Monday, March 15, 2010

Leave them behind

I am not a fan of the "news" really. It is usually biased and depressing. However, I really have to voice my opinion about the "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) overhaul. Quick disclaimer: I do not have children in school and I am not a teacher. Because this is a rather long story, it is available after the jump.

Image via a quick internet search; story via CNN

First, let me say that my biggest problem with NCLB is that all of the issues are lumped together and placed on schools. How is it a teacher's fault if a child does not want to put forth the effort to learn? How is it the teacher's fault if they have done all they can to teach your child basic knowledge (this is for kids in middle school, that is basic knowledge) and they cannot grasp it? The honest truth is that the schools are basically burdened with the task of being babysitters. You can say what you will, but over the years that is what it has become.

I understand that family's have it tough. My mother had it tough when I was a child as well. She raised me and my sisters as a single mother. However, we went to school, we behaved and we did all of our work. "Why?", you might ask. Well, for lack of a better description, my mother was a true parent. She was active in our school's PTA. She helped us with projects and assignments. She disciplined us if we were disobedient. She did all of this while working multiple jobs. The outcome? Neither of my sisters nor I was "left behind." We all went to college as well (oh, we are also minorities by the way—talk about going against the statistics).

However, I have to admit that I went through various levels of schooling when I was younger. I began in a public elementary school excelling in English and art. Then, I attended a Christian private school in Germany from 5th grade until the end of my freshman year. For some lessons, we actually used the A Beka Books curriculum and did not have "real" teachers, learning instead from a video class. For my tenth grade year, I was home-schooled (I don't like to talk about those days). For my junior and senior year, I went to school in North Carolina and Virginia respectively. How would I describe all of that? Well, the curriculum for my private school (and even my home-schooling days) was more difficult than it was when I returned to the US for school. I found myself re-learning information that I had already seen before at a much slower pace—and was surprised that it was the first time that my classmates had ever seen it (for shame). However, my last few years of high school provided me with the choice to take difficult classes. I liked the "honors", "advanced placement (AP)", "college prep (CP)", and "(pre-) international baccalaureate (Pre-IB/IB)" options.

My thoughts? All students learn at a different pace and are interested in different things. We are so quick to educate them in one manner that we fail to look at other methods and are afraid to re-invent the wheel. Not all students are cut out for high school or higher education. In countries like Germany and Japan, they realized that and developed difficult tests to grant prospective students admission into high schools (and middle schools in some cases). The results of that are obvious. In these countries, the test scores are much higher than our own. It's not like being "left behind" is bad. There are several skills and trades that don't require an extensive knowledge to perform, but are learned by action. In fact, several students would probably prefer to be farmers or work in fields that promote physical labor. This is not because they are stupid or dumb. It is because they aren't interested in knowing how to properly diagram a sentence or solve an algebraic equation.

Basically, we need to stop making cookie-cutter students. Instead of expecting students to measure up to a grading scale that completely disappears when they hit the "real world" and pursue a career, we have to make tough decisions. Education is important. People died over knowledge in the past. However, with the expanse of knowledge available (and many times for free) it is not as in demand as it was before. You understand the basic supply-and-demand model, right? When an item is rare or scarce, there is usually a greater demand for it. However, when there is too much of an item, people are less likely to want it. Instead of public school being like a place for the riff-raff and rabble, it should be given a greater importance.

The most important thing in this equation is the parent. Parents need to own up to their responsibilities. Like students are required to have tests, parents should not have optional nights to come see what their kid is learning; they should have to be involved and it should cost them money or some other means of discipline (public service?) if they are not. Parents should be taken to court for being negligent. Period. If parents are not confident in their abilities, they shouldn't be afraid to ask a neighbor for help or invest in a tutor. In some cases, if parents took the time to read what their kids are doing, they would be able to help them.

The last issue with school is the actual information we teach kids. If the majority of people in the world can't remember when you use imaginary numbers or what kind of formula you need to find the area of a circle, it is pretty obvious that that is not the most important thing kids need to know. If a young adult can solve all equations and read Latin, you might think they are going to be quite well off. Well, if that same young adult has never worked before; cannot budget money; cannot find a job and cannot cook a decent meal to save their life, how does that work out? In our hurry to get kids through school and into college, we lose face of what they are doing in school. Look at how many adults have no idea what to do when they graduate from college. How about the people who completely change careers after discovering that they made the wrong choice? We should teach children things that will actually benefit them in the future—and stop filling their head with the idea that an education will automatically guarantee them a job in their desired field.

We need to get morals back into schools. Teach children manners. We also need to help them with their writing and reading and stop supporting the decay of the American English language. So, what do you think, reader? Am I being to harsh? Right on the money? Sound off and let me know.

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