The Numbers Game

As previously stated, I'm a former teacher retired for medical purposes. What you can count on is that there are probably just as many teachers that will be offended by my point of view as students or parents. Whatever. It's not a charisma game as far as I'm concerned.

But another thing I should note is that my previous business manager experience and psychology degrees give me a bit more than the average 'just out of school teacher'...and a whole hell of a lot more than those idiot teachers that have few credentials and just show up for work each day to go through the motions.

Back on track, though, there are a whole lot of perspectives as far as why we are failing as an educational system. There are plenty of liberals who would love to point the finger at President Bush and claim it's all his fault. But is it? Yes, the nation's mean test scores and average college admissions have declined over the last eight years; and most schools have either lost funding or struggled to maintain at a constant. And as anyone knows when funding fails to increase along with inflation it's slow death. However, to attempt to blame one man for the ills of the educational system is skewed and unrealistic. Even if he was a contributing factor to decline, he's hardly Satan of the School Board.

Several teachers are quick to blame parents, citing a lack of discipline in life outside of the schools. While it is true, lack of moral guidance or personal discipline can allow less focus in a child's life, is it actually responsible for a system failure? Probably not. Even if we were to place a copy of 'The Moral Intelligence of Children' into the hands of every parent in America (assuming they would read it) the concept of widespread implementation is foolish. A broad array of perspectives of discipline and behavior make it impossible for one simple 'melting pot' ideal to work. Once again, maybe a contributing factor, but hardly the overall cause.

And just on the other side of that fence, parents and students are quick to blame teachers. As quoted in the movie 'First Person' (a documentary about education in Philadelphia) one student says 'There are a lot of teachers that don't care if you learn or not. Either way they get their paycheck.' And in these tight-knit neighborhoods, particularly in the inner city, students that feel that way grow up to be parents that feel that way. It is absolutely true that there are many teachers that are unqualified, underqualified, or simply not motivated to do their job. But they are still professionals with ethical and legal obligations despite any perspective from an outside party. Once more...maybe a contributor, but hardly the resolute villain in this dilemma.

The true crucial problem...and this is where I start to get offensive, but I ask you stay with me until the with the students. If you have a job as a truck driver, and you are prone to accidents and DWI's, it is your own situation to deal with. If you are an accountant who's ethics cause you to embezzle from your clients, when there is resulting trouble it's you're own fault. So as being a student is a child's job, when they fail isn't it their fault for doing so?


But there is more to it than that. The driver had to pass tests warning him of accidents and drinking and driving. The accountant, or other professionals like him, learn their trade from peers who explain to him that ethical misconduct does bring consequences.

Education has become, for lack of a better description, a numbers game. Test scores, grade point averages, accreditation...all of these things have supplanted traditional education. It used to be that teachers and professors would be the ultimate judge for a student. They would decide if a student should pass or fail; if they should be accepted into a class or school or denied entry. And they would do this based on their perceptions and their gut feeling as to whether or not this student was ready.

However, the system has changed. Grades are not the same as they used to be. A while ago a score of 80 percent was the same as a 'B' grade, which was equal to a 3.0 GPA. Not anymore. Where I went for my teaching degree, a 3.6 or higher was necessary for a 'B', and anything below a 2.75 was considered a failure and could mean dismissal from the school. In order to hold their status as a school, college, or university the facility has to adopt specialized guidelines and implement them at all times. Some can be bent, but none can be broken.

The trouble is, no one has told the students this. I don't know that anyone has even come up with a way to do it. Honestly, I think it's because no one wants to.

Despite what someone might think, it takes a lot of balls to say to a child: 'You are wasting my time. Leave now and don't come back.' But in essence, that is what needs to happen. As harsh as it all may sound, it is hard to counter the evidence. Children, even young ones, need to be made aware that society does no longer tolerate 'gray areas' the way it used to. If you are not able to get the grades for the job you want, then you just can't do that job. You will have to settle for something else. 'Leave now. Find something else to do.'

Many other countries already do this. In some, as early as the fifth grade, children and parents are told 'Your child just isn't showing signs of being college material. We can't continue to spend resources on them like we were. Best to prepare them for trade school.' Of course, in such places, woe to the child who doesn't even take trade school seriously. You're lucky if you wind up as a pedicab driver.

Maybe that is what we need. Everyone has been gushing recently: 'See. A black man is now the President of the United States. If he can do it any child can!' Which is complete bullshit. Maybe we should stop trying to soften the blow for our children, attempting to make the world as soft and warm as a womb for them. Maybe we should have the stones enough to tell them: 'You are failing.'

Yes, it's the children who are the problem, but it is the system that is at the root of it. We have made failure so safe a situation that it's not even something important anymore. So how long is it before failing becomes so normal that it is the new standard?

Uploaded 01/26/2009
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