Thursday, June 08, 2006

Yet Another Post Wherein I Piss And Moan About Stuff.

In a delightful (as always) email conversation with the wonderful Bonnie, something occurred to me. I think it was always in my mind but I'd never put it in words before until inspired to do so by this lovely friend.

On my Flickr page, there is a picture of my Tumorless Sister, holding a dulcimer. Bonnie commented about the dulcimer, and the conversation and the idea took off.

Back in the day, all middle school/junior high students had to take shop and home ec. They entered high school, and life, knowing how to use a hammer and nails, how to put together a simple meal, how to sew a straight seam, how to take a few simple tools and create something new or improved with them. These are life skills, not frills.

There are all kinds of creation, and an essay or mathematical equation or scientific proof are only some of them, and not necessarily the most important ones, either.

Back in the day, all elementary students were taught about basic musical and artistic base-line skills. Students were taught to read music, and to mix colors together to make new colors. Students were taught the lyrics to hundreds of songs, and how to sing harmony, and they were also taught how to recognize different artists by their personal styles and quirky signatures.

Schools used to require the students to memorize poems, and stories, and to write original ones, too.

Students entered high school knowing the rules for games, and about sportsmanship.

Cheaters were the lowest of the low, the scum of the earth.

They still are, but public opinion has changed quite a lot, and sometimes cheaters are exalted. This must cease. (insert smirk here, for who is going to stop it? Those with the power to do so are the same ones who often exalt it. Those with the power are sometimes the cheaters.) (Principal who insisted that plagiarists retain valedictory position, for example.)

Cheaters are the lowest of the low, the scum of the earth. They may have achieved a victory now, but the wheel of life keeps turning, and the fly on the top will be the fly on the bottom eventually. And vice versa.


Doing away with woodshop and home ec and music and art, to make room for more and more practice sessions of ISTEP and review sessions for those subject areas that are covered in the mandated standardized tests, has done nothing but remove a few areas wherein some students found success, and replaced them with more areas wherein these students will certainly fail.

Not everybody is a rocket scientist or a writer or a mathematician. Some people are musicians and artists and craftsmen and carpenters and chefs.

And what is a rocket scientist's or a writer's or a mathematician's life without music and art and furniture and food?

I firmly believe that every student should be exposed to as much and as many diverse areas of curriculum as is humanly possible according to the limiting laws of physics. Every person should know how to cook, and sew, and use simple tools, and recognize good music from bad, and look at a piece of art and see beyond the lines and borders.

Why are our schools casting the artistic and hands-on students aside in full favor of the academic students? Yes, schools ARE academic, but schools are also the institution that is supposed to prepare our students for the future, and the future depends on people who can read, write, do the math, understand basic scientific functions. . . . and feed themselves and others, and create beautiful objects for practical and impractical use, and nourish the soul and heart as well as the brain.

Only the finite can be 'tested;' therefore, only the finite is stressed and even allowed in our schools, these sad, sad days.

Maybe this is why so many of our young people drop out; the schools are offering nothing for them, only for those whose talents lie within the very limited boundaries of the ISTEP test.

Maybe this is why so many of our young people vandalize; they were taught nothing about what real art is, or even respect for it.

Maybe this is why so many of our young people listen to music that isn't really music; they've never heard real music. It's a fact that when the schools dropped music as a required subject, the recording industry took up the slack, and which of these has our kids' loyalty now, hmmm?

Maybe this is why so many of our young people associate a song with a video; they've never experienced the joy and wonder of learning a song within a group and having it branded on the memory like a wonderful dream, and associating it with an experience rather than a television program..

Maybe this is why so many of our young people disrespect those who make their living with their hands; the school wherein they sat for years and years never emphasized it or showed them the importance of it. On Honor Day, the prizes for those who did well in 'those' kinds of classes were smaller and less shiny than the big trophies for "Most Improved Math Student," or the many "Way To Show Up, Kid" self-esteem awards.

Maybe this is why so many of our young people are anorexic and bulemic and obese and existing on lard and salt and cholesterol; they were never taught the essentials of human nutrition and how to create it themselves.

Maybe I'm being too judgemental; it wouldn't be the first time. Maybe I'm being too simplistic; well, of course I am. But even in a judgemental and overly simplistic mindset, I still think maybe I'm on to something here.

This dulcimer (Blogger won't let me post a picture, again) was created for me by a student named Rusty, who was pretty much nothing but a big illiterate hood, by academic and behavioral standards. He failed everything but woodshop, but in the woodshop he shone like a star. Put a pencil in his hand and he could do nothing but break it in two and throw the pieces at someone. Put a piece of paper in front of him and he would probably wad it up and spit it across the room. Ask him to spell a word and he would stare helplessly. But put him in a room full of hammers and nails and glue and pliers and saws and complicated directions, and he became a genius, a maestro wielding a screwdriver, and making beauty out of a piece of raw wood.

Our shop kids used to make dulcimers; it was their big project. Beautiful musical instruments, fashioned by the hoody crud of the student body. The kids were then taught to play them, and taken around to nursing homes and business clubs to perform.

No more, of course. The woodshop has been closed and locked for many years now. There just isn't time for it any more, what with computer tech and ISTEP prep. Besides, all field trips have been done away with. (Except for athletics, of course. You really don't want to get me started on THAT one. . . .)

Students like Rusty, who shone at nothing but hands-on, now shine at nothing. This isn't right.

In our schools, we have fantastic musicians and artists. Back in the day, we cherished and nurtured these incredible talents. Now, we brush them aside and pull these kids from the studios and make them study only academics, because the arts aren't tested. And if a subject isn't on the test, it won't be offered; at the very least, it won't be taken seriously.

There are six or seven periods in the school day. Three or four subjects are 'tested.' The State has mandated "Advisor/Advisee" time, daily; that means our kids will get some serious counseling by some seriously untrained non-counselors. Some students will have as many as three study halls every day. This is inexcusable.

Of course, to do it all up properly would require the hiring of a few more teachers. We can't DO that; those athletic buses and the athletic director's five full-time assistants and the superintendent's company car and $100,000+ salary take a lot of money.

And in many schools, the 'special' teachers (art, music, etc) are shared by several buildings. Ask my Tumorless Sister about her schedule this year, why don'tcha. It's a moral disgrace. As parents, and as citizens, we should make our outrage at this misuse of talent known, with our voices and our votes.

Our children are more than a piece of paper with a few numbers on it.

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Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 11:58 PM | |


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