Thursday, December 09, 2004

Okay, So Where Do I Go From Here? And an Educational Rant

The diploma is under my belt; the certificate and the transfer units are on the back burner but still viable. I have to reapply for admission to the community college since I took a semester off to settle my eldest child into kindergarten. I weigh 208 pounds but don't anticipate losing a whole heck of a lot for the next eight months or so. My obstetrician would probably have a cat if I attempted it.

Yup, child number 4 is on the way. Unanticipated is probably a mild adjective, but I have to say I'm giggly about the whole thing. My re-entry into the paid workforce has been put off for a few more years but I'll have to admit that I've finally adjusted to that.

I'll go after my cert and my transfer units, and I'll probably get further degrees as warranted and wanted but my disenchantment with the formal education system is profound. It boils down to a couple of elements: I'm already better educated that quite a few of the teachers in the system, and the system isn't at all about education. In fact, "education system" is oxymoronic when applied to the formal education infrastructure as it stands. Elementary, middle, and high schools are simply not producing well-prepared graduates, and the community college system isn't picking up the slack in any meaningful way. I admit I have no experience on the university system yet, but I'll be double-dipped surprised if it's much different in substance.

There are many remedial classes in place and I have no quarrel with them. They will always be needed for a variety of legitimate reasons. It is the level of education in my fellow non-remedial students (and, as mentioned, faculty) that is shocking and disheartening. The lack of rudimentary English skills alone is enough to send a person shrieking into the night. I've run into community college students and teachers who didn't understand basic grammar, had difficulties with spelling, and who lacked college-level vocabulary. College, heck. Elementary level.

I must acknowledge my own bias, of course. I am a long-established book-worm who was reading adult-level works when I was in elementary school. In fact, this a source of much amusement because, although capable of reading the books, I was still too young to understand and appreciate some of the plots. I did, however, pick up an extensive vocabulary simply because I read everything I could get my hands on. I also had parents who were unafraid of applying thumbscrews when it came to primary education. My mother drilled my brother and I until we thoroughly understood most of the vagaries of the English language and had mastered most of its spelling.

I also acknowledge that there are differing levels of talent and ability. Atrocious spelling does not by itself denote stupidity or ignorence. English is probably on par with Calculus in sheer ability to confuse. Creative sentence structure happens and I myself have used it on occasion. But, in greatest deference to such creative souls, all of this shouldn't be happening so awfully so frequently. Written language is meant to communicate; if the person using the language cannot do so, then someone somewhere has failed to teach this person true command of the language.

What I can forgive in friends, relatives, and colleagues is absolutely unforgiveable in the teaching profession. My child's kindergarten teacher routinely garbles grammar, and misuses both words and punctuation. This person is handling my child's formal education? She's a very nice person and it's obvious that she loves children, but if someone is tasked with teaching a child how to read and write, shouldn't they have complete command of the language basics? How about the college teacher who is more than two centuries off on the common definition of a word?

In short, those who are charged with teaching us are themselves failures of the system set in place to educate. Do I have all of the answers, or even a few of the answers that would work all of the time? I can't say that I'm that wise. But I do have a few requests:

Being an educator should be like being an anesthetist: on some subjects a prospective teacher either gets 100% or fails. Basic grammar, punctuation, word definition, and sentence structure are definite pass/fail subjects.

Ability to teach is a must; no more teachers who are in the system just because the system needs the bodies or the school lacks the ability to get rid of incompetence.

Do not, do not, do not treat the parents as if they are idiots simply by virtue of being parents. Don't discourage parents from teaching above and beyond what the classroom is capable of teaching. Think that last one is a stretch? It isn't. While my child's teacher has never directly said I shouldn't teach my child to the best of my ability, she discourages by saying the classroom activities are challenging enough, that they don't want children learning beyond what's being currently taught because "there will be nothing for them to do later on", that my child has never demonstrated any ability or knowledge beyond what has been seen in the teacher's classroom. The last is a head-scratcher; she's never been asked, much less encouraged, to show any ability beyond what is shown in the classroom, so of course she hasn't demonstrated it. It has been implied that the school's way is the only way and it isn't. My daughter is already so bored with homework that she already knows that I almost have to put her on a rack to get her to do it. Learning isn't a joy anymore when it comes to what the school sends home. Let her get her paws on a Dr. Suess book, however, and the game is on. I have to pry it from her fingers in a knock-down, drag-out, step-over-toe-hold fight come bedtime. She counts passing cars when we're out driving and I'm encouraging her to read street signs. Heck, grocery shopping is a reading adventure and it's all more interesting than the disconnected pap that they're sending home from school.

The funniest (albeit unintentionally) letter the teacher has sent home to date was the one where parents were encouraged to make reading fun, because after all of these years they've finally figured out that if it isn't fun, kids won't read. Okay, how many studies did this take? But the truly ironic part is that what they're sending home in the way of reading homework is deadly dull, horribly disconnected, and in no way an encouragement to read. My daughter gets a little photocopied, hand-stapled pamphlet that she's supposed to color and circle key words in. There's no story, just a bunch of unrelated sentences. The words in the sentences are important and the sentence structure is important, but where's the hook that keeps a child's interest? Where's the plot? The crisis? The resolution? For pete's sake, the first thing they (used to) teach about writing stories is that there's a beginning, middle, and end. Grab someone's attention and make them not want to let go until the last page. And it can be done with beginning reader stuff; look at Dr. Suess. Please.

If it weren't for my dearest husband's objections I'd homeschool. Heck, that's what I'm doing now despite her being elsewhere a few hours every day. As well-intentioned as some of the members of the public education system are, the system itself is badly broken and I don't see it being fixed in my lifetime.

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