Monday, November 24, 2008

"Bor for Prez in '12": Part 4

As much as I would like to avoid "money, money, money," it seems hard to escape in every topic that comes to mind. Take education. Schools are understaffed, overcrowded, and make no room whatsoever for the individual child that thinks outside the box, (like me, as per my post 30 October 2008). Not only does the system need restructuring, but in some cases, schools need to be completely rebuilt. And it's gonna cost, folks. It's gonna cost A LOT!

As I go on, understand that I'm speaking about a majority of teachers and students. A good deal of my perspective comes from having a teacher for my closest friend in the known universe...(whom I've not heard from for some months).

Most American children will attend public school from the ages of five to eighteen. During close to a third of their formative years will be spent in the care of complete strangers that you can only hope will teach them more than what's in the books, but proper manners and caring about other people as well.

Teachers earn a decent wage, ranging from $36,000 to $56,000 in public schools. It almost looks like little to cry about, until you realize what the standard educator has to deal with. Let's look at that, shall we?

Let’s start with classroom overcrowding. There aren’t enough teachers in this country. A classroom that should, at the most, have about 28 kids suddenly has over 30. If you’re a parent and think you feel harassed at having to watch over your two or three kids for their selective hours of consciousness, imagine being a teacher having to watch over 30+ kids for anywhere from six to eight hours.

Mixed into those crowded classrooms are kids that have special needs. From genuine learning disabilities to various emotional difficulties, these are the children who will require some extra educational time. If the child is lucky, there is a separate staff on hand to meet those needs. If the child is unlucky, then the teacher already coping with a few dozen kids will somehow have to squeeze in that extra time to address the child’s unique needs.

The workday is done. The kids have come and gone. To the imagination of the uninitiated, the teacher packs his/her suitcase and goes home to a life of quiet television time.

If you're a teacher, you may giggle here.

Teachers have tests to either prepare or grade. They also have lessons to plan, as their initial lessons plans were likely blown out the window when the class proved to pick up too quickly on material, or, more likely, need more time to get the lessons drilled into their little minds. Little Johnny is also having a hard time reading, so Mrs. Teacher will spend an extra hour after regular school hours to sit down with Johnny to help him with that. Little Sally isn’t grasping math so well, so Mr. Teacher will sit with her for an extra hour and go over the grand mystery of fractions one more time. It would be nice if there was time during regular class hours to do this, but the 30+ kids kept the teachers a bit busy at the time.

As the sun dips below the horizon, our heroic teacher realizes that it’s probably time to head home…to continue preparing tests, grading tests, et al, ad nauseum.

Let us now take a few moments to add a few wrinkles to what already seems like a difficult task.

Not only are there not enough books for the entire class, but many books are outdated. The school has already cut band and art to meet their respective budgets, so here’s hoping that the sports program will survive a little longer before the school board realizes they need reading material more than cultural exposure for the kids. Luckily, teachers have come to realize that such shortages are common. So what does the teacher do? It’s something you probably don’t realize, but they, themselves, get the materials they need.

“Crayons are not that expensive,” you say? Uh huh. Tell you what…First, pay your rent or mortgage. Now fill your cupboards so you and your family can eat. You have to pay those utilities, or you’ll freeze in the winter and dehydrate in the summer. Now we’re imagining that you’re a teacher, and your day is already full, so that computer in your home office isn’t a luxury, but a necessity. There’s no time to run to the library to search their outdated material for lesson ideas. The computer has come to save you! That means paying for Internet service; and no matter how inexpensive that can be, it’s still a dig in the wallet. Amidst all of these expenses, you must also keep in mind that you will likely receive nothing during the summer months in the way of a paycheck. Yes, some of the more intelligent school systems arrange for annual salaries to be spread out over the entire year…but not all of them. Got your car payment, car insurance, and gas money all set up, too? Good. Now go buy crayons for your entire class of seven-year-olds. Oh, and don't hold your breath for reimbursement. The school budget has no room for your request. If it did, you wouldn't have had to buy the crayons at all.

Let’s make another addition. It’s blessedly rare, but does happen. You see, it’s "show-n-tell" today, and little Billy has decided his dad’s 9 mm semi-automatic pistol with the hair-trigger would make something really cool to talk about. As he pulls the gun out of his backpack, Mr. Teacher notices that there’s no trigger lock, and G-d only knows if the safety is on. The job of teacher falls by the wayside as Mr. Teacher becomes Mr. Hostage Negotiator.

Our schooling system is failing our teachers, which in turn fails our students.

Schools should be palaces of education. I mean that almost literally. Let there be Roman columns and busts of famous explorers and scientists throughout the halls. Beneath each bust is not only a blurb about the person it represents, but references on where the industrious student can learn more. Storerooms should be filled to the point of bursting with materials needed in the classroom. If Dr. Academia comes along with a realization that some piece of history has been wrong all along, and has proven it beyond doubt, the first priority should be to replace every history book.

A serious cutback on the bureaucracy would help, too. The teacher already has enough on his/her plate to have to deal with a boatload of red tape. Now they practically need to carry rapiers to be armed for the fight against the very system for which they’re working. Personally, when presented with even more paperwork, I feel teachers should take the aforementioned rapier and run the messenger through.

The lack of educators is due to many things, but one of them is the lack of reward. What incentive does anyone have for becoming a teacher? Certainly none of the garbage above qualifies. It's rare to find the truly dedicated teacher that is in it for the kids. That's probably where they started, but after a few years of dealing with overcrowding, diminished budgets, and their free time impeded upon, most teachers burn out.

The foremost incentive should be a salary worth their time and effort. Off the top of my head, each and every teacher should have a starting salary of $100,000. If you think that figure is outlandish, try putting a dollar value on the lives of each kid they have to look after. There is no such number! If you even tried to calculate a child's monetary worth, a teacher would become a millionaire after the first month of work. More money equals less stress for the teacher, which means the kids can become the point of their concentration once again.

Extend or rebuild the schools. I honestly don't care about the cost. We're talking about future generations here. With the larger salary incentive, we should have more teachers rolling in. More teachers means less overcrowding in classrooms. But we need more classrooms to accommodate the increases in staff and students. The money isn't being wasted if it's going toward getting something done.

I would also like to see a new position appear in each county across the U.S., and that's the Educational Executor. He and his small staff educate the educators, updating them on changes in the system, new teaching techniques, and assisting teachers keeping their accreditation up to date. The teacher already has enough on his/her plate, and chasing after such things can absorb a lot of their free time. Once a month, the kids get a half day off, while the other half of the day is spent in a meeting with the Education Executor. If there's nothing new in the pipeline to share during a particular month, that's okay too. A round table meeting to shoot the breeze and share experiences in the workplace isn't such a bad thing. If it's a gripe session, that's fine. Better to take it out in a private meeting than take it out on some poor kid in class.

The Executor would have one other key responsibility, and that's to report to the Secretary of Education on Capitol Hill. Instead of trying to stay in touch with the people by way of reading statistics, an actual representative will be out there, reporting on what's working and what's not. People talking to people, instead of numbers talking to people. Can you imagine?

A lot of this is coming from some things I've previously written, and these are just ideas. My ramblings in such posts are very much like a character I have in a screenplay entitled Anyone Can, in which a very common man runs for office. Perhaps that's where this is all coming from. It's fiction turning to real life. I doubt a guy rules SMI by the courts can make it into office, but who knows? Some part of me is actually starting to take this seriously.

That said, those reading who have questions and feedback, I welcome your communiqu├ęs. That includes our nice, Irish, President Elect, Barack O'Bama. (Insert silly emoticons here.)

Oh...and if our educational system were a wee bit better, I would be better with one of the cardinal rules of grammar. "A preposition should never end a sentence you've been working on."


morbidwombat said...

I was just ranting about public education with someone else. I wish I had recorded that conversation so I could just upload it and save myself the time. Hope I can remember everything.

School is not a social medium. Kids have 17 other hours in the day they can socialize. That is not what school is for. School is not for home ec., or sex ed., or dances, or certainly parenting classes. Life skills should be got from living life, not taught as though there were a right and wrong way. On that note, being taught critical thinking skills, and being made to display understanding, rather than just memorizing facts and regurgitating them on a test, would make for a more capable populace. But that's (ever so slightly) off topic.

Keeping kids in primary school all in one class is another problem. Some will be ready for a higher level of math sooner, others need catch up time. No one's being taught, they're just all being dragged along at the speed of curriculum.

Moneywise, I've always felt teachers, police officers, anyone paid via tax money, should be tax exempt. Someone please explain to me why that doesn't make sense. (I'll save my thoughts on the whole tax system for another time.)

There are two ways to relieve overcrowding in schools. First, increase the number of teachers. If we give them some perks, that would probably attract the wrong kind of people. I've heard a few ideas over the years, about basing teacher's pay off of their students' scores, or graduating percentages, etc. But that's a little unfair, and a bit of a delayed reward.

The other option, is to decrease the number of students. In America, attendance is mandatory til certain requirements are met, varying by state. Yet we continually rank abysmally low on worldwide student scores. Personally, one of my biggest problems in school was the teacher/other students being distracted by troublemakers who really didn't want to be there.

I understand all manner of things have changed in Europe since I left. But when I was in Germany, every so many years students took a test, a mini-SAT, for lack of a better analog. This determined which tier of school they entered next. If they didn't care, they didn't even get the option to go to college, and went directly into the work force as soon as they were old enough.

We can't keep trying to force knowledge down the throats of people who don't want it. Get rid of the riff raff, and the teachers can spend extra time with students who want to get it, but are having trouble doing so.

More about life skills/socializing: Parenting does not just mean making sure the kids don't kill themselves whilst not at school. What they learn each day should be reinforced at home. Kids should be able to get help on their homework from their parents. That kind of reinforcement is sort of why "homework" goes home. But kids shouldn't learn about life from strangers. If you want your kids to behave a certain way, you have to set those standards at home, rather than expecting they will pick it up in a classroom. Especially if you're gonna bitch about the things they learn in Sex Ed, etc. You want to pawn that talk off on the school system, you're gonna be disappointed with your child's view of things. On the flipside, discipline should extend to the home as well. If your kids do something to get detention, they probably shouldn't come home and get to go to Chuck E. Cheese. Their just gonna learn to laugh at, or loathe, the authority of the school system.

Sports, art and band: Sports have nothing to do with school. Seriously, you can't get Little Jimmy into Little League? (If that's the case, he's not making the school team either, but anyway.) School sports are a money making venture, everyone knows that at this point. Once middle America gets over its sordid affair with football, we'll all be better off. Art can't be taught. Appreciation and theory, that falls a bit into the whole "optional personal enrichment" field. Though helping kids look beyond the surface of a work of art to understand its meaning can help develop decent critical-thinking and research skills, so maybe that's valid. Band is a way for kids whose parents can't exactly afford a Stratovarius to get their hands on an instrument and learn some things they couldn't without some expensive lessons. But most band classes fall into the whole "memorize and vomit on command" routine I mentioned earlier. If it were theory and appreciation, again, it might be worth something.

Holy crap, textbooks are expensive. The better, instant-updating alternative, computers, even more so. I have no ideas on this at the moment, other than to kneel at the feet of Steve Jobs and make the biggest puppy-eyes we can. Or, y'know, government funding. Mediocre, cheap computers with internet access would permanently replace textbooks. A worthy investment, in my opinion.

Most security problems in schools could be solved by better parental guidance, mixed with a bit of letting kids who don't want to be there leave. Oh, and empowering the schools to get rid of dangerous students. Mandatory attendance means the violent ones have to go somewhere. How is that fair to the other students. If I act up at every job I get, I'm eventually gonna be screwed. It's not as though somebody /has/ to employ me.

While you bureaucracy is an issue, do you want unaccredited teachers teaching? The Educational Executor is not a bad idea. (There you go, making more jobs again.) I certainly don't have a better one.

morbidwombat said...

Holy cow, was I incoherent yesterday. Apologies.

More on parenting, since we're apparently going there. If parents take no responsibility for their children's education or socialization, they can't be upset when the kids don't learn. Or worse, when the kids pick up the wrong sorts of things. If you saw fit to bring children into the world, guess what? You probably shouldn't randomly call out sick from work. Guess what sort of lesson that teaches? Also, "because I said so" is not a response. If you can't come up with a real reason, you're being petty. If you're afraid to give your reasons why, because the topic is "too deep" or unpleasant, your kids will know you're holding back, and be even more curious about the topic at hand. Yes, yes, they'll always be your little babies. But if you never start talking to and treating them like adults, they'll always be socially and emotionally stunted.

Behavioral medication puts down symptoms, without treating the cause. Childhood is the best time to root out the causes of later psychological issues, through parenting and counseling, not pharmacology. If you can't deal with your kids acting like kids, maybe you shouldn't have had any. And if children are too young to smoke/drink because they "couldn't understand the risks" (even though /everyone/ gets it, at this point) how could they be expected to make an informed consensual decision when looking at the list of warnings that comes with prescription drugs? In the case of a minor, the parents make the decisions, which is really just sick. The parent is thinking of right now, not the potential physiological and emotional risks down the road. And it's really not their decision to make. If anything is sovereign, it is a person's own body. Nobody, not nobody should be able to start fiddling with the chemistry of another person's brain, especially that of a minor. I look at this situation the same way I look at people who choose SRS (F*#@$ing surgery!) for intersex /babies./ Makes me sick.

While I'm constantly returning to the thought of some sort of parenting license as a sort of anti-idiocracy plan, my concept of personal physical sovereignty prevents me from thinking of it as a viable option. Sterilizing people against their will just doesn't sit well with me when I think about it too much. So how about some incentives to agree if you don't qualify to parent? If you don't pass the test (which sadly, I think should be administered just prior to the SATs) and you do not agree /not/ to have kids, you and your family are not eligible for WIC, Healthwave, welfare, SSI, foodstamps, etc. That's about as harsh as we can really go without going all totalitarian on America's ass.