Are we really educating them here???

February 6, 2007

I have not always been a teacher. Matter-of-fact, I spent many years, in my youth, as an anti-teacher, that kid in the back of the room. And, I spent many years in the USAF. This past experience allows me an unusual perspective on the profession and the current state of affairs for our children.

First, as a whole, most of the teachers I know are caring professionals who have nothing but the child’s best interest at heart. Many of them sacrifice a great deal of their own time and money to see that their students get their best effort. Second, many are beginning to feel very burdened. They are tasked with attempting to teach in a system that no longer focuses on that relationship…..

The most obvious of these new focuses shines a light on, what many see as a real problem, accountability. While I agree that it is desirable to attempt to ensure that teachers are getting the subject across, making sure that all children succeed is not the way. Not every piece of wood can be made into heirloom furniture. And wood doesn’t have a mind of its own. Not every dog is willing to be leash trained, although most are. Further, the dog that is incorrigible may never cooperate enough to be so trained. But, dogs do not have the strong will of a child and teachers do not have the authority of an owner. While there are deadbeat teachers out there…the admission must be that there are deadbeat students out there too.

This brings us to No Child Left Behind. Wow, that makes such a great sound bite. Doesn’t make a very good law. Why, you ask? Because sit doesn’t take into account the fact that some student may choose to stay behind. Why would anyone choose that?? Why indeed?? But, even the Bible states that the poor will always be with you. The poor doesn’t just include those who cannot do, but those who choose not to do. Those who truly cannot help themselves must be helped. The others…….

This brings us to inclusion. It is a great idea. Include all students in the general student population. But, in fact, it may not work out so good. How much is education supposed to cost?? No teacher, and many have 30 or so students per classroom, can be all things to all students. Yet, the Special Education laws insist that they continuously modify their lessons, assessments, and tasks to accommodate every student. Many of these students need individualized care that that the teacher doesn’t have the time to provide. So, a paraprofessional or additional teacher is hired per classroom to help facilitate these new students. This goes a long way toward doubling the cost of each classroom. But, does it double the success of the students….sometimes. Many times it merely adds another layer of authority and gives the bureaucrats a great number to bandy about. They have increased spending in Education….yeah, but much of that money is spent on people to administer the programs, not teaching the child.

Education is a very unusual field. You do not have to prove that your idea is actually viable, you just have to get legislators behind a new trend and you are a success. Never mind attempting to see if our children actually know more. Oh yeah, according to almost every possible comparison to students in other countries they are not. No, we are attempting to make education painless and comfortable for all. Hey, do you remember when learning was hard for you??? I sure do. I am constantly asked by students to prove that the subject at hand will be needed later in life, which is a foolish argument at best. I cannot prove it. I cannot begin the argument on that level. So, I ask them to tell me exactly what they will need to know. I ask them to tell me how a teenager can possibly know what they will need to know 20 or 30 years from now. Then, I tell them that the effort is more to teach them how to think. How to imagine a solution to difficult problems. For, if you mess up the solution on a sheet of paper with a pencil it is no big deal. But, as an adult many times you will be faced with life-changing problems that can have grave consequences…..and, you had better be able to think clearly when the time comes.

Along with the new “included” students comes a large number of rules and regulations that indicate exactly what the teacher must do to accommodate these students. Many times the student isn’t allowed to become frustrated or challenged. They are expected to be treated just like always but in a larger setting. How does this help them? Without challenging them to attempt things they may fail at how can we ever know what they can do? More importantly without challenging themselves how will they ever know what they can do?

Does inclusion prepare them for the real world?? Probably not. They will not have their own personal teacher or instructor. They will be expected, like the 3-legged dog, simply to keep up or be left behind. Most often the 3-legged dog does keep up, or even lead. If they learn to struggle, and succeed, in the classroom where it is safe for them, imagine how much better they will do once the safety net of the school is removed. If the 3-legged dog had everyone feeling sorry for it and bringing its food to it, does it become stronger, hardly. More often than not, it learns to be a cripple. What happened to being proud that our child is able to do things that others thought impossible?? No, today we attempt to accommodate……without regard to the pain and agony that the crippled suffer later. But, hey maybe it is easier to give into the struggling child than to stand by providing a safe place for them to fall. The net doesn’t make the trapeze easier, just safer. That is the true role of the adult in the life of a child.

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