Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lesson One: A Tea Partier's Guide to Teaching in America

Abby, my oldest daughter,
was a very strong student.
So what is the key variable in schools?

I've been trying to pump up my blog traffic recently; and several of my conservative friends have been kind enough to log on and read a post or two.  I'm pretty much a flaming liberal, as most of them know--out of the closet, politically, I suppose you'd say.  I still have my Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker on my car from '04 and my Obama '08, too.  So, yeah, I'm coming from a different direction than the typical Tea Party supporter.

I probably ought  to scrape off Edwards' name, I admit...that cheating scumbag.

Then again...Newt...really???  But I digress.

That still doesn't mean a friend who lives across the street can't come out a couple of weeks ago and lend me his leaf-blower when he sees me using an old-fashioned rake.  He's a wonderful neighbor and a Tea Party supporter, himself; but when it comes to education issues he's probably a bit conflicted.  His daughter is a teacher in the public schools.  (I think he might even have cast his vote against Issue 2, here in Ohio.)

As far as I can tell, conservatives believe that American education is in precipitous decline, that our system sucks tax dollars out of citizens' pockets and leaves them with nothing but heartbreak, that teachers' unions exist only to protect the incompetent, that members of those unions are "thugs" and "parasites," and liberals are the minions of the devil. 

And so, only private schools and charter schools and vouchers and business control in education can save us in the end.

Another conservative gentleman I know, and a good man by every measure I can think of, told me recently he couldn't understand where I was coming from in a recent post, "U. S. Education by the Numbers."

So:  let me try to explain how teachers really feel to the Tea Party folks.  Imagine, my conservative friends, that your favorite football team (let's say the Bengals) is finally playing well.  At the end of three quarters, Andy Dalton has the boys in stripes leading 21-10.  Then the referees wave the Cincinnati players off the gridiron and the Ravens are allowed to keep throwing passes down an empty field and they score six touchdowns and the fans in the stands start booing the defenders and crying in their $8 beers.

That doesn't make a bit of sense.  Yet, it's exactly the kind of comparison critics make when denigrating American public schools, and praising, for example, the "superior" Japanese education system. Here's how a teacher in this country sees the situation:  Japanese children attend school  240 days a year.  U. S. students go to class for 180 days. 

Four quarters of football vs. three.

Or:  consider the South Korean education system--also held up as model of success, and then used to shine a glaring light on America's failing schools.  In a recent international comparison, South Korean kids finished #1 in reading, #1 in math and #3 in science, out of 65 nations.  American students were #12 in reading, #17 in science and #25 in math.

If you're a Tea Party American, at this point, you probably gnash your teeth and start to grumble about the evil unions.  But if you're a Teacher American (even a Teacher American/Union Member American) the number that grabs your attention is "14." 

That's how many hours the average South Korean student spends every day in school, completing homework, and attending after-hours tutoring sessions, a kind of mania in that nation.

If you're a public school teacher in the U. S. you think, "If I asked students to shoulder that kind of load parents would be apoplextic.  They'd be calling my principal and demanding that she lop off my head and they'd want her to spike it on the front lawn of the school to serve as a warning. 

So, you dream of saying to a conservative friend:  "Both of us are going to get paint brushes and buckets and ladders and we are going to start painting this house today, at 8 a.m.  The winner, the person who covers the most surface, before they run out of paint, is going to receive $100,000 and the loser will get nothing but a lump of coal in their stocking on payday." 

Then you add this caveat:  "I will use these fourteen buckets of paint.  You can have nine."

Your conservative friend is going to question the fairness of such a contest, but that's how teachers see it when they hear South Korean schools are better--or schools in Finland or Liechtenstein or Glennbeckistan--and the reason for the difference is that America's teachers are unionized crooks and fools.  If an American kid spends nine hours on academics, which is close to the average, you figure that five hours extra every day, multiplied over the years, might give South Korean kids a slight advantage, academically speaking.

I suppose, in one respect, I think like a Tea Partier, myself.  I don't believe that U. S. education can ever be fixed by pouring in more money.  In fact, my experiences in life (I was a lazy student once) and in the classroom seem to prove that if you give me 35 students, ready to work, and I am willing to work hard, too, and parents will back me up if I'm truly, truly demanding, then I can teach effectively in a barn, with all my students seated on bales of hay.

That doesn't mean that the conservative perscription for fixing the public schools is correct.  That's just my spiel for today.

1 comment:

  1. As usual, I agree. I believe my son does so well because every moment I had him to myself prior to going to school was an educational moment (and still is). He learned to read before kindergarten could name all the presidents in order at the age of 5 and knew their dates of office deaths and birth dates (he has a freakishly good memory). He knew the dates and reasons of every major war at that age as well. If he was interested- we bought a book about it or looked it up. Even fun activities are learning potential activities- by playing video games he learned to read more words for example.

    Learning doesn't "just happen". Work on a consistent basis is the key. When I hear people say: "I can't help my child with math because I don't understand this new way." I say- make your child explain it to you or look up how it is done because we should never stop learning even as adults. AND this math didn't just pop up one day in the 7th grade. Had the parent been aware of the child's work all along they would have transitioned and learned the "new" ways. AND you could teach your child the "old" way too.

    I consider myself fiscally conservative and believe the federal government really doesn't belong in the school system, I believe it should be teachers that decide. (I know I am rambling but:) I believe if it were more left to the teachers then children would learn MORE at a quicker pace. Example: the government requires a child to learn shapes in kindergarten, the same shapes in 1st grade the again shapes in second grade. Weeks are spent on learning these same shapes. If it were solely up to the teacher she would see by 1st grade that 99% of the children know what a triangles and trapezoids are and can go on to teach the children more difficult math problems. My kid has been learning and re-learning the same shapes since he was 3. I think at this point we should cut out the shape requirements and hit multiplication (for example). They have the capacity for it at a very young age.

    As for teacher pay- I would rather my son's teacher make a million dollars a year than to see my tax dollars being frivolously wasted by state and federal governments on some of the foolishness you see in the news. Example- Cincinnati gets a street car. This is more important than the city schools having books?? And some folks would say: cut the teacher's pay to buy books. Bullcrap. You get what you pay for. Cut the teacher's pay and then who will be left to teach the children? I personally want someone super smart and well educated teaching my kid. School first- stupid street car and other frivolousness after.
    Lori Barber