It wasn't until I became a teacher myself that I realized what a great education I received. Of course, I didn't recogize it at the time. What student ever does? Like my peers, I was convinced that my teachers were giving homework assignments just to torture us, and that they were quizzing us over and over on boring information for no other reason than to make us miserable.
At some point between the day I graduated from high school and the day I first walked back into the classroom as a teacher, the educational system in this country took a hard and deliberate dive right into the toilet.
I'm not even going to get into the issues with classroom discipline or administrative red tape--that's a topic all its own. What shocked me more than anything was how watered down...oh hell, I might as well just say it..how dumbed down the academic curriculum is in this country. Students are not quizzed anymore, not like they used to be. They are not forced to learn names and dates and rules of grammar by rote memorization.
No, these days, learning has to be fun. Teachers are brainwashed into believing that they have to make a game out of the lesson in order for students to learn. These days, being a teacher is more like being an actor or a stand-up comedian. Teachers are evaluated on how well they are able to perform, and how engaging they are to their audience...um...I mean their students.
One of my friends, and former colleagues, posted links to two articles on Facebook today, and it was these articles that inspired today's post. You can read the full articles here and here if you like. One section in particular caught my eye, when writer Alexander Nazaryan recalls his days as a teacher, and how he forced his students to memorize facts, read difficult pieces of literature, and then quizzed them over and over on the information. "I apologize for none of this. Princeton researchers have found that making material harder to learn 'has been shown to lead people to process information more deeply, more abstractly, more carefully, and yield better comprehension, all of which are critical to effective learning.'"
Why then are we coddling our students, and turning our classrooms into three-ring circuses? Why are we sending our students home without textbooks? Why are children no longer required to spell correctly or diagram sentences or learn facts by rote memorization? And what the hell ever happened to phonics?
It really hit me that something was wrong when I began teaching college English and discovered that over half my students were not able to write an analytical essay or use basic punctuation correctly. Yet somehow, each one of these students managed to get promoted through elementary school and graduate from high school without ever mastering these skills.
So, am I shocked that a top-performing New York City high school is under investigation for doctoring grades and transcripts?
No. And I would bet my life savings that it is happening in every city in America.
What can we do to stop our academic decline? That's easy.
We need to start valuing education again. We need to start giving our hardworking teachers the respect (and the paychecks) they deserve. We need to start holding our children accountable. Parenting is a difficult job. You have to be the responsible one. Always. Even when it makes you unpopular. But don't we owe it to our children to lock up the cell phones and video games and turn off the televisions and the Ipods if that is what it will take to get our kids to start learning again? If instilling a good work ethic and teaching the value of a good education to my daughter means that I'm a "Tiger Mom", so be it. One day, she will thank me for it.
Today's 365 Project is dedicated to all the wonderful teachers I had the pleasure of learning from as a student, and all my fabulous colleagues who continue to fight the good fight.