Monday, September 28, 2009

lack of kindred spirits?

My stepdaughter is in fourth grade at the public school in our area. My wife and I are increasingly negative about the school and the school system. In line with, for example, John Taylor Gatto (Dumbing us Down, Weapons of Mass Instruction), bell hoooks (Teaching to Transgress, Teaching Community), and Parker Palmer (The Courage to Teach), we see the public education system as fostering a lot more obedience, conformity, indoctrination, alienation, and selfishness than creativity, bravery, critical thought, knowledge, emotional wisdom, and ethics. The principal and the teachers seem to do a lot of work towards just getting students to do what they're told, memorize things, stay put, etc.They read stupid, apolitical books instead of great literature and don't discuss anything serious. They give top math students, like my stepdaughter, a greater quantity of the same busywork as everyone else, rather than actually paying attention to the special needs and gifts every kid has. We wrote twice to her teacher last year about the insulting homework and how it was killing her interest in learning; the letters were completely ignored. All of this is geared towards making children into the workers that managers want so that companies can make more money or so that NPOs and government can keep serving the interests of the privileged. 

This year, her teacher is opposed to recess, but sends the kids out because she has to. If it's someone's birthday, it's celebrated during recess so as not to take time away from lessons. I don't know what her damage is; she's been out of teacher's college only two years. What do they teach? I thought it was pretty well known that the younger you are, the more your cognitive development depends on exercise - including games, sports, musicking, and dancing. How can she see being locked inside a classroom sitting at torture devices (also know as "chairs") while having their minds numbed without breaks a good thing?

But she went to U of M. U of M is an old-boys' club in a lot of ways. It's not too surprising, really, that the teachers' training is, too.

So, my wife and I have started asking parents if they see things like this at all. It's been very disheartening. So far, no one has defended the public education system. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, many parents (and teachers) wish that the schools were teaching more of those skills that make capitalism go. They're like this either out of fear of poverty or because they really don't understand about how typical public schools deaden the spirit. These are the people who think that the single hour of music per week that my stepdaughter gets in school is fine or too much. It would be harder to disagree with them if the music program was any good. A lot of adults have deadened spirits, clearly - not that we didn't already know.

A large number of people say that they agree with much of what my wife and I talk about. However, they have an "oh, well, we're stuck with this, so what's the point?" attitude. I sympathize; I feel powerless often, myself. Still, you can try. And we know from history that grassroots activism can be very effective.

These two groups of people (and the ones who think the system is great) are the ones who get very excited about standardized tests and are dead-serious about the need to do well on them. In Michigan, starting in third grade, every kid does a standardized test called the MEAP (I don't remember what it stands for). The higher a given school's average on this test, the more money it gets from the state. Talk about helping those who need it the least! No one is protesting this; everyone is just playing the game so we'll get the funding. This seems to be the only option to most people. How can people stand up for this as principals and teachers? It's despicable.

My wife and I don't know what to do, either. We can't get into the charter school because we're too low on the waiting-list. We can't afford private school. We can't home-school because we're both full-time students, ourselves. We can't get many other school parents to talk with us. I've met one set of parents at our school who agrees with us. Maybe we can talk more with them.

For now, we're worried about our stepdaughter. My very brilliant and mature wife made it through public school and into college only by the skin of her teeth because so many teachers were out to put some people (including her) down. Straight up class-prejudice. Our stepdaughter is reading way above her grade level, but didn't get a high score on her third grade report under discussions of readings. It's probably beneath her. Who's looking out for her? Who's looking out for the discouragement girls receive to stay in math, starting in junior high? Who's looking out for all the black and latina/o kids who face the subtle operations of racism every single day? Who's standing against the corrupt school funding structure?