Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Politics, War on Terror — Rick Moran @ 11:43 am

It has been 39 years since I sat in a high school classroom fantasizing about doing it with Donna Alpers, daydreaming about becoming a Major League baseball player, and wondering what was for lunch. That pretty much describes my academic achievements, although as I recall, I was very good in physical education and got an “A” in religion.

The Viatorians who taught me tried their best. That they succeeded in pounding enough knowledge into my thick skull so that I could graduate and go on to a decent college speaks volumes about their perseverance and concern for their students. Beyond that, the one life lesson I took away from being under their tutelage for 4 years was that acquiring knowledge for the sake of knowing was a worthy attribute that would serve you well for life.

Is this what’s wrong with students today? I’m sure there are many wonderful teachers out there willing to give their all for their students. But has imparting the sheer joy of learning - something that must be nurtured and tended like a tiny shoot of an evergreen - been lost in the drive to teach students how to take standardized tests so that the school achieves some arbitrary mark set by government to judge their progress? Or has the thirst for knowledge in students been quenched by overly zealous administrators who believe schools should be hives of political correctness and sensitivity to those different than oneself?

The various textbook controversies over the years don’t really touch on this subject. To me, it’s never been about what’s in the textbooks as much as it should be about firing the imaginations of students to seek out additional information on their own. We aren’t just talking about “critical thinking skills” - a buzz phrase that means little to high school kids. More important than learning how to think is learning to accept challenges. If that means that some will fail, so be it. There is failure in life as much as there is failure in school and until kids are taught this, they will continue to fool themselves into believing that passing a standardized test is the same as being a good student.

If these statistics about the percentage of high school graduates who are adequately prepared for college and well paying jobs from New York state can be believed, something is radically amiss:

New York State education officials released a new set of graduation statistics on Monday that show less than half of students in the state are leaving high school prepared for college and well-paying careers.

The new statistics, part of a push to realign state standards with college performance, show that only 23 percent of students in New York City graduated ready for college or careers in 2009, not counting special-education students. That is well under half the current graduation rate of 64 percent, a number often promoted by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as evidence that his education policies are working.

But New York City is still doing better than the state’s other large urban districts. In Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers, less than 17 percent of students met the proposed standards, including just 5 percent in Rochester.

The Board of Regents, which sets the state’s education policies, met on Monday to begin discussing what to do with this data, and will most likely issue a decision in March. One option is to make schools and districts place an asterisk next to the current graduation rate, or have them report both the current graduation rate and the college ready rate, said Merryl H. Tisch, the chancellor of the Board of Regents.

The move parallels a decision by the Regents last year to make standardized tests for third through eighth graders more difficult to pass, saying that the old passing rates did not correlate to high school success.

They’re missing the point, of course. The reason the kids aren’t prepared isn’t because the tests aren’t hard enough. The reason is they aren’t learning. At a time when America is losing its competitive edge to China, India, and 2 dozen other industrialized countries, the Regents want to bring test scores up. Perhaps concentrating more on what the students are learning - better yet, what they aren’t learning - would be more to the point.

But such introspection by schools cannot be done. That way leads to madness - and conflicts with the teacher’s unions, school districts, education advocates, and Washington, D.C. Instead of challenging kids to learn, we are forcing a results-oriented template on their education that inevitably leads to figuring out how to beat the test, rather than learn for the sake of learning.

The current regime discourages independent thinking, the wonder of discovery, and the self satisfaction in meeting personal and public challenges. Looking back on my rather indifferent academics, I can see where most of my high school teachers challenged me in one way or another. The point wasn’t to inure me to success or failure but to force me to better myself. Grades weren’t superfluous but the goal was to point me to my own process of discovery.

I may romanticize a bit about my schooling but I know that no matter how much I hated some of it, I have never lost my thirst for learning new things. If that is the least that an education should accomplish - and given my grades that, would seem to be the absolute least - then my schooling should be judged a success in anyone’s eyes.

Can the same be said today? Is this still part of the philosophy of education? Or is it more important to teach kids not to hate another because of their skin color, or sensitize students to bullying, sexual harassment, and other societal ills? Does class time spent on these subjects come at the expense of more important subjects that will affect the future of the student as much or moreso than wringing out their prejudices and bigotries?

Surely those are worthy subjects to pursue, although I question whether much good is accomplished in their teaching. For every kid that graduates more tolerant a human being than they went in, I would like to see another who is embarking on a lifelong quest for knowledge.

That’s a fair trade in my book.

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