Monday, November 15, 2010

The Student Has Become the Teacher

If you want to know what the hell has happened to the educational system in this country, you need to look no further than what is happening in my kids' public elementary school experiences over just the last few years. I simply cannot believe the complete and total abdication of personal responsibility by teachers today, as compared to just one generation ago. It's sick, really. When I was in elementary school in the 1970s, sure, my parents used to help me all the time with my homework, with studying, whatever. But to help me was their choice, or mine. It wasn't my parents' obligation to help me, but rather their choice -- back as recently as the 1970s, teachers understood that their fucking job was to teach my kid whatever that year's curriculum was, and that it was students' jobs to do whatever we had to do to learn it.

Nowadays, all that has changed. Do you know that my kids bring home their homework every night, and not only does it have to be signed by me as their parent, but many (as in, a good 50% or so if not more) their fucking homework assignments are actually addressed to me, the parent? I mean, my daughter's homework on a typical night will say in her homework log that she has to do, say, page 34 of her spelling workbook. Then you open up the workbook to page 34 -- mind you, this is the spelling practice book that is given to her by her school for her to learn how to spell -- and on the top, the instructions actually say "Walk your child through the following exercises, making sure that they practice pronouncing each word correctly and recognize the vowel blends in each word."

Walk my child through the exercises? Who the fuck is the student here?

It's an abomination, and unfortunately this is not an isolated incident, but rather the case in the majority of assignments my kids get today in school. And I have little doubt that this more or less total abdication of personal responsibility by teachers today is a huge contributor to the mess we have of an educational system today in this country. I mean, when the fuck did teachers start assigning homework to the student's parents, instead of to the students themselves? In the 1970s and 1980s, no teacher would have even dreamed of trying to do this, and they probably would have been inundated with complaints and eventually had their lazy shitasses fired if they even tried it.

And before you teachers and teacher-lovers out there go all ballistic on me, my mother was a teacher in the public school systems of Philadelphia and New Jersey for more than thirty years all while I was growing up, and I thus grew up with more than a healthy respect to what teachers do, and more than anything else, for how utterly underpaying and thankless those jobs really are. I love teachers, and nobody realizes how hard they work better than I do -- nobody. In fact, I grew up knowing I would never go into teaching because I didn't ever want to be in a job as thankless as what my mom used to go through every day, week after week after week, for as long as I can remember. But then, my mom busted her ass at her job every single day, and she I can assure you would never, ever have even considered sending homework assignments home every night that actively required the parent to participate. All through her career as a teacher, I'm proud to say that my mother never lost sight of the fact that it was the child's responsibility to do his or her homework, and of course to involve parents or other sources as needed to make sure that the child learned what needed to be learned.

And also please don't take what I'm writing here as any suggestion that I do not want to be involved in my kids' learning process. The only reason I know about this ridiculous abdication of responsibility of America's teachers is that I do choose to be involved, and I do choose to review what my kids are doing in school and how they are practicing what they need to learn while they're at home. I do believe that parents should choose to be involved as much as they can be. But you know what? The 1970s was a simpler time, most mothers were not actively in the workforce like they are today, the Dow had never yet crossed the 1000 mark, companies' focus on the almighty dollar hadn't yet experienced the explosion that began with Reagan in the 1980s and has lasted in full force until the present day, and as a result, at least one if not both parents were home at night with their kids in the vast majority of the families I knew, including my own. Today, all that shit is different. A good half of the families in my kids' school involve both the mom and the dad working in some capacity, and for that matter, most of the dads around where I live aren't home at 6pm every day like my father was luckily for me and my siblings. And that includes me. I could count the days I've been home from work by 6pm in 2010 on probably two hands, and the sad reality of the way the working world is today is that I don't get home in time to see my kids before bed on at least half the days of the work week. And I'm not even working in a law firm, consulting company, investment bank, you name it where many professionals routinely stay at the office well into the evening at night. My job's schedule is definitely not considered all that bad by today's standards, but it's still hard for me to be home every single night before my kids go to sleep.

So things were different back then, and if there ever was a time when you might have been able to get away with forcing parents to do the teaching of their kids at home, that basically went out along with parachute pants and hairspray and all that in the 1980s. Nowadays, as I said I strongly believe in parents being involved in making sure their children are learning at school, and that includes doing their part at home while they're not in the classroom to reinforce what they are learning at school at the time. But it's still the student doing their part -- it's not the parents' part. Obviously, any educational system that has any shot of creating the best students with the best habits of learning needs to keep the onus of learning -- both in and out of the classroom -- on the student, as managed by the teacher, not pass it off on someone else like a parent who is already working a 12-hour+ day in many cases. That is just as obvious as the day is long. A kid who really cares about learning will actively involve his or her parents all the time when they have questions on their homework, that day's lesson in school, whatever, and I am a big fan of teachers encouraging that kind of questioning and that kind of extra use of resources to get the kids the understanding they need or want.

But requiring parents to be involved? Assigning homework and handing out workbooks that are literally written to the parent, as if the student (and their teacher) is just along for the ride while the parent does the heavy lifting? That's just teachers being the same lazy, entitled shitheads that unfortunately this country seems to be filling up with more and more every day, everywhere I look.

30 years ago, no teacher would have dreamed of telling parents that they had homework every night with their children, and they would have known with a fair amount of certainty that a discussion with the principal and eventually a firing -- tenure or not -- was on the way if that's how they tried to run their job. Nowadays, it's the norm.

And you wonder why student's test scores have fallen basically every single year for more than a generation in this country? You wonder why so many students themselves seem to have abdicated responsibility themselves for their own learning? Look no further than their lazy, shitty teachers, who in large part behave today more like the workers you find in your average DMV office than the teachers of just one generation ago. Lazy, shitty teachers are going to produce lazy, shitty students in all but the cases of the best, most dedicated students. It is 10 times as hard to become a great student today when your own fucking teacher doesn't even think it's his job to teach you, but rather just tries to foist his job off on your parents. You get foisted in school, and you end up being a foister yourself when you grow up. It's a vicious cycle, and having the very teachers who are entrusted with helping our children grow up to be smart and hard working contributors to society, actually teaching them by their own fucking example to look to others to do their job, and what the hell else do you expect to be the result?

I realize by the way that I am not describing all teachers here, but sadly I am relating an experience through three public schools in two different states, all three of which schools score very highly on all the important measures today. Somewhere over the past generation or so, the quality of teaching and the level of effort that teachers believe is necessary and proper for their job has deteriorated well beyond the tipping point. Sadly, today our children are being taught by the same lazy abdicators that teachers themselves have been accusing their students of being since time immemorial.

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Blogger Micah Seymour said...

Funny that when "teachers actually taught" in the 1970's mean SAT Math scores were at their lowest ever... some 20 points below where they are now.

True critical reading scores are down. msg me if u no y.

1:48 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Comparing SAT scores from the 1970s to now is really a worthless endeavor. That test has been publicly and openly dumbed down for years and years on end, including at least one major overhaul that completely dumbed down the test and changed the whole way it is created in the first place.

I would bet dollars to donuts that overall math ability of students in the 1970s would probably blow away the lazyass mofos in school today. Too bad we'll never be able to prove it until I invent that time machine.

4:52 AM  
Blogger HighOnPoker said...

Devil's Advocate and all, but perhaps the reason why the lessons in the booklet require parent involvement is because parent involvement helps the child learn better than solo study. It's not about abdicating responsibility, but rather encouraging responsibility amongst the parents. I'm sure the teacher does not say, "Okay, class, do page 34 tonight with your parents, and for the rest of the day, let's watch Finding Nemo."

Unfortunately, there are a lot of parents who are not involved enough in the education of their children. The authors of the school books probably are seeking to encourage more active involvement.

3:50 AM  
Blogger BLAARGH! said...

Heya Hoy, long time on see! Tryin to catch up on some blog reading here...

I hate to say, but your school rant is misplaced. The signing of the homework isn't directed at you personally, it's directed at the millions of kids who have shithead parents who could give a fuck what their damn kids do and blame everything on the teachers. It's directed at parents that may really not know that helping their kids with homework is a good thing. If you REALLY don't have time to help your kids because of work, most schools will bend over backwards to find a way to help them.

If you really want to rant, let's hear one on the efficacy of the standardized tests elementary kids are required to take and study for all year. No better way to dumb down a decent school's curriculum. I'll back you up 100% on that b.s.

Hope you get back to poker posts soon, I hate american sports :P

3:01 AM  

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