Wednesday, July 26, 2006

My Brain Is Full.

I've been all over the blogosphere today, reading education blogs, clicking on their blogroll links for other education blogs, and just generally pretending I was in the teachers' lounge sharing with my peeps. I'm reading the blogs of public school teachers, private school teachers, homeschooling parents (all parents are teachers, unless they're bad parents. . . .) pre-k teachers, post-secondary teachers, retired teachers, disgruntled teachers, whiny teachers, happy teachers, frighteningly ignorant teachers who can't spell 'cat,' old teachers, young teachers, new teachers, experienced teachers. . . .and now I feel smarter, happier, sadder, dumber, more hopeful, less hopeful, disgusted, enlightened, puzzled, knowing, grateful, selfish, generous, judgemental, less judgemental, mortified, enriched, and head-shakingly amazed.

Before you read on, please understand that I am NOT against home-schooling. I have several dear and precious friends who homeschool, and they do a fantastic, superior job. I respect them completely, and I would bet money, if I had any, that their kids could outdo almost any other kid their age, and older, even. I do, however, have problems with families who homeschool so their kids can be shielded from the world, instead of prepared to live in it productively, culturally, wisely, and with knowledge of its wonders and ALL KINDS of people, and without the encouragement to delve and explore and question and find out everything possible in one lifetime.

Here is something I read in several places and it bothers me a LOT: Several blogging parents, all homeschoolers (and that's a coincidence, I'm sure; I don't mean to put down homeschoolers as a group. . . .) wrote that one reason they homeschooled their kids was that when they, themselves, were in school, they were forced to take courses they didn't like, and that they knew (ahead of time) that they'd never use. THEIR kids would only be taught useful things that were enjoyable and approved of by the children themselves.

What the heck? Who is the adult in these homes?

Whatever happened to "knowledge for knowledge's sake?" I find this attitude appalling. Horrible.

I hated algebra, too, but I know it. I don't like it, but I know it. Am I a better person for knowing it? Yes, I think I am. Do I ever use it? No. But does that mean I wasted my time learning it? Absolutely not. Nothing learned is ever wasted. The world is full of things to be learned. The universe is full of wonders, waiting to be discovered. Will we find them if we hand-pick our curriculum, leaving out anything that looks hard or boring, or that Mom doesn't like? No, we won't. I counted four or five of these parents who knew even down in high school that they would be mothers, and nothing else, and therefore all this science and math and geography, etc, was a waste of their time.

I'm sorry. These are bad teachers, and bad parents. To limit a child's access to knowledge is a SIN. And to let a little kid dictate what will or will not be done in a household is to relinquish the reins as the adult authority figures. These houses are a joke.

Of course, there are scores of bad teachers in our schools, too. Tons. We've all had them.

I doubt that a really bad teacher would bother to keep a blog; most of the teacher-blogs I've visited today were written by obviously intelligent dedicated people. Teachers who have nothing to rant and vent about are not doing a very good job; there is much to be frowned at in this world and to ignore it, or treat it as if it didn't exist, is to NOT be doing your job properly. Sometimes, teachers rant and vent where they safely can, because shrinks are expensive, and we see so much heartbreak, heartache, frustration, and injustice that if we DIDN'T vent, we'd explode. Or perhaps, implode.

Some people think that teachers who rant and vent must hate their jobs, hate kids, hate schools. . . . listen to that guy complain; he must be in it for the paycheck and the summers, etc.

Not true.

More often than not, the teachers who rant and vent do so because they have to live with the injustices and ridiculousness and meaningless rules and inequalities and downright lies from authority figures who are supposed to tell the truth to both children and other adults because, dammit, authority figures are supposed to be BETTER THAN WE ARE. Isn't that why and how they are in charge? And parents are SUPPOSED to want their kids to learn things, aren't they? Shouldn't it be a source of pride, not fear, when a child comes home with new ideas?

Even as an adult, learning the truth is not easy on our sensibilities, our consciences, or our nervous systems. Disillusionment takes its toll.

No, those quiet, no-wave-making teachers are not the good ones.

To an administrator, the quiet, no-wave-making teacher looks pretty darn good. No questions, no politics, no opinions. . . . just a person coming to work, doing his/her job, and going home. No personal involvement. Just a stolid word-for-word following of the objectives, standards, and rules of the school. The kids don't know his/her first name, or anything about this kind of teacher. He/she just goes to work and goes back home. You know, as if the school were a factory and the kids were a product. After three thirty, this kind of teacher goes home and puts it all out of his head till the next day. This kind of teacher wouldn't recognize his/her students if he/she met them on the street. Certainly he/she wouldn't remember a name.

I'm sorry. That's not how good teachers are.

While it is not exactly necessary to know a teacher's favorite pizza topping or facts about his/her college days, I think it's important that older students know a little something about where the instructor is coming from. How is this done? I don't know. It's different for everybody.

And it is vital that the teacher know as much about each student as is possible. Heck, I knew where my students lived, and who their parents were, and who their siblings were, and what their favorite color and cola and pizza toppings were. I still have a mental image of seating charts; even now I can picture my students in their assigned seats, and recognize the sound of their voices. I was not, however, overly concerned about a student's test scores from previous years. Oh, I looked at them, but from my point of view, each year was a new start. Kids change a lot in a summer's time, and many a failing student becomes a good student almost overnight. And vice versa. Never give up. Never lose hope.

In an ideal world, all things being equal, absolute justice would be perfection. Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world, and while all things have equality of opportunity (which is what we are promised, actually; anyone who thinks all people are 'equal' is not paying attention; we are not equal nor should we be. It's the opportunity that's supposed to be equal, not the people.) the sad truth is, that not everybody can go where those opportunities are. The best we can try to achieve is perfect justice, not absolute.

In "Les Miserables," a good man who stole a loaf of bread to try and save the life of a starving child, was labeled "thief," and sentenced to prison. His motives were not important. Absolute justice. One who steals is a thief. A thief is a criminal. Criminals endanger society; therefore, we must put them away where they can't hurt anyone. Absolute justice.

You don't have to be very smart to understand absolute justice.

It happens in our schools and society every day.

If Jean Valjean had been given perfect justice, he would have received a lighter sentence, a warning perhaps, a lecture, and the judge would have then spoken sternly to the observers about how desperation will sometimes drive a decent intelligent being to deeds they would not ordinarily have done, for a greater good. He stole, yes. But he stole to try and save a life. That's not the same thing as stealing for profit or gain.

I've lost my train of thought.

I guess what I mean is, absolute justice would work if everyone and everything were equal in all ways. Everyone is judged on the same criteria and set of expectations, and if they are not met, the same consequences are meted out to all. Motivation would not matter. In a perfect world.

In the area of behavior, barring 'criminal activity,' I would hold everyone to the same standard. Behave. Period.

In the area of achievement, some perfect justice would be in order. Not in the category of "less for some, more for others," necessarily; maybe more in the category of "put people in homogeneous groups so they might learn more easily and not feel rushed or forced to 'keep up' or 'not look ahead.'"

Eh. I'm confusing myself.

That's what I get for reading serious stuff and listening to Les Miserables at the same time.

Then again, if Jean Valjean had been shown mercy, a la perfect justice, he would never have built the big factory, given all those poor street beggars paying jobs and some self-respect, taken in Cosette and raised her, or saved the life of the man who was crushed by the runaway cart.

Maybe absolute justice is the goal, and we must use perfect justice as our means to get there. I dunno. A society without mercy is a sick society. But it seems as though the people getting the most mercy are those who deserve it least.

My brain is full. May I go now?

(I tried to post the Gary Larsen cartoon here but Blogger won't let me.)

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