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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Kids these days...

A refrain that we are starting to hear more often is that "Kids these days" are not the same as kids 20 years ago or when "we" were growing up... Maybe it is something in the water. Or maybe it is the planned corporate takeover of public education.



I grew up in the 70's and 80's. I liked learning in elementary school for the most part. My school was experimenting with new ideas. I enjoyed the core subjects and all of the specials. What I remember most is that teachers read us books. I loved when Ms. Lubin read us James and the Giant Peach in 3rd grade. I loved the way her voice changed with each character, with the excitement of the plot twists, with the juicy, drippy drama of a little boy who lost his parents, and had to survive living with his two selfish aunts until he floated away in a giant peach. We would meet as a class and take the journey of entire books (not excerpts) together. We learned to sit still for long periods of time for the reward of the literature, not the punishment of standardized tests. We answered no workbook questions after reading—we had discussions.



In high school, Mrs. Hipple, my American Literature teacher read our class, The Crucible. Again, we were pulled in and mesmerized by her voice, the way she pronounced each character's name, and the way literature had us questioning intolerance, hysteria, and the maligning of reputations. The very idea that there would be an organized witch hunt was mind blowing. Yet here we are today in the world of public education when our own Secretary of Education (who has no education training or experience) calls parents who speak out, “White suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”



Ask any teacher you know about the new teacher evaluation system based on VAM. In Pennsylvania it is called PVAAS. Teachers are being evaluated based on student test scores. Some states publish these scores in the newspapers and online. Teach to the test or be publicly shamed. "Rigoberto Ruelas Jr. was considered much more than a fifth-grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School – he was a mentor to youth tempted to join gangs and a tireless booster that kids could make it to college. But after a newspaper published a school district report that ranked Ruelas as a 'less effective teacher' based on his students' test scores, colleagues saw him grow despondent...his body was found at the foot of a remote forest bridge in what appears to be a suicide... friends and colleagues suggest he was distraught over the teacher rating."

Ah, the lessons of the witch hunts.



I have heard educators I really like allude to this difference in kids "today." It really ruffles my feathers because we should all know better. Since the federal law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and the even worse, Race to the Top, the bipartisan bad ideas of our politicians have psychologically impacted children. I see this in my own children and many kids I know. This legislation has used classical conditioning to train children that failing is shameful. I know a principal who shared that his own son referred to himself in the terms of the state. He called himself basic or below basic. A child internalized the terminology that the government mandated teachers use and that schools sent home with annual PSSA reports. It doesn't take a lot of digging to figure out what has changed in kids.


Like Pavlov's dogs, children who believe what their legislators are making schools and teachers teach, say and do, have been conditioned. Many kids have learned to play it safe. They anxiously ask more questions, take fewer risks, select easier assignments when they have choice, want to "just get it done," and rush through assignments. They aren't always interested in learning, just the reward. They want that "A," that Advanced label, that honor roll certificate. So this has been done to our kids, and the government solution du jour is to declare that the system they created isn't flawed, our kids are. Kids need to learn grit, perseverance, and develop character strengths. I am all for this kind of learning, but am questioning if I want legislators and politicians deciding what character strengths my kids need, or if perhaps that is something families decide.

Are we as parents and as a society guilty of not thinking critically ourselves?

Have we unintentionally shamed our kids when standardized tests scores came home with labels we didn't like? Have we asked teachers what they are doing to improve test scores instead of helping make our kids passionate about learning? Has the wool been pulled over our eyes in the name of "Accountability"? When do we hold our elected officials responsible for the untruths they perpetuate as they take donations from those who have decided that they know the kind of education our kids deserve?

Blogger Lloyd Lofthouse, U.S. Marine & Vietnam Vet, who taught English, journalism and reading from 1975 - 2005 reports that public education has a successful history and is under a major threat:
  • By 2011, the high school drop our rate has fallen to 7%—an improvement of 5% since 1990.
  • In 2012, for the first time in US history, a third of the nation’s 25 to 29 year olds have earned at least a bachelor’s degree, and by age 24, 90% of Americans have earned a high school degree or its equivalent.
  • In the fall of 2013, a record 21.8 million students were expected to attend American colleges and universities, an increase of about 6.5 million since fall of 2000.
"But even with all this success, in recent years, the Walton family has spent more than $1 billion toward efforts to 'infuse competitive pressure into America’s K-12 education system.' Never mind that this money is mostly in states where no Walton family members live or have children in school. In addition, The Wall Street Journal reported that Bill Gates has spent $5 billion in his attempt to destroy public education with the same goal—the Walton’s and the other billionaires have—to fire public school teachers and close public schools."




And don't think for a minute that it is "only" the urban school systems they want to usurp. It is all of our schools. All of them.

Keep learning and speak up on behalf of all of our public schools, before they are a part of American history, themselves.

It isn't kids these days that are the problem...