Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What is really wrong with our schools? Part 2

Our Utah Legislature is heating up again. Many are headed back with an enhanced hate-on for the public schools. Last year the legislature passed a private school voucher initiative. The people of Utah had it put up for vote, and it was soundly defeated.

Rather than listening to their constituents, the legislature will attempt to dictate to local school districts how they will run. Never mind that we have a state school board who already has that job.

Central to all misnomers that many anti-school people hold is that the teacher and the school are responsible for the education of a child. This is simply not the case. It is like pushing a rope. The school can provide it, what you do with it is up to you.

Still, most fixes for the public schools tend to focus on the teacher and the school. No Child Left Behind puts the success or failure of a student completely with the school. It is almost as if the child doesn't exist.

I wrote the following in the comments section in a Salt Lake Tribune story that dealt with schools.

“Jim, Henry, Craig, Sam, and Cam all began violin lessons at the same time.

Jim loved violin and he took to it eagerly. His parents never needed to monitor his practicing.

Henry didn’t care much for violin, but he liked to be successful in all that he put his hand to do. He focused in class and practiced nightly.

Craig was not much for practice or paying attention, but he knew he had to achieve good marks or there would be no football this season.

Sam didn’t care much for violin and would always “forget” to practice. His attention in class was up and down. His parents, however, were diligent in making sure that he practiced nightly.

Cam didn’t care much for the violin and his parents didn’t care much either. He never picked up his instrument outside of class. His presence in class was a hindrance to the other four due to his endless misbehavior.

Over the first two years Jim and Henry made great strides. Craig and Sam were average, while Cam made little progress at all.

Things changed over the following two years. Jim and Henry were markedly ahead of everyone else. Sam’s parents had gotten lax as he got older and were no longer following up with him. He began to hang out with Cam’s crowd and rarely picked up his instrument outside class. Craig, kept his ability just high enough to stay on the football team, but could not be called proficient.

The end result of four years of instruction were two excellent students, one very average, and two who were little better than when they started.”

We could take away teacher’s unions, implement vouchers, give merit pay, etc… We could spend all of our time attacking this issue at the teacher level and I believe, in the end, it would have little effect. The teacher is there to provide a service. The level to which a student avails his or herself to that service rests with the student and the parents.

I have seen, in seventeen years of teaching, more and more “Sam and Cams” coming to school. Many classrooms have seen the “Sam and Cam” number swing from 1-3 to nearly half the class or more in the past 20 years. This factor WILL bring scores down. It hurts the education of the rest.

Until we deal with this issue... everything else is just empty rhetoric.

I have always stated that schools do not drive culture, they reflect it. The school that sits in the local neighborhood is, for the most part, a reflection of that neighborhood. That is not to say that there are not those who are unhappy with the school. However, I believe they are not the majority. If they were, the school would change.

C.S. Lewis said, "All get what they want... they do not always like it."

We have a society of consumers, yet we want our children to be producers. We want to do what we want when we want, yet we expect our children to have discipline and self control. They reflect what they see.

Part 1

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