching career.
If the leader of the school community -- the Principal -- is a complete moron then how can you expect the students to follow a positive example? The best principals I ever had growing up where the ones I was terrified of and not ones I considered a friend. I was never on speaking terms with my principal and the idea of going to the principal's office was something to be dreaded, not a place where I went to relax and hang out.
I also watched students cut class on the sofas in front of the principal's office in one school. I had no idea what to do or say to get them back into class because when the kids aren't afraid of the principal or their authority, it undercuts the teacher's ability to maintain control. Sadly, educational discipline was always about fear and guess what, it always worked.
When school administrators take the buddy-buddy approach to leadership, it works for a few students in the short term, but in the long stretch, the message gets out that the "Principal is soft" and then the students bend the rules and modify their behavior to fit the principal's touchy-feely style of leadership. Regardless of the student's intellectual abilities, many kids nowadays know how to manipulate the system to protect themselves from getting expelled for doing things that would have gotten me blacklisted from any school system forever.
I had caught one student ripping a painting off the wall in my school. I actually had a photograph of him doing it on my cell phone. When we had the meeting with his mother, she tried to defend his actions, claiming that we had no proof of him doing it until I produced the pitcure of the incident.
Mind you, his mom was not a rocket scientst but the system has mutated into a creature that suggests that all teachers are molesters who can not be taken at their word. Administrators allowed a bunch of non-teacher lawyers to become "child advocates" who are supposed to protect the interests of families from any wrongdoing by teachers and principals. This was created in reaction to past years when black students were mistreated by school districts and had no one to defend them against being expelled for no reasons other than malicious racial plots.
However, it has turned into a tool to be used by lousy parents who feel that teachers are "picking on" their bastard kids. At a time when principals should have stood up to be counted, many of them (who themselves were former advocates), embraced this shift in educational accountability and allowed their schools to be micro-managed by faceless bureaucrats who had never spent a single millisecond teaching children in a classroom environment.
When you add all of this up, you get an entire generation of hedonistic students incapable of understanding that planning for the future is the only way to ensure that one exists. I got out of teaching because I felt like I was trying to plug a damn with a stick of chewing gum. Even though I know I touched and changed lives, the big picture was awful and getting worse.
I honestly don't know what else can be done to change all of this unless concerned teachers continue to build charter school programs and alter the way we currently overplan for standardized testing.