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Poverty, John Edwards, and the American Dream

  • Posted on August 5, 2014 at 3:15 pm

In the beginning of this video from John Oliver he talks about income inequality, you know whether you get your HBO legally or illegally.  I had to laugh from the get go as I have to go to watch John from YouTube because I don’t have HBO.   John has such a way of getting to the heart of things and explaining how we are too stupid for our own good.  It was even funny when he said we have to have some Brit telling us what we probably should already know, and wouldn’t you know it he is a Brit as well.

It isn’t easy for politicians to push in this area because corporations and the wealthy are really driving the political agenda.  The last politician that really talked about poverty and inequality was John Edwards.  His own personal issues took him down, you know having an affair on his cancer stricken wife, and this essentially put a damper on the issues he was talking about, poverty and inequality.  He was going to be the voice for the voiceless.  John’s agenda was the driving force of the 2008 election.  He took Senator Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 trip through Middle America to put a spotlight on the issues of the poor and disenfranchised.  It wasn’t Hillary or Barak that were driving the discussion.  John was the one hitting on Hillary and trying to get Barak to chime in during debates.  John was the one that talked about fair wages and single payer.  John may have been an imperfect messenger but killing the messenger seems to have killed the message.  It really makes me wonder why other politicians can do what John did and survive politically.  Could it be the message that was really the target?

Are politicians today so corrupt and tied to their corporate masters that they cannot see what it is doing to our country?Perhaps they just don’t care?  When I was young, I had politicians that I looked up to, respected, and even idealized.  Bobby Kennedy was one of them.  These are his words, “It is a revolutionary world we live in. Governments repress their people; and millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich; and wealth is lavished on armaments.”

These timely words could have been spoken today.  Our country is far more concerned about the military machine than the plight of the poor and middle class.  The ideals of my youth have grown to skepticism in my maturing age.  The people that seem to make the most sense about political matters are entertainers like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver.  With the exceptions of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, I cannot name politicians that make me feel that sense of respect and admiration for standing up for what is right and just.  There is a gap in our country between the rich and the poor, the powerbrokers and the bottom feeders that just try to be that crab in the basket that wants so badly to reach the top.  Someone at the bottom keeps tugging him down and someone at the top puts a lid on the pot.  In the end, he is cooked into a system that has no freedom because he is stuck to a class system that only recognizes the rich and the connected.  If you have connections, you are going places.  If you are poor, you are probably stuck in a system that is working to keep you down and under control.  I always find it interesting that your credit report can be tied to so many things that help or hurt you.  If you have good credit, you get lower insurance, lower interest on loans, and more respect.  If you are poor and you have a tough time paying your bills, you can now expect even more problems because your credit is going to tie you to a life of debt.  They say we don’t have a debtor’s prison any more but that really is not true.  Students getting out of college soon discover they have a world of hurt when they start trying to pay back their student loans.  Those loans can follow them for their entire life if they are stuck in some low wage job with no chance of real promotion.

I know I tend to rant about certain things but I am an observer in a system that I see is stacked for certain people.  It doesn’t matter where you live today, there seems to be two different worlds:  The world for the rich and connected and the one for everyone else.  If you or your family is “someone” in your community, then you will have a better chance at those connections, even if you aren’t wealthy.  They can lead to jobs, scholarships, and ultimately success.  If you are poor with few or no connections, you are like the crab in the pot.  You have to work extra hard to climb to the top.  Some at the bottom will be pulling you down and sometimes it is through their own lack of understanding the system.  It always amazes me when the poor vote for people backed by the right wing establishment.  These people are controlled through religion and do-goodery.  Yeah, I made that word up, so deal with it.  They are so busy trying to be on the right side of the “Kingdom of God” that they forget about the here and now.  They believe that old Biblical saying about the rich and the camel through the eye of a needle when it comes to heaven.  They are kept stupid by a system that wants to maintain the status quo.  They sacrifice their kids for war because they are inclined to believe that wars really matter.  They don’t believe in global warming because they have been told that these things are cyclical.  They are waiting for the rapture and worried about public schools putting some harebrained idea in their kids’ heads.  Then there are the other poor:  The ones that are so down on their economic luck that they have lost all hope.  They don’t see how they can change anything.  They may not be into religion and surely don’t bother to vote because they don’t have the time to worry about such matters.  They are too tired trying to keep food on the table and their bills paid.  Life for them is just a continuous sucking machine of bad luck and meager existence.

From my perspective, as a nation we seem to be more concerned with the poor in other countries than in our own.  I used to feel that sense of pride in my country and what “we” stood for in the world.  Today I have many mixed feelings.  Maybe I have become immune to the propaganda.  It is hard when I watch protesters screaming at kids on the border.  That behavior is in direct contrast to what I thought we were as a nation.  It is hard when I can remember being a student at Michigan State University back in the seventies and I was full of idealism.  Reality is so much more complicated than that young idealism that I held in my youth.  I worry about the young students I teach today.  What kind of world we are leaving them?  If they are poor and not connected what do they have to look forward to, a world of debt and stress?  People used to be able to live a good life by working for GM on the line.  Today, that just isn’t possible.  Most families need two incomes and if you are poor, you are probably going to need some kind of assistance to have a decent life.  I do not have all the answers I just know that the politicians today disappoint me with their constant representation of their corporate donors and not the poor and the voiceless.

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.

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.

Dreams of Our Fathers…and “Buck Up”……

  • Posted on October 4, 2010 at 7:09 pm

I must admit that while I have read President Obama’s, “The Audacity of Hope”, I have not read his “Dreams of My Father”.  After reading the recent Rolling Stone’s article on President Obama and seeing his comment that Democrats have to “Buck up!”, I am left wondering at the audacity of Obama.  This shows so well the complete lack of understanding there is between what happens in Washington D.C. and what happens “Anywhere” in America; where people are struggling to pay their bills, keep their jobs, get health care and be treated with respect.  It is appalling to think that this man who once joked about his lack of seniority in the Senate and the “jobs” they’d let him do, who at the time appeared to show a “humble” side is now becoming a rather arrogant president.  This behavior could be excused but insulting the American voter is never really excusable.

President Obama was essentially finished with the interview and overall it was pretty much a “love fest” between Rolling Stone magazine and President Obama.  The interview seemed to be used for the president to talk about that “70%” of his agenda that he says he has completed.  The president was motioned away and then came back and felt the need to add this condescending statement to the interview:

“We have to get folks off the sidelines. People need to shake off this lethargy, people need to buck up. Bringing about change is hard — that’s what I said during the campaign. It has been hard, and we’ve got some lumps to show for it. But if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place.”

I know all of us come from varied heritages.  We have many different racial and ethnic backgrounds but one thing has always been true.  We have a deep abiding love for our country and we think it is the most wonderful place to raise our children.  Our dreams are what our fathers and mothers have always dreamed, that if you work hard and play fair you can go far in America!  America is a place of opportunity.  In recent times we have noticed that those doors of opportunity have been getting slammed shut.  We can and do still dream, but we haven’t quite figured out when all of these politicians started thinking more “globally” rather than about our own country and more about business than the American people.  I think it is a lofty goal to try to stamp out poverty globally but it’s almost sad to think that these same politicians cannot seem to recognize that they only need to look in their own districts and states to see the dire need in this country.

All of us know that there has been a progression, mostly through education, in our own families.  Each generation has become generally a little more educated and wealthier.  However, this most recent generation is finding out the hard truth of today’s world.  Some of them cannot even afford college and the truth is they may go to college and come out and not be able to find a job that pays enough to pay for their student loans.  The truth is they may end up with a life threatening illness and end up in poverty because they’ve lost all of their money trying to pay the doctors, the pharmacy and the hospital.  The truth is they may have worked in the same job for twenty years only to go in one day and find out their job is being exported out of the country and they have no idea if they have marketable skills for another job.  The truth is, both parents have to work, so their child goes to school and comes home to an empty house and mom and dad really don’t know what their child is up to, but they hope for the best.

We all dream for our children.  We dream that they will have a bright and shiny future filled with happiness and fulfillment.  We dream that they will grow up healthy, get an education, land a great job doing something that they love and have a wonderful family life.  These dreams used to be very attainable but today we are all filled with uncertainty of what the future will bring.  This is one of the many reasons why I cannot understand how President Obama can continue to show such a vast lack of understanding  of the American family condition.

His family has led a life of privilege.  His children go to private schools as did his wife and Obama, himself.  He and his wife have gone to the best universities.  He has traveled all over the world as has his family.  He sees the world globally while we see the world through our communities.  We are tied to our lives in our communities.  Many of us do what we can to better our communities.  We know that we are part of the global community but our heart may be in Michigan, Texas, North Carolina, Florida and somewhere else in this vast country.   In reality we are all brought together from many parts to make one, not “one world” rule, but we are Americans!  Yes, we continue to dream, just as our parents dreamed, but now we must fight.

We must fight to keep our dreams for our children alive.  We cannot sit back idly and allow our politicians, and even you, President Obama,  to continue to ignore the plight of our country.  We must address the issues of poverty, the economy, the two wars and our failing infrastructure.  This is how we can show our patriotism and our love not only for our country but for the dreams of our parents, ourselves and our children to come.  So President Obama if you are finding yourself in a quandary as to why the base isn’t too fired up this election cycle, maybe it’s because you seem so out of touch with who we really are and what we really want.

When you were voted in with that “hope and change motto” many people thought you were going to aspire to do all you could for our country.   However, as the countless vacations and golf outings continued to take place, some of us out here were left wondering if you have the right work ethic.  From my perspective, I haven’t noticed much difference between GW and you.  I will give you credit for the stimulus as I think it did some good.  It was probably too small and maybe should have been directed more closely to the American people like the home buyer’s credit and the car buying credit were.  However, I think I’m not alone in my disappointment about most of the other areas and this is what part of your problem is for us.  You talked a lot about change, but we find ourselves still involved in two wars.  Guantanamo is still open.  The health care bill avoided single payer or anything else that resembles what most of us were hoping would happen.  Like your predecessor the banks were more important than the people.  While the banks were too big to fail, the American people were too small to matter.  This is the sad truth.

So, now you want those Democrats to basically stop whining and buck up like we’re some sniveling child that simply is having a temper tantrum.  Mistakes were made back in May of 2008 with the fallout of the Michigan and Florida primary.  While you may have moved on, many Democrats, like me, still feel the sting of that primary election when our votes were simply awarded to you, even though we voted for someone else .  At that time many of us felt betrayed by our party.

From my perspective you probably could have won my “loyalty” back, if you hadn’t governed so much like a Republican.  It’s hard for me to see you as anything but a black version of GW and the Democratic Party as the “LITE” version of the Republican Party.  You actually seem to be more comfortable with politicians and corporate heads than the American people.  Trust me when I say, “I want to believe in my party again.”  The Republicans give me nothing that makes me want to vote for them.  With the Democrats being a somewhat less offensive version of the Republicans, it’s still hard to get fired up about this election!  I mourn for my Democratic Party and what it used to be.  These young kids today probably don’t even know what a “real” Democrat is or what a “FDR” Democrat governs like.  We have had many years of Democrats morphing into this Republican “lite” version.  You and your fellow Democrats may be used to it.  I, on the other hand, see no point in two parties that are so closely aligned with business that it’s difficult to see the difference between them.

Knowing that you will fail unless you can generate some enthusiasm with the Democrats, you sent Bill Clinton out to massage the masses.  Bill is so charming and he does make a lot of sense with his argument.  However, when I started listening to him I realized that I wished he was president, not you.  He can talk straight and he seems to have ideas for getting out of this economic mess, which makes me wonder why you didn’t put him on an economic team.  I know your people wanted to keep him out because Bill might take over.  He might shine too strong!  This was supposedly the big reason why Hillary couldn’t be considered for VP.  Seeing Bill makes me wonder what Hillary would have done different from you.  I know she would have used Bill’s talents instead of bringing him out for a failing election to throw a “Hail Mary” pass.  I also know she would have worked tirelessly because it appears that she is doing that as Secretary of State.  She barely took time off even for her own daughter’s wedding!  Bill “gets me”.  He knows how to talk to me and the American people.  Listen to him and maybe you won’t make me feel like a second class citizen with your “buck up” statement.  Bill would have never chosen to coerce me into voting for him with that kind of comment.  He would just lay out the choices in a logical manner that we all can understand.

Here is President Obama looking thoughtful. He needs to use his words as thoughtfully as he appears to be here.

President Obama, the problem you and the Democratic Party has is the fact that we are really “not that much into you”.  If there ever was a love affair, it is long past its prime!  I have to say when John Stewart made fun of Representative John Boehner and compared him to a cheating spouse that wants his woman back but promises not to change, which by the way was hilarious, I was left thinking he could mock you and the Democratic Party the same way.  You have  been sleeping with the enemy on everything from the war to taxes to even education!  That old “merit pay” talk was started by Republicans to kill the teacher’s unions.  It’s been enacted by you, supposedly a Democrat.  You can probably tell I’m a bit edgy about all of this.  I “bucked up’ a long time ago when I started writing down my thoughts and determined that I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the party left me!  My dreams of a party that will make this country strong again have been shattered.  I still dream for the future of our children as I will always keep “hope” alive.  I just don’t believe you when you say you’ve done so much and there’s more to do.  It sounds too much like when GW always used to say, “It’s hard work.”  We all work hard in this country.  You chose the job and spent a lot of money trying to get it.   I say President Obama “buck up” and quit your whining.  The American people deserve better and they deserve to have their dreams kept alive.  We will vote for the Democrats, if we think they’ll do everything they can to keep our dreams alive and attainable.  Right now, most real Democrats aren’t too sure about that.  The main thing you and the rest of the Democrats have going for you is the sheer fact that the Republicans are worse!

Education and Poverty

  • Posted on September 27, 2010 at 9:18 pm

In recent times there has been much in the news about our ailing public school system.  Much of the blame for what is wrong with education has been placed on the quality of teachers.  The push has been to reward “good” teachers with merit pay and to get rid of tenure.  This push has been coming for some time now as the teacher’s unions are the last big unions that need to fall like all the rest.  I say this as systematically over the last thirty years the unions have been taken down to help business profits.  The first major fight was during President Reagan’s term when he fired all of the air traffic controllers.  I suspect there is more going on with education than just poor test scores.  I think there are many variables, poverty is one of them, and the lack of personal discipline is another.  However, there are many students that are performing remarkably well in these public schools.  In school it seems to be a system of feast or famine.  You either get it or you don’t.  The question is why?

I watched most of the MSNBC “Education Nation” Sunday  There were around 200 teachers at the event.  I found it interesting.  This was more of a discussion about the schools with no ready answers for fixing the problems.  It was an opportunity for these teachers to use a microphone to quickly express something that might be on their minds about the latest of what many felt was an “attack” on them.  Some of the younger teachers felt no need for unions and the tenure system which made me think maybe we are failing our youth.  One even had a rep go to meeting with her principal as she had some unexplained problem.  She seemed to not fully recognize the need for the rep that she had witness the meeting she attended.  I’ve worked with many different principals and I must say some are easier to work with than others.  As an art teacher some recognize my talents while others may or may not value what I do for my students.  Tenure allows teachers the opportunity to speak about issues without feeling the threat of punishment for saying what they think.  When a teacher is trying to make tenure it is more difficult for them to be open about their thoughts as they don’t want anything they say to be held against them.  Tenure also allows a teacher to feel a sense of “ownership” with the community.  It gives them the freedom to buy a home without worrying about summarily being dismissed without probable cause.  The unions do more than discuss money and benefits as well.  They push for smaller class sizes, professional development that is worthwhile, evaluation standards, as well as many other factors that relate to the successful education of students.

All unions in our country helped to build the middle class.  It should be no surprise now that all of the unions have fallen in stature that we are back to record poverty levels.  Even if you were not in a union, your pay was affected by the unions.  As the unions bargained for better pay, health insurance, and other benefits this brought up wages in other areas as well.  When there were more jobs, it was all about supply and demand which was good for workers.  Now that many jobs have gone overseas the strength of the unions has also been diminished.  Many people that have lost their jobs in their fifties are very worried about their future.  They don’t know if they will be able to compete in the future and whether they will even have a job in their future.  If the government really is concerned about education, they will do everything they can to fix the problem with poverty as well.

The interesting part here is the whole idea that education is failing.  Education is failing for the economically deprived as there is a direct correlation between poverty and education.  I am not saying that the poor have a lower IQ.  What I am saying is that they may not have access to the same things that help with a standardized education as the middle class and more affluent students.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out if the poverty rate has risen, chances are education will fall.  There have been many studies done with SAT and ACT scores.  Obviously, the students that come from affluent families have access to a better education.  If the federal government wants to really fix education, they need to do two distinct things first.  The first thing they should do is combat poverty and the second thing is to stop testing with the emphasis being on the middle students.  The tests are not set up to test for excellence but for proficiency to a minimal level.  Diane Ravitch is well known in education circles.  She was a big proponent for NCLB.  In recent times she has changed her mind about NCLB.  This is form wikipedia.

While she originally supported No Child Left Behind and charter schools, she later became “disillusioned,” and wrote, “I no longer believe that either approach will produce the quantum improvement in American education that we all hope for.” In the major national evaluation, 17% of charters got higher scores, 46% were no different, and 37% were significantly worse than public schools, she said. High-stakes testing, “utopian” goals, “draconian” penalties, school closings, privatization, and charter schools didn’t work, she concluded. “The best predictor of low academic performance is poverty—not bad teachers.” [8]

Ravitch said that the charter school and testing reform movement was started by “right wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation,” for the purpose of destroying public education and teachers’ unions.[9]

As far as the SAT and ACT scores are concerned there are many students that perform very well on these tests today, exceptional really.   My nephew had a perfect score on his SAT as a junior.  He grew up in an upper middle class family where both parents have college degrees.  It is obvious that his background of affluence helped him with his education.  He has traveled extensively and hasn’t wanted for anything.  His needs and wants have all been met.  He didn’t have the struggles that a child born into poverty has to deal with on a daily basis.

Students that are in a state of poverty don’t have access to the same opportunities that a student from middle or upper middle class has let alone a student growing up in wealth.

While the public school system has tried to balance out the short comings based on the issues of poverty by offering free and reduced breakfast and lunch, it can’t provide all of the needs that a typical student has.  Even the state of Michigan went through a big change in funding for education many years ago to try and equalize the disparity between the rich and the poor school districts.  While this has helped, there is still a huge disparity in per-pupil state funding between schools like Bloomfield Hills and Ann Arbor and let’s just say everyone else.  The figures are actually lower than this link as we have had some cuts.  However most districts are getting a little under $7000 per pupil spending while Ann Arbor gets over $9700 and Bloomfield Hills gets over $12400.  These are big disparities.  It means the schools that have more money can set up better computer and science labs and provide other special programs and technology that may not be affordable to the other schools.

I have noticed in my own art classroom the huge discrepancy between the students that have what they need and those that don’t.  The divide seems to be getting only larger.  Students seem to have a lot or they have very little.  There isn’t much in between.  Students that have a lot tend to go on vacations, have computers, have their basic needs met and even their “wants” met.  These children have access to all that school life has to offer because their parents can afford the extra things they may need.  If they want to go to things like music camp in the summer, there is money for these things.  This is true even in sports as many schools are moving to “pay to play” programs to help with their budget shortfalls.  The student that doesn’t have much doesn’t always come to class fully prepared.  It might be tough for them to even be fully functioning as a student as they may be worrying about the tough times going on at home.  It is difficult for these children to consider the high cost of college because they don’t necessarily see how they are going to pay for it.  I’ve noticed in that divide that students either get what your selling or they woefully don’t get it.  There isn’t much in the middle any more.  They either kind of know how to study and learn or they are frustrated with learning.

In our school we are trying to create a professional learning community and to encourage students to think about going to college.  This too needs to be addressed by the federal government as the cost of going on to college has sky rocketed in the last fifteen years or so.  My son left college with a mountain of student debt.  He isn’t alone.  Many students today cannot afford the high financial cost of that college degree.  The colleges have decided that the best teachers are those that get published, so often times your college student may be paying those high fees for a graduate student teacher that is barely older than the student!  I don’t know if that is really the “best” education can do at the college level.  However, a college education is a fine thing, if you can afford it.  How sad that our country has come to this degree of separation between those at the bottom of the ladder of economic freedom and those at the top.  If we are to fix education at all levels from pre-school through college, the area of poverty and the high cost of continuing education must be addressed.

Students born in to poverty are not necessarily getting their most basic needs met.  Education can only become a priority to them as their parents and the community see the value for those students.  For years we have had business in the schools preparing the future children to become their little worker bees.  Business now says they want more educated worker bees as the jobs that they used to want to prepare these students for have gone overseas.  Now we are told we need students with more math and science skills to compete in this “global” economy.  Arne Duncan was on Oprah and said that our global ranking for going to college used to be number one and we are now number nine.  I kept thinking what does he expect?  When the cost of college can run $20,000-$30,000 a year and up, what really does he expect?  Is a child in poverty going to magically get some scholarship that pays for everything?  There is no magic for that child when it comes to a college education.  We can try to create magic in school for them in the K-12 system but if they go home to a hopeless situation, how will we change the mindset?  How will that child succeed?

We have much information as teachers as to how children learn from learning styles to how the brain works.  However, there are so many other factors that have to be addressed that we aren’t hearing much about.  Unruly children can disrupt any classroom environment and make learning tough for all students.  Discipline is a problem in a classroom where a child that doesn’t want to be in school, comes to school.  My son lives near Chicago.  The amount of violence directed at children is truly disturbing.  We have all witnessed and discussed the “bullying” that some students are receiving to the extent that they cannot even function and perhaps choose to stay home rather than face more abuse.  This has to be addressed as well.  I know from my own experience that at our school we have different programs that we have been using to try and stop this behavior.  Today there are so many more new ways that a child can be bullied and these can have lasting effects on the child.  It’s difficult to get control of this.  A couple of years ago a student at our school filmed special education students out on the playground and then posted these on Youtube for her friends to laugh at.  These were discovered and she had to take them down but it was extremely disturbing.  She wasn’t even supposed to have a cell phone or video device with her at school.  However, some students tend to do whatever they can get away with.  This cyber bullying is really a whole new world that some children have to figure out how to survive.

In many ways students today are faced with so many more challenges than we adults have ever had to face.  I wrote about my own experience as a child and compared it to today and I think it’s worth reading.  It’s titled, “An Uncomplicated Youth”.  In it I express my feelings about what is really expected of students today.  It’s a lot more complicated than people realize.

At my school some subjects have been pushed down to the eight grade curriculum from the high school because the expectations for graduation have gone up.  This means that exploratory classes like art, gym, home economics, wood shop and technology are being phased out.  These are the creative opportunities for these students.  These are the places where students can have more hands on learning which is so important for personal growth.  Our eighth grade students have been job shadowing for years.  When I was in eighth grade I was mostly just having fun, not worrying about my “career” choices.  We have truly pushed our children to grow up fast.  With this push is another problem with education.  Some students just aren’t developmentally ready for all of this stuff that is being pushed down from the high school.  Some are way ahead and can handle it fine.  Others sometimes cannot follow the math and other concepts that they have to learn.  I feel sometimes like we are telling these students to hurry up and go and now STOP.  I think there is a lot of frustration caused by this constant testing and getting ready for the Big Test.  Some how the money is tied to the test scores, if you score well you will get more money which is kind of moronic and you won’t be put on the list of schools that could be taken over by the state.  With no doubt there is “teaching for the test”.  The problem with this is it is just a test.  There is no long term study that tells any of us that if a student performs well on this particular test they will be successful in life.  Last year I read over one of the language arts stories on the MEAP and looked at the questions.  It didn’t’ make any sense.  There were so few questions that I couldn’t see how the questions told the test maker much of anything about the child’s ability.  With the deep emphasis on this testing comes much teaching for a test rather than teaching for true learning.

With merit pay for teachers, regardless of how it is structured, there will be much emphasis to perform on one particular test.  It could be a bad day for a student or maybe they have test anxiety.  Regardless of this, there is no retake.  We all know that if you have the money you can retake tests like the ACT to get a higher score to help you get into a better college.  This isn’t so for these tests.  Now these tests do not mean the child will be more successful in life.  They simply mean the child passed the test that the state has chosen for them to pass.  As an art teacher, you can probably figure out that I think far too much time is devoted to learning how to take a test than for learning how to think!  These are my feelings.  I wouldn’t want my child to be testing continually when he could be learning new concepts instead.  A lot of time is spent on test taking.  Students take practice tests.  A significant amount of time is devoted to teaching them how to take a test.  If we want students to really excel in school I think we have to do far more than take tests.

Today it is a struggle to get some students to really want to read.  Occasionally, books like the Harry Potter and Twilight series come out and children get inspired to read.  However, most students aren’t all that interested in reading and rarely choose it as their leisure time activity.  There are still many that do read but I think there are far too many that don’t.  They would prefer to play video games, surf the net or play sports.  Reading becomes a past time that many just don’t do.  We have to instill a love of reading that many of us had as youngsters and still love today into our children.   If a child is struggling with reading it’s going to be felt in every other subject.  I really feel the key to much of what ails education lies with the reading level of our children.  On the “Education Nation” show I heard a teacher of high school literature say that she was getting students with a fourth grade reading level.  In order for these students to perform at a higher level they are going to have to elevate their reading and comprehension level.  Some of this is probably a lack of  “at home work” from parents.  When the child is young and just learning to read parents have to help the teachers with encouraging reading and listening to their child read.  If this doesn’t happen, a child can fall behind quickly.  I know in families that value education much emphasis is placed on buying books, reading to their children and even the parents reading as well.  If this isn’t happening in a home, it is difficult to make that time up in school.  A teacher cannot possibly listen to every child individually on a daily basis for long periods of time.  There just isn’t enough time in a day.  It’s tough if you come from poverty but most communities have public libraries that are very supportive with youth programs and are free.  The schools also have libraries and students must be encouraged to read at all levels of education.  I know the big thing now is to have a Kindle or an Ipad and read your books that way.  However, for me, I still love the feel of a good book in my hands.  Students today need to be taught to value books as much as their cell phones, computers and other techie items.

Where I teach I witness teachers that give up time after school to work with students, buy treats to reward students, and purchase items for their classrooms to encourage students.  I see many trying to create relationships with students so the student will feel “special” like someone really cares about them.  I don’t hear a lot of bickering about our school.  There are concerns about discipline as an unruly child can suck a lot of energy out of a classroom and I do occasionally hear about that and even express my own concerns as well.  I feel like the staff in general where I teach loves their jobs and tries to do what’s best for the students.  I noticed with this poll that many people think there are problems but when it gets personal about their own school many give their schools a higher grade of an A or a B.

I don’t think education is a one size fits all proposition.  I think every student has different strengths and needs that should be addressed.  Just as we as adults are not “cookie cutter” people, we cannot expect our children to all perform at the same level at the same time.  Some are beyond their years and some need some special mentoring but all children do deserve a quality education and I want public schools to be the place to get it.  With this systematic privatization of public schools, I am concerned what the final outcome of all of this will really look like.  I want a nation of thinkers that don’t always conform to whatever the government expects of them.  I want a nation of people that have realized their own potential through education and can use their talents to be the best they can be, so we have a stronger country and a well informed electorate.  As an art teacher I value individuality, creative thinking, thinking outside the box, and looking at things a different way; not pre-determined by some government mandate.  I am frustrated that the push is for science and math when there is so much more that should be done.  Everything around us has been designed by someone.  The arts are important for the creativity of future products just as science and math.  If you value the aesthetics of your home, car, clothing, jewelry, dishes, just about everything, you need to think about the art and design that went into these items.  Art is all around us and yet it is disrespected by so many in education that just don’t get it.  I hope the arts don’t get lost in this push for raising test scores.  Sometimes things of true value cannot fit on a computer scan sheet by filling in the bubble with a number two pencil!

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