Something is missing.
I remember having bad teachers, i.e. the guy who taught typing (I mean literal typing in 1994...we didn't have computers at Coeur d'Alene High School) who didn't seem to care whether or not we learned and that we were a hindrance to his day. I still learned to type, but I had already figured out by that time how to navigate the public school system to get exactly what I wanted out of it, not necessarily what the public school system wanted me to get out of it. I am somewhat proud and embarrassed to admit that I was the only girl valedictorian (there were five in all) who graduated with the most credits (I took 0 hours, 8th hours, and correspondence courses so I could still take Drama, Choir, Speech/Debate, and Orchestra), and who graduated with the most absences. I knew I only had to show up with my homework and for test days. I was allowed 9 unexcused absences and as many excused absences as I wanted. And...if I missed more than 9 the only punishment was that I had to take what they called a competency exam, which I always aced, much to my very angry teachers. However, I know I was the exception to the rule of my poverty level. My mom told me when I was in 1rst grade that if I were valedictorian (which she never pronounces correctly, but...that's just a side-note), that I could go to college for free. I knew that I wanted to get out of my small town, and I knew my family didn't have a lot of money, so...I got perfect grades every year. I even understood that I wasn't great at Math, but that if I sat next to the smart kid in class, he would always help me. I never copied because I've always been a straight arrow, but...sitting next to a peer was always better for me.
Now, I knew that some teachers were bad or that the public school system didn't know what to do with artists. I ended up being valedictorian, but I didn't go to college for free because scholarships were non-existent for what I wanted to do. If I wanted to be a teacher, I would have gone to school for free, but...not an artist. Anyway, the part of me that is stubbornly capable of whatever I put my mind to, was instilled in me by my father who worked so hard that, as his child, I wanted to work just as hard to prove that he did a good job. I see this element in my immigrant students: Asian or Mexican, but I don't see this in the students who have a sense of entitlement about going to school in the United States. One statistic in the documentary Waiting for "Superman" did ring true to me and that was the one that said that no matter whether or not we are 35th in the world for math and reading scores, American students believe they're number 1. Wow! And, I keep reading every day about how bad their self-esteem is, and susceptible they are to bullying. The new designer thing to write about in any blog, journal or magazine, is this epidemic of bullying, but...I have to say...that susceptibility does not come from self-esteem issues, it comes from the fact that their virtual life is more important than their literal life, i.e. their education and their future. Now, I'm all about people living life in the moment, in fact, my favorite quote is from the play Our Town: "Do people ever realize life as they live it every every minute?" Yet, I'm also aware that a future exists and without some awareness and mindfulness about that fact, then the smallest things will matter too much. The kids I have been teaching for the last six months do not, for the most part, have self-esteem issues, they have reality issues. The Student Handbooks that we are assigned as teachers to guide them through during the year are wonderful, they provide reality, but my sixth grade advisory didn't care about them. They cared about their sixth grade mating issues and whether or not their adopted sister was being respected by me or not. I tried to redirect them into what should be important, but that virtual world is insidious. It affects their grammar, their spelling, their language use (I was raised with all sorts of expletives flying around, but I knew never to call a teacher a "bitch" even if she deserved it), and their life skills.
One thing, I think, that is missing is self-sufficiency. I realize that it is not vogue for children to play outside all day because CPS will be called, but I learned a lot from not being around my parents all the time. The world outdoors with my brother and his friends and our systems of self-governance are almost as important as the schooling I had.
Another thing that is missing are the arts. There is not enough. I watched the film Rudy with my gym class this week, and the quote that his friend Pete says that, "Dreams are the things that make life tolerable..." is so true. The arts allow imagination and dreaming to occur, just like P.E. allows stress and anger to be let out in the school day. There are reasons that we need all of the elements in the school day, and when students don't get that, they are lost, and they don't want to dream, and they don't want to be self-sufficient, they go off into a virtual dream-land where they, apparently, are more susceptible to bullying.
Another element that is missing in a good portion of students are their leaders outside of school. When they don't see good leadership in their parents or guardians, then they don't respect the leadership in school, and they can't learn because they're so focused on what they are entitled to, rather than what they need. If I had allowed a bad teacher to derail me, I wouldn't make my dad proud. I found a way around it, because his approval was what I wanted. My mother had played violin, so I wanted to show her that I could too. The school system placed all these rules as to what I had to take in a year, and I was going to have to choose between theater and orchestra. I worked around it by taking 0 hours and correspondence courses. I was not going to let the system play me. However, I have very little faith that the students that I've been dealing with over the last six months even know how to do that. They want a rubric. They want someone to tell them how to do it. They won't do more sit-ups than what is considered proficient because it's not in the rubric. They wouldn't even deign to want to be advanced; they would rather be average. I have a hard time respecting that mentality.
I really enjoyed my time at the charter school: The Public Academy for the Performing Arts, and the documentary Waiting for "Superman" did mention that charter schools are one of the saving graces of the public school system. But, even there I saw the insidiousness of the "rubric". I had a student who didn't want to find a song he liked because he only wanted to do as much as would get him a passing grade. I told him, "Okay, I'm giving you a B." "Why," he says. "Because," I said, "I don't assign these, "choose your own" assignments for me, I assign them for you, and if you don't want to do it for you, then what's the point in learning at all?" Now, this student is quite smart and can be self-sufficient, so he understood what I was getting at, but he still wanted to fish for that A, so he says, "But, I don't ever want to do musical theater ever again, so there's no point in doing it for me..." I countered with, "Well, you never know when you get into the acting business, but, more importantly, you didn't even try to do it for you, so until you do, we can't have this conversation. If you had actually done the assignment for you, you might have discovered something that you do like, because you actually looked and tried, but you didn't...you did B work, not A work, take that as a lesson."
The trinity of learning: The teacher, the student, the parent. Those are the elements. There are all sorts of side elements that the student needs to learn and provide for themselves like self-esteem, self-sufficiency, self-motivation, mindfulness, citizenry, selflessness, etc., but in each student, I'll bet that one of the trinity is missing, and it's too simple for every student to say that it's always the teacher or that it is always the parent. The documentary, Waiting for "Superman", did say that it's not about the adults, it's about the student. And, I agree, wholeheartedly, but the blame, when there's a failure in the system has to be placed, equally, on all three. And, the parents have to stop pointing the finger at the teacher. It is not the teacher's sole responsibility to instill all of the elements. The parent needs to do their part and the student needs to do their part. If the student doesn't do their homework; it's never the teacher's fault, it's always the parent/student's fault. If the student doesn't understand a subject, then it's the student/teacher's fault because teacher's don't read minds (so the student has to let the teacher know) and the teacher needs to be doing enough evaluations to see that that is happening with that student before they start to be "left behind". If the student is not motivated to learn at all (which is what I hear more than anything), it is the student/parent's fault. That has to come from home. A teacher cannot create/dream up motivation, it needs to be instilled in the student already. What's bred in the bone, comes out in the flesh, and if what's bred is a sense of entitlement...I fear for our future as a country.
I am lucky I was born poor. I know everything that I have worked for is mine, and I'm humbled by anything that's given to me. It's actually hard for me to ask for help, I'm so used to trying to figure it out for myself. However, I think in our country's state now, it's not lucky to be born poor. We have a class-based society now more than ever, and I'm not about to espouse some of the 1% rhetoric because I would only scrape the surface of what that movement is all about, but...somehow it is possible now, that if you're born into a class, you will stay there. Someone wrote a book about that recently and Dr. Cornel West write about it all the time, but I've seen it and I know that the exception is not the rule. We like to tell the story of the exception as teachers and educators to try to motivate the exceptions, but the majority that is in the rule...would rather stay there. They are not interested in leaving their class.
Lastly, I'd like to end with my experience teaching college at Washington State Penitentiary. I had a student tell me that it was not his parents' fault that he was in there, it was his. I really respected that. This student, who, by the way, is now finishing off his bachelor's degree at Eastern Washington University, knew that the trinity of his education included himself, his parents, and his teachers, and, he told me, he took himself out of that equation and waited for everyone to do something for him. So...Waiting for "Superman", sometimes we teachers are waiting as well for the superman in all students, that we know they are capable of, but we are disappointed when they don't see it and don't care to be aware of it. Students, parents, and teachers cannot wait for superman, they have to take responsibility for their part in making the student be a superman, or...we don't know where they'll end up, and then they'll have to figure it out in there. I adored my prisoner students because they were so happy to have a second chance at education. I had students that dropped out in 5th grade because they were expected to sling drugs to bring money home for the family, and they were some of the best students because they knew the other side of what happens when all the elements are not there, and they were hungry for something else. I miss the hunger in students' eyes, but I don't want to have to see it after they've experienced the trauma of crime.