Friday, May 19, 2006
Isn't It Ironic, Dontcha Think?I've posted parts of this on here before, but I've gussied it up and am getting ready to submit it to an actual teacher magazine. What do you think?
Facts Are The Enemy of Truth
This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild,
Had Mary been filled with reason,
There'd have been no room for the child.
--by Madeleine L'Engle
School administrators puzzle me. They don't seem quite human sometimes. When they look at a group of students, what do they see? I mean, what are they really SEEING, when they look at our children? What are they seeing when they look at the teachers? I think they see statistics. I don't think they see children, or educators; I think they see numbers, and dollar signs. Their schools are not filled with children; they are filled with potential federal cash cows, and potential lawsuits if their parents are not catered to. There are no educators; there are only puppets.
Children are not measurable. Statistics are.
I have a hard time understanding people who see progress only as a measurable statistic. I have problems with people who see creativity as a threat to order. I don't get along well with people who see rebellion as a disregard for the status quo. What a sad commentary on our society, that the movers and shakers are mown down and shackled, just when they most need to be exposed to every innovation, every wonder, every aspect of the world that can possibly be brought into the classroom.
What kind of people have we become, when attempts to guide are interpreted by those in ultimate control as journeys into perversion? When did going out of one's way to try to help someone become inappropriate? Why must everyone now be so very equalized that much individuality is lost? Of what societal or individual use is an echo? The ingredients in a multiple vitamin are standardized; children should not be.
What possible good can be accomplished by a reflection that is not one's own? I've seen a child's original poem edited and corrected until the end result had nothing to do with that individual child's talent or purpose. But then and only then did it get a good grade.
When the arts are removed completely (and they already are, in some schools; for the rest, it's just a matter of time.) to make room for more practical, measurable, easily understandable lessons in math, sports, grammar, sports, science, sports, sports, sports, PC, and sports, what will our children have to write about? And why should they bother?
Our nation isn't, to our shame, much about the intellectualism thing. (I made that sentence appalling on purpose.) It's strange to me, then, that administrations set such store by IQ's and standardized testing. An IQ cannot measure artistic ability. A high score on the ISTEP does not measure a capacity for love. We have no test that measures common sense. All we have are standardized tests that give us statistics, and statistics are not facts. I've ranted about that before. Statistics are people, with the tears wiped off. (Professor Irving Selikoff ) This is not good. We need the tears, too. The numbers are not accurate without the tears. Or the laughter.
Tears and laughter are not measurable. Therefore they are of no use to school administrators. They want only those things that can be measured with straight numbers, graded by a machine. In order to do this, things that make our children laugh or cry or sing or dance or draw or paint are no longer allowed in many of our schools. And yes, sometimes crying in school is a good thing. I've had students weep over a story in a book, or a scene in a film, or a headline in the newspaper. It's GOOD. (I'm not talking about bad things that make children cry.)
The ability to love, to be loved, to express love: can it be that these are more important than grammar, or math, or social studies? I think they are. I also believe that a good teacher can do both at once, if ever he/she is allowed to do so again.
How do we teach children to have compassion, to allow people to be different, to understand that "like" is not the same as "equal?" How do we teach our children to laugh, to love, and to accept the fact that the most important questions a human being can ask do not have - nor do they need - statistical right-or-wrong answers.
There are even "educators" (and I use the term loosely) out there who believe that creativity itself can be taught, and who write learned (hahahahaha) and usually dull, treatises and articles and textbooks on methods of teaching it. If you try to eat air, you'll. . . . well, you know what happens when you eat air. What comes out usually stinks.
The creative impulse, like love, can be killed, but it can't be taught. What a teacher CAN do, in working with young people, is to give the flame enough oxygen so that it can burn. As far as I'm concerned, this providing of oxygen is one of the noblest of all vocations. Teaching out of a text so a test score will be higher is not.
In most modern schools, however, the providing of oxygen is forbidden. Only the hot air of measurable statistics is permitted, because this is the only sort of thing understood by many of those in charge.
When we make complicated that which is simple, the powers of darkness rejoice.
The powers of darkness rejoice whenever a child's creative light is ignored or extinguished by a system that considers only statistics to be of merit. Not on the test? It won't be tolerated.
The powers of darkness rejoice whenever a creative and caring teacher is removed by a system that considers only in-the-box, good ol' boy, make-no-waves, textbook-teachers to have merit. What an ironic thing. What a joke on me. All these years, I thought my job was to teach and help young people. What a reality jolt to be told, after all these years of what people told me was success, that my job is NOT to help students, or to teach students, or to guide students; it is to teach spelling, grammar, and literature, and that it must be done with absolutely no delving into humanity, personality, or creativity. The language arts made rational. It is a travesty.
Facts. Facts. Measurable facts, cut and dried.
Have we learned nothing from Don Quixote de la Mancha? Is there no one out there in a position of authority who understands that facts are the enemy of truth? It’s better to tilt at windmills than to deprive our students of their individuality by cramming them into the little boxes of comformity. Yes, no student should ever be allowed to graduate or move on if he/she can not pass a basic grade-level skills test; but to teach only to that test? Absolutely unacceptable. Removing the magic from learning should be a capital crime.
And when all the glory and wonder and magic of the language are removed, there is nothing left but the very safe, very statistically provable, very politically correct picking of the bleached, sanitary bones. Our language, in all its glory, forcefully ebbing, forcefully waning, its light put under a bushel lest someone see something sentient and therefore potentially controversial and unmeasurable. Our children's talents buried, hidden under that same bushel, to be dug up every nine weeks for a progress check.
WAIT! Over there! A teacher is laughing with her students! Can't have it. BAM, she's gone. Whew, that was close.
Bullying teachers? Check. Sleeping teachers? Check. Incompetent teachers? Check. Adulterous teachers? Check. Racist teachers? Check. Oh, we're keeping all of those; no two styles are the same, you know.
WAIT! Over there! A teacher tried to help a student after hours! Can't have it. BAM, she's gone. Whew, another close one.
Decent, hardworking, winning coach/teacher? Sweet. But WAIT! A famous name says he's willing to coach if there's ever an opening! BAM. Instant opening. A few rules are broken but it's all in the name of a winning season so it's okay. Irony: no more winning season.
Plagiarist? Check. Another plagiarist? Check. Two plagiarizing valedictorians in a row. But it's okay; their families are prominent, and the principal approved. He's no longer principal, by the way.
He's now the assistant superintendent.
Students with bullet belts? Check. Students who use racist epithets? Check. Hey, that's just how we do things around here.
Student's car, parked in lot, has an empty beer can on floor of back seat? Expelled. Student wasn't even in the car at the time? Doesn't matter. Zero tolerance.
LD student steals a girl's purse, opens it, and eats all her Midol tablets. Student gets sick. Girl is suspended for bringing drugs to school. Zero tolerance.
Student's purse strap catches on fire alarm. Parents are called in. They are nobody. Student is suspended for a week. Zero tolerance.
Student deliberately pulls fire alarm. Parents are called in. They are somebody. Principal slaps student on the wrist and sends him back to class. Check.
Student is seen putting Orajel on gums because newly-tightened braces are causing pain. Student suspended for drug usage. Zero tolerance.
Student unplugs a teacher's computer and disconnects the monitor. Check. Boy was just being playful and silly.
Same boy has a website called Hate_____(insert various teachers' names in blank.) All the students know about it. Boy takes pictures of teachers with cameraphone and posts them on these websites. Obscene language. Check. Boy honored with free trip to California for being so web-savvy.
Student steals Chapstick from girl's purse, and eats it. Student gets sick. Girl suspended for bringing drugs to school. Zero tolerance.
Inhalers must be kept locked in the office. They're considered drugs, too.
Okay, let's calm down now and take some tests. They'll determine your future, but no pressure. Anybody left in the room? Begin. Make your mark heavy and dark.
I guess that in today's educational mentality, dormancy is a positive; at the very least it means a child has not regressed (bad for statistics); at the very most, it means that a child has not done any thinking. (also bad for statistics.) How safe, for those in charge. Imagination, that creation of an image for one's thoughts, is the great enemy of the payroll statistician, of the elected administration, of the appointed administration, and of the population created by them.
Also, when a school's scores are low one year, and higher the next year, the school gets more money than if the scores had been high all along. Improvement has merit; being good all the time does not.
"Picture Satan in a business suit, with well-groomed horns, a superbly switching tail, a wide, salesman's grin, sitting with folded hands behind a large shiny desk, its top littered with the paper trails of many a person's demise, thinking 'Aha! If I can substitute images for reality, if I can substitute statistics for people, if I can substitute good public relations for truth, I can get a lot more people under my domination." (L'Engle)
This is what I picture when I think of a school administrator now.
Public opinion. Administrative opinion. Political correctness. Euphemisms.
And by whose values is a test labeled "objective?"
“An infinite question is often destroyed by finite answers. To define everything is to annihilate much that gives us laughter and joy. Current methodology, the morbid preoccupation with scores and statistics, is destroying our society's ontology:its essence, its BEING.” (L'Engle)
It seems that when those in charge do not understand a thing, they straightaway condemn it. Simplicity itself. These are the kind of people who never understand anything unless it is told them in very plain language and hammered into their heads. And even then they understand it only with their brains and not with their hearts. Such people don't like creativity. They like facts. Facts are easier to comprehend. They take little effort. They represent money. They’re easy to come by and grade. The main thing, however, is money.
Money talks. Statistics mean money. What is then the most important thing to listen to? Statistics.
The whispers of creativity and love and kindness and hard work are seldom heard above the screaming of administrative-types seeking money-making statistics. Teachers who go above and beyond the call of measurable duty are facing a firing squad, and the guns could go off at any moment. It’s dangerous, for many, TOO dangerous, to put yourself on the line to help a child. Those who take the chance, are taking a genuine chance. An administrator who can’t comprehend such a thing will do all in his power to remove a genuinely caring teacher from the ranks, lest there be talk. The truth be damned; they are concerned only with public opinion.
The concentration of a child in play is analogous to the concentration of an artist of any discipline. But unless the child's output can be objectively measured, many administrators dismiss such activities and substitute activities which have a statistically measurable output. Recess is gone, in many schools. The time is needed to prepare for standardized tests. Wiggly little children have no outlet for their natural energy. They 'act up' and are punished. If there are music and art classes still in the curriculum, they are crammed with six or seven times the student population of an academic class; it’s just music, after all. Helpless teachers cry out in vain for common sense and fairness and they are not heard. Such things do not exist in the world of statistics and measurements. And our children are standing in the corner, trying not to move, lest they disturb other children who are having facts crammed into their heads that they might retrieve them for the State.
Don’t misinterpret me here. I believe in testing. I'm no tree-huggin' earth mother who thinks children should sing and dig clay out of the ground for art and eat granola all day long. I believe in math and science and grammar and spelling and history. But I also believe that these are only a partial list of things that our children need to learn, so they will become rational adults who are able to earn their own living, care for themselves and for others, appreciate culture, have fun, and contribute, rather than take away, from society.
We must never lose sight of the fact that civilizations are judged by the arts they leave behind, not for statistics and varsity letters. What will the archaeologists of the future be able to say about our civilization? That we taught our children to be joyless? That we valued a statistic far more than a painting? That we stifled laughter and encouraged apathy? That we honored a scoreboard more than a poem? "Where are the statues and paintings and stories?" Can you hear them wondering? Can you? Or are you too busy condoning the firing of a winning and competent coach so that a Name Brand might be hired in his place? Are you too busy basking in the sea of innuendo and assumption, and ruining teachers’ careers and lives based on nothing but rumors and lies? I think some administrators are, and that they love it. They must, or they wouldn’t continue to do it. They did it again two days ago, right here.
It is sad but true that we are a litigious society. It is sad but true that many of the above facts originate out of fear of a lawsuit, or fear of adverse public opinion/publicity. The self-esteem police and the PC patrol and the heliocopter parents are rampant, and are to be truly feared. That is sad, too.
But it is even sadder that the society which strikes the most fear into the hearts of the schools was created by this fact-finding mentality that is so prevalent today.
The saddest, and the truest, is that this is a vicious circle, and no one seems to have the intestinal fortitude to straighten it out. Indeed, as so many of us have discovered, it is too dangerous to try. =================================================================================================p>
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