Waiting for Superman, Poverty, and STRESS

  • Posted on December 28, 2011 at 4:48 pm

This has been one crazy messed up year.  I think the weather has made everyone slightly crazy.  In many ways the weather has been a sign of the Armageddon to come in the world of education.  We educators are mired down in a political system that is creating more problems in education than thoughtful solutions.  After being home a few days and celebrating Christmas with my son, I have come to realize just how stressed out I feel.  In school I feel like I am doing everything I possibly can as a teacher.  Many people have no idea what I really do as an art teacher, but it is far more than just playing with clay!  This year we have been told to add two new subjects to our teaching arsenal, reading and math.  I already do a considerable amount of writing with my students so this is “doable”.  However, I don’t think most people have any idea what is going on in school today.  By the 2014-2015 school year 50% of any Michigan teacher’s evaluation will be based on student performance.  http://www.legislature.mi.gov/%28S%28etstwt45mdi5h255mrhn50j3%29%29/mileg.aspx?page=GetObject&objectname=mcl-380-1249

The word going around the state is half of the teachers will be let go because they won’t be able to meet this standard.  We basically have been warned to fix the problem or else!  Now think about all of this and ask yourself if you want your child facing some crazy teacher that has to “whip your child into shape”.  Not literally of course, but in some capacity your child is going to be facing a teacher that has much to lose, so he/she better step up.  As I am enjoying my holiday time and de-stressing, I suspect some children are doing the same!

Today I watched “Waiting for Superman”.  The main premise of the movie is, of course, that the problems in education can be traced to the nation’s poor teachers and the teachers’ unions!  Imagine that!  I found this movie to be quick to denigrate a whole population of teachers with generalizations while basically giving no real solutions to any of the problems in education.  While it may be a catalyst for “merit” pay and charter schools it really isn’t going to be the change agent that magically turns the problems around in education.  If this movie was supposed to be the catalyst for changing education, it fell way short from that goal.  I was treated to visions of small children waiting for their number to be called from a lottery system that would determine whether they would get the” ticket” to the golden school or have to face another year in hell at their local school.  At one point, they showed a chart that “proved” that money didn’t help because back in the seventies we were spending $4,000 per pupil and now it’s up to around $9,000 and the testing results have remained flat.  Of course those of us in Michigan know that the true number for most schools is around $7,000.  In the movie this was used to show that adding more money doesn’t make a difference.  Of course in my mind I thought $4,000 in 1970 would be a hell of a lot more money than $9000 in 2011 but then I am not an economist.  I’m just a tax payer who lived through the seventies.  I bought my first new car in the seventies.  It was a Chevette and it was $4000.  In the early eighties I bought a mini pickup and it was $8,000.  You guessed it!  I bought a minivan in the early nineties and it was $16,000 but by the end of the nineties I paid $24,000.  Now I know kids aren’t cars but you have to wonder about the numbers in the movie because if the cost of cars has gone up surely the cost of an education is naturally going to go up as well.  I know that students going to college are feeling that super cost of an education.  I left college in the seventies with a $3600 loan.  I bet many students today would do anything to end college with that kind of loan!  So that little chart meant absolutely nothing to me.

Of course they wanted to assure teachers that they are more than willing to go to a merit pay system that would be a six figure system for the right results.  Michelle Rhee spoke about this in the movie and mentioned a figure of $125,000.  I think these numbers are basically meaningless.  It’s really about dividing teachers and pitting the math and science teachers against everyone else.  The movie showed parents that were willing to cart their child off to a special school that would mean getting up super early in the morning in order to get the child their by 7:45 a.m.  I found that interesting because we all know that the key for most children is the parents.  If the parents aren’t following through at home by setting aside time for homework, reading, sleep time, nutrition, etc. than the child may not perform as well in school.

The other night I watched CBS news and it showcased a state champion high school football team from Georgia. The coach felt that one of the key reasons they won the state championship was because of a special grant from the federal government that fed around 500 students their dinner.  It was set up like meals on wheels.  They delivered dinner to students at risk.  The coach noticed that by Tuesday his football team was plumb out of juice.  He wondered how he could get more calories in his team.  They needed more nourishment because most of them were on free or reduced breakfast and lunches but were not fed at night!  This was in what was said to be one of the poorest counties in the state.  To me this is all tied to education.  We have been told that we must rise above the stigma of poverty.  Poverty isn’t a reason that should stop us from doing our jobs.   Children can learn even if they’re poor.  Yes, I agree that children can learn even if they are poor.  However, if they are stressed and worried about their next meal, mom and dad’s job, or anything else that most children shouldn’t have to worry about, the battle for an education becomes more difficult!

Often times these students suffer in silence.  They are embarrassed or afraid.  They don’t want anyone to know that they are having a tough time.  Leave it to the politicians to spend ample time on putting blame where it doesn’t belong and not looking for real solutions.  Much of the problems in education are tied to the same problems in our country related to the economy.  That 8.6% job figure that is being touted as the new unemployment figure is just a made up number.  There are far more people that have given up on looking for work or have lost all hope.  They get shoved off the figures and the nation gets a false sense that things are getting better for everyone.  I think things are getting better for some people but there are many still struggling and this will be reflected in our education system even if the politicians choose to overlook the reality of the situation.  Our economy has been on a steady decline since the seventies.  Is there any thought that maybe the decline in the economy and education might possibly be related?  If the politicians really want to fix education, they should start focusing on fixing this economy.

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