Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Time for Another Teacher Rant

I got my Time magazine this week, and the cover article is about “Tiger Moms.” It’s the new tough-love for those of you who haven’t heard about it yet (I hadn’t until the article). The article is about Chinese-parenting and making kids achieve a certain level of greatness. It’s all no-nonsense; “You don’t get to sleep or eat or pee until you can play this song on the violin. Stop your whining.” I think it’s great. Make your kids achieve greatness. Awesome. But I see it will never be the American way and that is “awesome” in its own right. Who wants to beat math, reading, and science into people and never acknowledge the importance for free thought and personal/individual accomplishment? Not me. Freedom is it’s own education in a way. I wonder if on these international tests there is ever a section of creativity or thought. I doubt it. But the truth remains. U.S. students are no longer achieving enough to compete in the world we live in. They aren’t prepared, and I’m not prepared for the future we are creating for ourselves. These kids in my classes are, after all, the same people who will be running this country when I’m 60. Sometimes that thought scares me. All I’ve prepared them for is a world full of second chances and no responsibility. I think that’s what we’ve all prepared them for unfortunately.
We still live in a world where entertainment is a billion dollar industry. After all, people may be out of work, but that won’t stop us from watching the Super Bowl or canceling our subscriptions to NetFlix. I think this is one of our biggest problems. We are born and bread as consumers, not creators or workers. We get things and buy things never really understanding what it means to have them. What happened to work ethic, or gratitude for that matter? Where did all this ‘expectance’ come from?
Now, in December President Obama mentioned that we are in the education version of Sputnik right now with China. They are blowing past the world in terms of economic growth and education. One area we expect to dominate has not been our strong suit for quite some time, and I feel a little defeated. I begin thinking, “What do we do?” or worse “Can I get out now and leave the problem to someone else?” I’m writing a portfolio of teaching philosophy right now for an award for which I was nominated. I find myself writing in a circle because I keep avoiding the question of why do I stay in the profession. Too much work and too few rewards, and for once I don’t mean money. I can’t tell you the last time I think one of my students took upon themselves to learn anything. Every day I get asked every variety of the same question “How little work can I do for enough credit?” No longer do students put effort in to learn. They ask for requirements for points. When I actually look at the quality of some of my student's work, I feel ashamed for them . . . and myself. How do I keep going?
I want to say the solution is in facing consequences and dealing with responsibility, even if it means failing. I can't say enough that sometimes we have to stop protecting kids from consequences. Maybe the real question is how do we start?