These examples are not bullshit. (I only post from work, so I apologize for the delay in replying). This is a very specific school district in a very specific city, under a very specific administration with principals and assistant principals that my mom works with every day; not things that I saw on the Web or read in the paper.
This has been an ongoing topic of conversation between my mom and me for the last 5 years or so. We both agree that there are terrible policies in force. On the bright side, this summer my mom finally got the transfer she wanted to another school. Same city, same school system, but with a principal and staff that is not quite so bad. She feels like a new woman, actually able to teach the kiddos a little.
Last week, I told my mom that I wanted to post these examples on the internet. She asked me not to mention the city, given the fact that thousnds or tens of thousands of people could be reading this, most certainly in her city (it’s a big one). Given her tendency to challenge policies and not sit by quietly she said that they would know in two seconds who was behind the spread of information that has to be extremely embarrasing to the school district and the administration. She’s already walking a tightrope with the system, and still has 10 or 20 years before hitting retirement age. She could easily get fired or “reassigned” (public education can be very political). I will keep my promise to my mother. If that causes some to disbelieve me or think that I am exaggerating, so be it.
My mom was only one of a very few white teachers/staff at this school. I don’t know offhand the exact number, but we’re talking less than five. I don’t think racism is a factor. Except when aimed at my mother by parents.
And yes, the rules against teaching in the classical sense of the word are strictly enforced. No spelling, no handwriting, no workbooks, and no math tables. Math is supposed to be taught be playing ‘math games,’ not by memorization. They do get a six-week course in civil rights, so they can learn all about MLK, Malcom-X, you name it. They may not be able to actually learn to read the material, but they certainly hear about it over and over again.
Overall, teaching becomes sort of a cat and mouse game with some of the teachers trying to teach the ‘forbidden’ subjects on the sly, so that higher administration doesn’t find out. My mom does this a lot.
Here’s some more policies to chew on:
Teaching to the Test
Whenever a city or sytem-wide evaluation is coming up, the teachers are supposed to prepare the students by using the actual test. My mom actually has the test in her hand for a month in order to get the students ready to pass. If they don’t pass, the teacher gets blamed (but the students can just take it again until they do pass).
Parents can sign their kids up for free lunches. There is a salary level for acceptance, but it is never checked or enforced. In theory, if a child does not qualify for a free lunch, then the cost is 10 cents (remember, this is an inner city school where everyone is assumed to be from a disadvantaged background). So far so good.
However, the school sponsors afternoon snack time where students can purchase popcorn, chips, cokes, and stuff for 75 cents, of which most kids take advantage. So the policy seems to be if you can’t afford the 10 cent lunch, you qualify for a free one, but then you can spend 75 cents for snacks. Go figure.
Students get a free breakfast. Note I did not say they can get a free breakfast. The policy is that every student gets one whether he/she wants it or not. My mom said she’s never seen so much food get thrown away, much of it untouched, by kids who have already eaten at home.
Also, the administration did not want for the kids to have to come to school any earlier, so they took first period and turned it into ‘free breakfast’ period. One less class period in which to “facilitate learning.”
For those of you who think corporal punishment is no longer in effect in public schools, think again. It has to be administered by a principal, or witnessed by a principal if done by a teacher. Of course my mom, being white, can not commence to whack on kids who misbehave, but most of the black teachers have a bullshit tolerance level of zero when it comes to insubordination or cutting up. A number of teachers have told my mom just to send the kids needing a whack to them, and they would take care of it.
I, personally, am not anti-corporal punishment in theory (I’m talking a swat on the butt, not a beating). But I suspect I am in the minority, so I put this forth as an example that y’all may find surprising and wrong.
The instances I bring up only are from lower grades. I have no idea what policies may be for junior high or high school.
These examples come from a specific school system. Other systems may be the same, may be worse, or (hopefully this is the case) much better. I make no universal claims. I do believe, however, that stuff like this goes on much more than what “we” would like to think. We who went to suburban schools, or private schools, or even city schools years ago, I think have no idea what is going on in our inner cities.
My mom went into teaching in order to teach learning disabled or otherwise disadvantaged kids. She has a special certificate (over and above a regular teaching certificate)that took her two years of full-time school just to learn a method for reaching out to ‘special-needs’ children (I forget the name of the program, I’ll have to ask her). What she sees is very depressing for her. Not only on the educational side, but just the situations these kids are in. Fathers in jail or unknown. Mothers are crack whores, and won’t come up to the school for their kids sake no matter what. A number of times my mom hasn’t called on parents to come get a sick or out-of-control child because she knows the kid will get beaten at home by a mother who is infuriated that she has to be pulled away from her soap operas or such.
This is a whole generation of kids that this school system and administration is throwing away on their ivory tower theories of education. I have tried very hard to be factual and not get preachy. I figure this will start a debate, but I say if a parent wants a child to get out of a situation like this and go to a better school and at least have a chance, then they should be allowed to do so. And if that requires a voucher, so be it. How many parents can sit by and just let their kids go down the educational drain?