I know, I know–why am I writing about education when the economy and the new debacle on Wall St. is all the news. Why would I talk about education while the moron-in-chief is, with an eagerness that borders on anti-Semitism, ruining our relation with the only remotely sane nation in the Middle East. Why would I talk about this when there is news that BP has paid millions to Obama over the years… Why would I talk about education when there so many jokes about Islamic clerics, breasts, and earthquakes to be made… Or the fact that tomorrow (May 20) is “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day”…
Well because I’m a teacher and it’s graduation season. I live and breathe education and I need to occasionally go off on it.
To quote Dennis Miller “I don’t want to get on a rant here but…” education in America sucks. There are several reason for this: (1) Teacher’s Unions (2) Money and Administrations, (3)Teacher’s and Teacher Education (4) Students…okay there are so many more problems, but I really only want to deal with four of these for the moment.
(1) The Teacher’s Unions. The enforcers of low standards, no merit-based pay and lifetime tenure, not to mention defenders of the worst teachers in all of history. You’ll often notice the worst teachers are the strongest defenders of the union as they will be the first to go once the union is rightful disbanded. As many before me have pointed out over 50% of all the problems in public education would end if the teacher’s unions were broken, and I see no reason to doubt this.
(2) Money and Administration. In this country we spend an obscene amount of money per student. But this money seldom if ever goes to helping the student. Where does it go? It goes to bloated bureaucrats of school administrations whose over-paid superintendents who drive school-leased new cars to district offices that have more amenities than the classroom for twice to triple the employees necessary to do the jobs required at the district level. Similar stories exist at the individual school administration level. It goes to pay health care plans for school board members (you know people who are supposed to be public servants whom seem to be getting generous medical plans in excess of $10,000 a year for two night a months service often to only rubber stamp the wishes of a corrupt union and overpaid administration). It goes to pay $90,000 a year (plus benefits) to teachers with Ph.D.’s and that have been teaching for 20 years (even if they’re incompetent in their job). It goes to pay for nurses and overpaid special education teachers who never teach their students (because spending $100,000 for the care of a vegetable—and I don’t mean that in an insulting way, I mean that children who are not capable of communication with the outside world are sent by their parent to be taken care of by the school at taxpayer expense—is what I’m sure most people consider an appropriate and productive use of taxpayer dollars). So if we stopped wasting money on administration, bureaucracies and tenure jockeys, and may applied some sanity to special education hiring effective teachers and paying them what they’re worth probably wouldn’t be an issue.
(3) Teachers and Teacher Education. You hear a lot about hiring qualified teachers, don’t you. The problem is what you think that means and what the law makers/the unions who have said lawmakers in their pockets mean are two very different things. The average person thinks that making sure teachers are qualified means that the teacher has a B.A. in the subject they are teaching, maybe a few education classes, has maybe taken a test in that subject area, and if they’re teaching some kind of trade skill maybe has a background in that skill. There’s some of that in the laws, but mainly what “qualified” teacher means in reams of the insane laws that go into place means lots of teacher education classes. That’s right most of the No Child Left Behind crap forced teachers to take lots of classes on special education, and non-English speakers, and fun things to do in class that no self respecting teacher would ever catch themselves dead trying. And if things go on the way they are, it will soon be that you have to have a Master’s Degree in education to keep your job as a teacher. Now let me be clear here, there is only one way to teacher a teacher how to be a teacher: Give them a little background, put them in a class and let them figure out what works. There is no other way. All the classes in the world will never make a bad teacher a good teacher. And a good teacher does not need even the slightest sliver of the crap spouted in a teacher education class. This is because teaching is not a skill or trade that can be taught. It is an art. Some people have it, some don’t, and no amount of education is going to change that.
Further let me be equally clear: ANY TEACHER THAT HAS TIME TO GET A MASTERS OR Ph.D. WHILE THEY’RE TEACHING IS NOT A GOOD TEACHER. It means they are sacrificing the time it takes to actually teach their students (and trust me teaching is an 80-120 hour a week job) for the time it takes to get their degree. This means any teacher who gets their advanced degree after they start teaching is not putting the students first. (Now some people are putting their families first, because for some reason we pay teachers with advanced degrees more, even though it does not make them better teachers, and while this is a forgivable that they are putting their families ahead of their students, it is still not something we should be saying is giving us better teachers). I have sat through maybe 100 hours of “teacher education” classes since becoming a teacher, I can honestly say maybe one hour of that was worth anything. As for teacher testing, I was tested on the Arizona State Constitution to get my teaching credential…because that’s bloody relevant to my teaching British literature????
So what does all this call for teacher education do? It makes teachers who aren’t making much as it is, spend money and sacrifice time they could spend on their students to get worthless degree just so they can keep their jobs.
Now if you want to talk about everyone having a B.A., fine. If you want to spend money to make it easier for teachers to get their hands on the latest research (because good teachers do look for this, even if they don’t get the advanced degree to go with it), fine. But don’t make them spend more of what little money they get and sacrifice time that they could spend on students just for a degree that will not make them a better teacher.
(4) The Student (Understand most of my statements here are directed at high school students). Now this is the point I really wanted to get to. There are a lot of things about students, books worth of things to discuss, but the most important that has been forgotten in all the discussion of education is the basic rights of the students. Which basic right is it that I refer to? It is the right to fail.
“No child left behind,” it sounds like a nice sentiment doesn’t it. We will get every single child across the finish line. To hell with the free will of students (not to mention the fact that parents are radically more important than teachers…I will refer you to Freakonomics pages 158-160 which shows that high school teachers have next to no impact…yeah that just makes me feel real good about myself), but somehow there is this belief that if just try hard enough we can get every kid through High School with C average of high standards. The problem with this belief is that first off a grade of “C” means average. Now for those of you who have a problem with what the meaning of the word average means, it means that probably pretty close to half of everyone out there is, well, below average…and a portion of these students will be so far below average that they will fail to get their high school diploma. Will they fail because they’re not bright enough to pass…not really. Have you been through the average high school class lately? Any one but Rain Man could pass them. Failing a class isn’t due to lack of intelligence, it’s due to the fact that 999 out of a 1,000 it’s because the student doesn’t try.
It takes real effort to fail a class in high school, you actually have to try to do it to fail. And every student has the right to fail. Let me say that again, Every Student Has The Right To Fail. Like most things dealing with choice and freedom, it is a right. As a consequence of their choices they fail. Not because the teacher was bad, not because their parents are morons, not because the school is terrible—these may all be handicaps against them, but students who have all these things going against them pass course everyday—they fail because they choose to fail. And to say that every child must pass, is to deny their free will, to deny their right to fail, and to not prepare them for the world which will fail them for their bad mistakes over and over and over again. If you deny them their F, and pass every student as the current system seems to be so enamored with you guarentee a system that encourages only mediocrity, prepares no one, and lays the seeds of the further destruction for the society that promotes this system.
And until this single truth is realized, that every student has the right to fail, the responsibility will never be placed on the shoulder of the student…and until the student is made ultimately the one responsible then all the changes to teacher’s unions, distribution of funds and teachers education are not going to make a difference. So to hell with “No Child Left Behind” let’s have a law that says “No Child Will Be Held Back” because if they’re left behind…odd’s are, it was their choice.