The Queen Has Spoken

Oprah thinks there's something wrong with the public school system.

Well thank the Lord in Heaven, because now maybe someone will pay attention to what teachers have been saying for, oh, TWENTY YEARS???

I realize Oprah lives in, like, a giant diamond castle with a moat full of crocodiles around it, and that she has some sort of bionic force field that filters out pop culture and new technology, but come ON. Has she never heard of No Child Left Behind? What, exactly, does she think is the purpose of that?

According to Oprah, our nation's schools are being infected by a silent epidemic; I don't know exactly what kind of viral activity she thinks is going on in our classrooms, butI would argue that the epidemic is Apathy. Because I can tell you right now that a number of my own students JUST DON'T CARE.

Today I was giving out progress report grades, and even though my failure rate is relatively low (about 20 students out of 150), those kids who did fail? They couldn't have cared less about their grades. Some of them didn't even bother to look at their grades; they already know they're failing, and their reaction is "So what?" Others are happy with Ds and Cs, even though they could easily make As and Bs if they were willing to work at it.

Do you know, in my first year of teaching, I gave homework? After a third of my students failed, and the administration told me to "work it out," don't you think I learned my lesson? I stopped giving homework. Why bother?

That is what I wrote on my end-of-the-year self-evaluation form, too.
Question: What have you learned about your teaching style and strategies during this year?
Answer: I learned that there is no use in having high expectations for my students, since they refuse to meet them and the administration prefers the students to have passing grades rather than a sense of personal accountability.

I know that it is cliched to say, "Back when I was in school ..." but seriously. When I was in high school, if I didn't bring my supplies to class, I was SOL. If I didn't do my homework, it was my own fault and nobody else's. If my grades were low, I didn't accuse my teacher of low-balling me because "she doesn't like me." When I was in school, my teachers NEVER gave study guides or used PowerPoint to give notes or took us to the library during class to conduct research or, in short, did everything BUT write my papers and take my tests for me.

You know what I've learned about today's students? They are HELPLESS. They are incapable of making their own decisions, accepting responsibility for their own actions, or taking any kind of initiative. They want everything done FOR them, and if I refuse to hold their hands and baby them and coddle them, I am MEAN and I DON'T CARE and I WANT THEM TO FAIL.

And, as a teacher, I am often encouraged to enable their helplessness. Make assignments shorter. Make tests easier. Give credit for late work. Give extra credit. Make projects optional. Allow students to make up work they didn't do in the first place. Give individual help (during class, if at all possible, and also do this for all 31 of the kids in the class AT THE SAME TIME).

I will tell you truthfully, I feel pressured to do these things. And I rebel; I HATE it. But I do it, and I'm ashamed that I do it. I'm disappointed in myself for giving in, in my students for expecting it of me, in my administration for requesting it of me. I know that it's counter-productive, that it is not going to translate to the "real world," that it's teaching our kids bad habits. I know that it's going to cause problems down the line and that we're setting ourselves up for a massive failure. I also know EXACTLY who's going to get the blame when that time comes: teachers never win.

So maybe it's good that Oprah's taken a look outside her diamond castle walls. Maybe her huge audience of Oprah worshippers will wake up and see that they are responsible for what's going on in their kids' lives. Maybe other gajillionaires like Bill Gates will take a personal interest in the dumbing-down of the younger generations. Maybe high expectations will become the norm. Maybe failure will beome something to be ashamed of. Maybe the education system will become more important--and more respected--than the sports and entertainment industries.

Oprah's on the case, y'all; watch for big changes ahead.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ditto! It's just a sad commentary that it takes Oprah to wake people up. And I do like Oprah--she's done great things for reading. As a librarian, though, couldn't she have mentioned the importance of school libraries and librarians (esp. in CA)--after all, she was taping in the damn library!


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