Thursday, May 15, 2014

more thoughts on education

Some of you might have seen the story about the teacher (in Detroit, I think?) who was fired for using a broom to help her break up two students who were fighting (and who were, apparently, larger than she was). This kind of thing is a lose-lose-lose-lose situation for the teacher:

- the notification system (some kind of intercom) was apparently broken, so she couldn't follow "official procedure"

- if she got in there physically, she could have been injured badly, and/or fired for touching a student

- if she did nothing, she would have been excoriated for "not being caring enough to break up a fight"

- if she used something to try to break up the fight, she gets fired and thought of as insensitive.

You know what? These kinds of stories put me on the point of saying, "Let's just end compulsory education in the US. You don't want to be in school? Fine. Don't go." And also: "You make it so kids who want to learn can't learn? You threaten other kids, you destroy school property, you constantly disrupt class? You're gone. Sorry. Education's a privilege, not a right, and you just lost that privilege."

Of course, we'd also have to somehow overhaul the welfare system so those folks who DO want to go through 12 or more years of education don't wind up supporting a group of illiterates who can't hold down a job. There needs to be some kind of incentive for people to make sure they can more or less take care of themselves as adults rather than expecting someone else to.

But when I hear stuff - and I've even heard stories from the kids at church and their parents, even here, in our fairly little rural district - about kids who make it so it's hard for other kids to learn, or make other kids feel unsafe going to school, I just want to say "Throw 'em out. Throw all the jerks out. Make 'em dig ditches or something for a living."

As a college prof, I'm somewhat lucky: if someone were to get very disruptive in class (it's never happened yet), I can tell them to leave. And if they don't, I can call security (and it's an online system, and we test it monthly to be sure it works) and have security escort them out. I wouldn't do that lightly - a student disagreeing with me or questioning me on something, I'll engage them (especially if the question is something pertinent to class material) and talk with them. But if they were to get too in my face, or actually threaten me or one of the other students, nope. They lost the privilege of being there.

I don't know what the world would look like with compulsory K-12 education ended. There are probably a lot of bad unintended consequences I've not thought of (In some districts, apparently, part of it is to keep the troublemakers off the street, and the last thing I want are packs of "bad kids" roaming through town during the day looking for stuff to do, which might include looking for stuff they could take and pawn). But when kids who WANT to learn are having a tougher time of doing it because some kids in their class are being jerks, and there's little the teacher can do, something's broken.

Oh, I know an "easy" answer is "That kid who wants to learn should be homeschooled" but not all families can manage that - either they feel they lack the level of education themselves, or both parents work, or there's some other factor (like a special-needs sibling who requires a lot of time from the parents) that prevents it. Or sending the kid to private school is not always possible - the nearest Catholic school here is an hour's round-trip commute, and a parent would have to make that with the kid every day. And tiny little kids shouldn't be sent away to boarding school, I tend to think. Perhaps in some cases the family could move, but that's not always possible either.  And at any rate, it seems like once again, the burden is put on those trying to do the responsible thing rather than on the irresponsible parties.

Perhaps it was always thus but it seems of late there are an awful lot of kids who don't respect any adult, or, more often, their parents teach them not to respect any adult, and when the kid gets in trouble at school they claim their kid is being unfairly targeted. (as much trouble as kids can get into at school. When I was a kid, the idea of "expulsion" was whispered about among the kids, but I can't remember ANYONE being expelled, not even the kid who exposed himself to the Home Ec teacher and the entire class).

And yeah, I guess kids to get thrown out of grade schools now, but it more often seems to be something like the little boy who draws a World War II scene where the soldiers have guns (which I would argue is normal and healthy for a little boy to want to draw; that's just how little boys are. Little boys who draw war scenes generally grow up to be normal men, not criminals; my brother, who is now involved with the ministry, drew war scenes and giant-robot-battle scenes as a kid) than the teenager who screams and curses out his teacher in front of the shocked class. Or discipline is applied really unevenly, so the Boy Scout at a suburban middle-class school who forgets and brings his pocket knife to school is in huge trouble whereas the kid fighting with another kid in an inner-city school is largely ignored.

The thing about teaching college is there are penalties that can (usually*) be made to stick - you can throw someone out for breaking certain rules. Like plagiarism. Or cheating. Or even being really disruptive in class.

(*I say "usually" because one of my colleagues who teaches one of the graduate level classes is having to follow up on something - apparently he busted a student for plagiarizing, and at grad student level, that's grounds for expulsion. But then this guy 'walked' at graduation and allegedly got his degree. So I don't know if it was done as a face-saving measure or if this guy had friends in high places or what.)

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