Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What about the stupid ones?

Last Wednesday was a bank holiday (shout out to our veterans) and I spent most of the morning reading in front of the fire. Part of those hours I broke out my high school yearbooks. The memories came rushing back and I couldn't help thinking back to one of the biggest eye-opening moments of my senior year. (Thus creating the maybe-controversial topic in my brain.)

My graduating year, 1993, was the last year before the mandatory proficiency testing that students now have to pass before they can graduate. We weren't lucky enough to get out of testing though, as we got the pleasure of being the guinea pigs for the state and federal government agencies who thought these tests were a good idea. Throughout my junior and senior year, my classmates and I endured no less than seven versions of the test; each one slightly different based on the previous testing results. It was rather frustrating, but that's not the point of this post.

One thing those test-tests did was expose the senior students who weren't quite making the grade expected of twelfth grade students. While it was supposed to be a secret decision, I know of four students in my small class of sixty that were, "passed through" the system and allowed to graduate despite their failing grades and obvious lack of readiness to enter the next stage in life. And therein lies my questions/issues.

Our first President Bush created the now famous, No Child Left Behind campaign in the late '80's. The basic premise being that no child, no matter their lack of wisdom, social status, disability, race, living environment, or anything else, would be the cause of that child not getting the same education as the next. Period. But my thought is this..... I think that's an impossible dream. There's just no way we can ever -- despite any kind of plans, whether regional or national -- guarantee that every child will have those opportunities and garner those results.

Here's what I mean..... The four students in my class, a couple being good friends, were never going to have what it took to advance past the school requirements they would have faced if they had been born one year later; they simply didn't have the brains for it. I'm not being mean, in fact quite the opposite, I'm being realistic. As hard as they tried, as much as they studied, as willing as they were for help, they didn't have what it mentally took to match the level of knowledge required to be a twelfth grade graduate. And that is the thing I'm afraid our PC culture won't admit: that there are different people and those differences come through in many ways. If we all had the same basketball skills, we'd all play in the NBA. Likewise, if we all had the same brain-potential as each other, there would be no need for places like Yale and MIT. We are each different in our own ways, and some of us simply aren't as smart as other people.

The first argument I'm sure to face is the act of trying. I won't argue that many kids who don't graduate from high school, or don't seem like they have good brainwaves, are just refusing to try. The reason I don't think this is a relevant argument (not relevant to here, anyway), is that I'm not talking about people who won't work as hard. The kids I'm talking about are the ones who try just as hard as they can, who study as much as they can, who use tutors and job aids and whatever else they can find, and still come short. I'm talking about my friend, let's call him T., who sat with me during many lunch periods trying to understand the most basic algebra and figure out the most basic parts of a poem. The same guy who for all the energy he could muster, couldn't remember the difference between the Civil War and the Revolutionary. Being emotional as I am, I sometimes had to fight back tears as I tried to help him. His brain was not advanced past probably the eighth grade, and there was nothing he could do to change that. He was trying, and trying hard.

In thinking of T., I have to ask, when do we stop trying and accept the reality of the situation? There was a lot of wasted time and energy and money spent on him that could have better spent on someone else if only someone had been honest about their findings. What the heck are you implying, Sam? I'm implying that maybe we should be leaving some children behind.

One reason for my thoughts centers around finances. I had a friend who used to teach in an inner-city school in a bad section of L.A. She saw sports cut first, then music and choir, then extended art classes, all in the name of finances. She taught from years-old outdated textbooks, many missing pages and sometimes entire chapters. She saw the hours of the school day cut every year, one year by a full half hour. But you know what didn't get cut and was fully funded? The special-ed classes. They stayed fully financed and at one point more money was being spent on 10% of the kids than all the other 90% combined. As you could have guessed, the lack of good schooling being done with the normal students caused many of them to end up in the special classes. The good of the few outweighed the good of the many. The ironic -- not funny -- part was that the special-ed classes soon had too many students and not enough funding and were discontinued. The school was consolidated and closed the next year. Why in the world did the brain-lacking students, who very likely were never going to be as smart as the normal children, get so much money and attention that could have been going to those who deserved it as humanly more superior?

Before I get stoned, I want you to know I'm horribly torn I feel this way. I have a very dear-to-me niece and nephew that are going to require a little extra help as they get older. And I would be the first one to argue that they deserve the same chance every other child gets. But I have to be realistic and ask, where does that end? In my class of sixty there were four. In other parts of the country, those numbers have been known to be closer to 35%. Think about that. One in three kids may not have what it takes to be at high school equivalency. Is it really in our best interest to throw all the money from our already-red-taped school districts at a group of people who may not benefit from it anyway?

I guess the first conversation needs to be, does our extra help actually improve the brains of these kids. I don't have that answer. If it does, I can't argue we should be helping these kids to reach the average potential of everyone else. If it doesn't, then we are wasting our money. The problem I still have, is that I have the gut feeling the PC generation we live in will never admit these kids aren't going to improve. No one wants to be that bad guy.

I could write all night and touch one point after point. But I probably already made this too long to have been read by many. So what do you think? And please be honest. It makes no sense to me to be otherwise.


Blogger Connie Mae said...

First off, I am SOO AGAINST the testing they do now just to graduate! It isn't fair to those who aren't good test takeers! I am one of those! I clam up and stress out when it comes to tests! I had a horrible time just passing the NTE because of just that! It was a great deal of pressure! Not all subjects were like that but the ones that I did have a hard time understanding, mainly History classes and science classes! I think that now schools teach to these tests now so kids really aren't getting the education they need! I went to college to be a teacher. When I did my student teaching, it saddened me to see the kids who struggles who no matter what they did and how hard they tried, they just couldn't rank up with the "average" students! I have always felt they needed some other means of scoring! I would cry in my dorm room for these kids who didn't have a chance. When there were projects to be done or even when they did the RIGHT TO READ week, I could pick out the kids who, more and likely, didn't do a thing but their parents did it for them so they always got GREAT scores! Then the students who struggled, who had parents who abused them for talking or bothering them, they would sit down and do everything that they could do on their own with no help at all! They never got acknowledged because they didn't meet the quota but yet they tried the hardest! I have a heart for children, like your friend, who tried so hard to learn but couldn't! It isn't fair! I think that the public education system needs to go back to the basics! Back to teaching the way they should and not to tests so their school district can get more money! I think that if they went back to the basics, there would be more of a chance of the slower students to be able to get some kind of job when they graduated. There would be more of a chance for students who breezed through school to be able to advance. I don't know if any of what I said makes sense but I do know IT ISN'T FAIR! I think that mainstreamed classes have pros and cons! I feel they should still have the classes for the students who have the difficulties so they can at least get an education focused on their learning abilities but then I think they need to be with the other kids too! It really is a very difficult topic! I just know that levies don't pass because people are more and likely tired of supporting the schools when they see their children have the same exact books they had when they were in school! I know my response doesn't make any sense but I am posting it anyway! I have the same feeling that you have about this whole topic!! It is hard to understand! I have a brother who was in the "special ed" class(what it was called when I was in school) and he learned nothing! His teacher passed them all b/c all his teacher did was talk about football and baseball! Hey I am a sports fan but there is a time and a place for that,not using tax dollars to "teach" nothing! Ok, I am done! LOL! I could go on and on!

8:15 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Connie.

I kind of expected more conversation on this one; even if to call me an insensitive jerk. But I understand it's a bit heavy and maybe not exactly something everyone wants to, or has an, opinion on. (Yes, I used opinion as a verb there.)

I guess the one thing I wanted to convey centers around the fact that at some point we are going to get to a point where we just can't afford to take care of these kids. Not that we don't want to --- and I hope you all know I truly wish we had the resources to one-on-one handle each child with the exact attention they need --- but we simply can't afford to do so. If we gave each and every child that kind of attention it would bankrupt our schools and our government bodies funding them. Of course I know the alternative is the horrible insane asylums of long ago and a scores of people with no social or economic value to our land. Is there a middle ground?

8:17 PM  
Blogger Adrienne said...

Of course I do have an opinion. I just thought I should try to give it coherently and with some sense of intelligence. But I give up on finding the day that is going to happen.

I think the main answer here is this: We are not graduating students who are more highly educated, skilled or ready for the world because of all these new interventions.

I think that the No Child Left Behind act may have been implemented in part to discourage labeling a child in their pre-k screening and never letting them out of that bubble, but it isn't working.

The red tape that Adam goes through to not leave a child 'behind' takes away from everyone's learning.

I agree it sounds mean, but the facts are not everyone can be a neurosurgeon. (Although I disagree with the NFL statement - I think anyone with all of their limbs, and possibly some without, could don a spandexy suit and play like most of those guys ;)

Anyway, where would the world be if we didn't have janitors, trashmen, plumbers, builders, teachers, businessmen, bankers, models, actors, athletes, artists, doctors, and so on and so on.

I think every kid should get the kid to start every day fresh and to meet their potential, but I don't think any amount of intervention, testing and garbage will ever make every kid equal. And I sure do not think that not being 'allowed' to teach multiplication in fifth because that is not a fifth grade standard makes any sense if you are trying to teach a room full of kids long division that don't know how to multiply!

Just my thoughts. Oh, and I think that physically challenged students with good learning capacity deserve to be mainstreamed, but to mainstream those that are incapable of even feeding themselves or holding their own head up is not right to anyone. It's a terrible shame, but that is not the fix.

And those that are always going to have learning issues, but are not metnally incapacitated, may need to have time with a special teacher to focus longer and more intently on the basics, but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't get an opportunity to at least work with their peers and learn about those social skills, or the subject that they do get.

11:57 PM  

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