Thursday, January 14, 2016

Why So Many Don't Learn

It may be hard for those who themselves went to good schools but who haven't recently been inside a school building while classes were in session to understand why so many kids, especially kids in our urban schools, can't seem to get a good education despite the fact that taxpayers spend tens of thousands of dollars each year on each of them.

Indeed, the government of my state of Pennsylvania is at a budget impasse right now because the Governor wants to raise taxes to spend even more on public schools, thinking that that will improve our students' education, while the legislature refuses on the grounds that lack of funding is not why kids are not receiving the education they need.

Well, then, if it's not a matter of money, what is the reason so many of our young people seem to pass through our high schools with their minds only minimally improved by the experience? Some people, typically conservatives, blame teachers, while others, typically liberals, blame the lack of spending, but neither of these answers, in my opinion, gets to the heart of the problem. The reason that so many students come out of our public schools as ignorant as when they entered is because so many of these kids live in dysfunctional families, reside in dysfunctional communities, and carry the consequences of those dysfunctions, as well as their own dysfunctional behavior, into the school with them.

In the environment created by these students - and their parents - teachers can't teach and those students who do want to learn are seriously short-changed by chaotic classrooms. School authorities are either complicit in this or, if they really want to change it, find themselves hamstrung by laws and regulations that thwart them from removing surly, foul-mouthed, and disruptive students from halls and classrooms.

To get a sense of that to which I refer read this article at The Federalist by a high school English teacher in Baltimore named Dana Casey who describes a typical day. I urge anyone reading this who is planning a career in education to read Casey's article in its entirety.

Her article is summed up nicely, I think, by her concluding paragraphs:
On my way out of the building, I see a group of fellow teachers chatting, and I join in. We have little time with each other and are mostly isolated in our classrooms. The group is talking about yet another teacher who has quit—walked out in the middle of the school day.

That is the sixth teacher this year to quit, from a staff of around 60 teachers. Half of all new teachers don’t make it past the first year; more leave before year five. This particular teacher already had 12 years of service in, but just couldn’t take it anymore.

Chaos can do that to a teacher. Every day this week, some teacher was crying. Even I cried one day, and I am not usually a crier. Exhausted, I climb into my car and wave at a few students as I pull out of the lot. Tomorrow, I will do it all over again, as I have for the past 23 years. Maybe.
Young people have to be taught to value education at home. They have to be taught proper behavior and respect at home. If a substantial number of students come to school without having been taught such things, even if they're not the majority, they will turn their school into an ineffectual bedlam in which few will learn much of anything. The reason our schools are failing is because too many families, fragmented and indifferent to the values their children need to do better in life than their parents, have already failed.