Public Schools Are Teaching Garbage
I settled into the bus’ bench-seat in a sideways, semi-twisted position so that my knees wouldn’t press into the back of the seat in front of me. I don’t know why, but I kept my backpack on–as did most of the kids that I now sat among.
“Who are you?” a head-gear-wearing small girl from an ancient world boldly asked.
The children filling out the surrounding benches, all bundled up for the cool mid-November school day, pretended to not be interested in this most odd of scenes.
“I’m a new fourth-grader,” I answered, dryly.
“No, you’re not. That’s a lie,” she promptly replied.
“Yes, I am,” I said. “It’s just that I am from another planet,” I began, and pointed the finger at the end of my long arm to somewhere far outside of the window of the yellow school bus. “And on my planet, the people grow big quicker,” I explained, looking her dead in the eye, waiting.
“People can’t live on any other planet,” she rebutted.
This comment unleashed great discussion among the previously silent audience.
“Well, my planet is farther out there than the ones you know about,” I clarified, proudly.
“I can name all the planets,” began the third-grader to my left–behind me, rather–“In order, starting at the sun.”
I thought, “This is fantastic.” But I only smiled on the inside.
“Mercury. Venus. Earth. Mars-”
Before he could finish, someone from my right–the front part of the bus, that is–added, interrupting, “-Pluto is NOT a planet.”
This began a near cultural revolution–albeit a bloodless, stationary one–as the children had now become engulfed in the great cosmic debate of their era.
All the while, the girl stared piercingly.
And that’s how my day at A-‘s elementary school began.
The rest of this post–save one humorous, colorful vignette–is meant to encourage you to likewise spend an entire day with your child at school. Here’s what I witnessed.
Teachers had no idea what to do with me. A-‘s own teacher didn’t even greet me. Neither the first time when I smiled robustly and waved a circular open-faced wave as I entered the building in the line with the children, nor the second time when I asked her where I could sit for the day as she came into the room.
She didn’t greet me. (Probably a cultural misunderstanding.)
Let me back up. H- is a bright girl. I work very hard to make that so. It has nothing to do with her school. Of this I am certain. The school begs to differ, of course. My proof is simply all the stupid kids not named H- that the school doesn’t “take credit” for.
Additionally, I want to say that every single time I talk to one of my peers, or one of my parents peers, they all tell me, “Calm down. The schools are fine. If you do a good job at home, H- will be fine.” And every time I hear this, my insides scream out, “BULLSHIT! The schools are not fine.” But no one ever listens. So I finally decided to see for myself which one of us was in error. I finally decided to see just what the schools were doing with our children all day.
To be clear, I went into this event expecting to hear eight hours, minus lunch and maybe two recess breaks, of utter nonsense being taught.
Suffice it to say, I admit now that my expectations were far afield.
It’s not that utter nonsense is being taught. It’s that nothing is being taught. Nothing. To spare you, I’ll just give you the highlights.
8:00. The day begins. That is, the students shuffle around–encouraged by the teacher.
Then a long process of retrieving things begins. It is hard to say how long exactly. All I know is children were in their chairs. Then children were out of their chairs. Then children were back near their chairs–but with a box of their things on the ground beside them.
Then it was time for two students to get the cart that carries the laptops (from somewhere across the room) and start taking it to “Reading.” After some amount of time I joined the rest of the class in lining up to leave this room for another room.
The process of changing rooms took no less than ten minutes.
In the next room, the teacher wore a microphone and low-talked. But this was amplified. My heart goes out to this noble hero as I prepare her nomination for CNN’s yearly award.
The next thing I know the clock says 10:00. I reflected that all that the students have done is listen to one picture book be read by the bionic woman. Oh, and they moved items from one place to another.
They also changed locations from the chairs to the floor and spent no more than “1-2 minutes at a time” picking books to read from the shelves across the room before walking back to their seats. Oh, and they got their laptops from the aforementioned cart and then put them back.
There, they watched a movie–a reward for finishing a big project. Then the teacher played a few students’ compositions on the piano, starting with A- seeing that I was there. Well, she played something on the piano. (In case you’re a lazy reader, nowhere in music class did anyone teach music.)
Gym. Classic sit-ups and push-ups, all done poorly and without any expectation of effort. “Use your ‘I Can’ statements, children.”
Then bowling basics were taught. The child nearest me wasn’t lunging like the teacher taught. To his delight, I broke character and reviewed it with him. For his own part, the never-yet-bowled A- wasn’t stepping with the right footwork. I had his friend help him.
The kid that I helped now limped as he apparently pulled a muscle.
Back to the classroom around 11:45. I’m getting hungry and confused as to why we’re not going to lunch yet.
In the classroom, more shuffling around. More retrieving items from cubbies, or the thing near their chair that they had earlier retrieved from their cubbies, or from this backpack like thing hanging on the back of their chair which holds folders and books. The teacher–or the woman called “teacher” or “Mrs. H-” by the students when people ask them who their teacher is–finally taught one long-division problem.
The clock strikes 12:20. Lunchtime. We headed to the lockers to get our lunches. And coats. What? Well, wait. Is it recess? No, it’s lunch then recess.
“Does everyone eat with their coats and hats on?” I asked one of the kids.
A- doesn’t need his coat. It’s going to be forty.
I put on my jacket.
In the cafeteria, Powerful looked confused as he isn’t sure if he should sit across from me, or at another table. I invited him to join us.
A- asked if he can have one of my cookies. I said, (Faithful Reader–can you guess?) “No. You have your own food and dessert.”
A- then challenged me to a staring contest. I accepted and then beat him by blowing into his eyes. Powerful then challenged me. Not one to back down, I turned and stared into the blankest expression yet painted onto man. Think canvas without Picasso. Think marble without Michelangelo. That’ll get you pointed in the right direction for recreating what I saw in this child’s eyes.
In other words, I knew I was in for defeat. Powerful just kept talking and chewing all the while he never blinked. He doesn’t seem aware that blinking is a thing. I lost, laughing all the while. All the kids were laughing. Then A- accepted Powerful’s challenge. The boys dueled it out. In an uncommon display of raw, primordial force, Powerful kept his blank stare positioned directly in my step-son’s eyes as he reached for his Heinz 57 ketchup packet thing and proceeded to bring it to his mouth and lick out the remaining remnants of the condiment. Powerful maintains his status as unbeaten. The list of contenders with any hope is blank, just like his stare. And probably just the way he likes it.
Recess ended at 1:00.
From 1:10 to 1:26 the teacher, Mrs. H-, taught the children how to discern between common nouns and proper nouns.
Then the students retrieved some composition book from somewhere and Mrs. H- lead a five minute discussion regarding which page the students should have open. Next, she had them fold the right side of the page over a bit to create a concrete margin. Not just one page needed this adaptation–all four pages. Do you follow me? She wanted the children to create a more clear margin on the paper–an area to not continue writing upon–by folding the page back upon itself. You’re still not getting it? Okay. Hold up the page a bit. Can you see the pink line that’s on the back of the page? No? It’s there. Turn the paper over and find the pink line. Okay. Now turn it back over. Can you see how you can faintly see it still? Okay. Thank you. Good job. Now fold the page along that line to create a margin. Right, just like that. But not just on one page. Do that for all four pages.
“Now write your story,” she finally said.
Eventually, they pulled out a textbook. Social Studies. They answered questions about glaciers, harbors, and the word “climate” was mentioned. (If you can believe it.)
Then they split up in pairs. After displaying that they had no idea what to do next, the teacher called them back. Then they split up in the SAME pairs. The two girls next to me learned about the Indians. I took a picture of the page.
Here’s what the textbook said, “In most Native American villages in the Northeast, people shared the land and its resources. They hunted in the forests and fished in the nearby waters. People gathered wild foods, such as roots, nuts, and berries. They also worked together to grow corn, beans, squash, melons, and other crops.”
Under the heading, “Joining Together” the paragraph begins, “At times, Native American groups in the Northeast fought each other. Iroquois legend tells how two leaders came up with a plan for peace.”
If you’re skimming, stop and take note here. The Native Americans shared, worked together, and developed plans for peace.
Okay. Skim on.
I forgot. Sometime before lunch there was also a twenty-minute trip (thirty if you count the line up and shuffle around time) to the most pathetic classroom-turned-library I have ever seen.
At this point you would be right to ask, “What are kids who no one is teaching how to read doing in a library?” Good question. One of them built on a puzzle that was started by someone in an earlier class. Actually, that’s not entirely true. One kid talked to any comers while holding a puzzle piece and sitting at the table which had a puzzle whose border was already completed.
I’m tired. And I was tired at this point. Between 1:00 and 3:00 Mrs. H-, the teacher, stood in front of the class for maybe 30 minutes total. Add another 15 minutes for the amount before lunch.
A- and I walked home.
Aristotle made his students complete Euclid’s “The Elements” using only a straight edge and a rudimentary compass.
The early school houses in America had only slates, books, and desks.
On Monday each child was responsible for at least 20 folders or books (not to mention two or three container/cubby things) filled with ungodly amounts of colored paper and worksheets that will ultimately end up in the garbage. Like, I mean to highlight that the folders and their million sheets of paper–even the half sheets that reduce waste–will be discarded by the end of the year or shortly thereafter. In other words, there will be no lasting evidence that these kids knew nothing. There will be no proof that they were taught nothing.
Don’t misunderstand me. The little part of the day where the children crossed the classroom in pairs to find a spot to read about how legendary Native Americans are worthy of teaching the ocean-voyaging white devils a thing or two about cooperation was really not the deal-breaker to me. Really, it wasn’t. It was like five minutes of eight hours.
Here’s the bottom line: I’m a pilot. We’re rare, I know. But we like to learn and do learn. Or else we die. If you’ve been following the 737 Max story, you know what I’m about to tell you. The pilots crashed because they didn’t learn. No one taught them–some say. “Poor training.” One thing that they weren’t taught–it seems–is decision making. Compartmentalizing. Task management. Fly. The. Aircraft.
Maintaining focus is difficult for everyone, let alone maintaining focus when all the aircraft’s emergency indications are demanding your maximum and undivided attention at once. Our children are being given a million MASTER WARNING and MASTER CAUTION lights. Add a million ADVISORY lights and it doesn’t take a pilot to guess the result. They will crash.
Mrs. H- can breathe easy now. Neither A- nor his dad will be returning.
Yup it is a shock to appreciate the depth and extent of non-education going on in grade schools. A lame defense would be: it has been this way for about 60 years, and we have survived. Yet – ignorance in our current voters can be traced right back to union-dominated public schools. The real problem: creating useful idiots is premeditated and planned. How much smarter and rich in useful knowledge would our kids be if the system put kids first, and not teachers? So – get unions out of teaching. Let good teachers teach. In other words: describe a trend in the USA that will guarantee that China becomes a dominant industry and military world power. Therefore: let’s be ever vigilant and active in quality education.
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Pete, my heart goes out to you. What a difficult road it must be to raise children in today’s world. I personally saw the end result of this at Metro State, where more than you would believe have difficulty reading, spelling and thinking in a logical manner. Original thought has been replaced by the ability to be offended by nearly everything. There is no mystery to the growing numbers of children being home schooled, our educational institutions are failing us.
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What a mind-blowing and eye-opening day in school! I spent the last three years tutoring 6th, 7th and 8th graders. These kids did have trouble focusing as theirs was a special class. But they got good work done, asked good questions (after they’d been taught what was a good question) and gym was outside and active. Maybe we’re lucky to have good schools in my area.
On the downside, none of them could write write. I spent time teaching them how to write their name in cursive so they would have a signature. The curriculum was definitely skewed to liberal. The math was incomprehensible – they learned several convoluted ways to get answers to problems that I could show them how to solve in 10 seconds.
So yes, I do believe we are giving our kids in public schools a second rate education.
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Taking a year off, I began interviewing with schools to see what’s out there. I’m realizing more and more, the kind of teachers I grew up learning under, and the teacher I became, is becoming a rare thing indeed. What do I do? I teach the curriculum, but I also create lessons that supplement where the curriculum is absent or lacking, teach quality writing and reading skills, and get the kids to think for themselves. This last requires that I really know my own stuff. With practical experience, education, research, and thinking, I educate and challenge. I also utilize a simple management system that worked for years (I still remember one principal asking why I never have any management problems.). It’s simple. A few rules (based upon experience and the needs of the class), allow kids to think for themselves, but if they don’t use their heads or are disruptive, then we discuss, and if they don’t listen to simplicity, then there are more rules they have to follow until they learn to listen and behave. Not expecting perfection, but respect and responsibility. That’s why I had no problems. And the kids knew I cared, but the caring came from an understanding of what works.
I went to one interview. I thought this might be the place. They believed in quality teaching, but also student directed learning and research. Okay. I can buy that. Let’s see. As they showed me around the school, I saw active classes (mostly, the kids were working on laptops). There weren’t many management issues. The kids seemed happy. I thought: great. This might be it.
But, I looked closer. I saw kids who weren’t working. Some kids didn’t listen during instructions. There were no upset kids for no one corrected them. I also saw a serious deficiency of writing skills. Again, they seemed happy, but listening to some kids, I wondered what they were learning. I also learned later they weren’t too concerned with the state tests and gave no grades.
At one site, they asked me to demonstrate a lesson (which I think later they liked and wanted to hire me). During the 35 minute lesson, I taught them prepositions, which they all got in 5 minutes (4th grade), including prepositional phrases. You see, over the years, I learned to teach to understanding and remain positive. I knew they could do it, so I told them they would do it, and they did. Then, we began a story writing lesson, all engaged. Just as I had learned to do over the decades. For some reason, their own teacher didn’t seem pleased. I didn’t understand why. And later, at another site, when I observed a teacher who seemed very good, I was later told they wanted to change him. And, regarding the first teacher’s class, I was very surprised (not in a good way) and the serious lack of writing skills. This, I knew, I would have been working on from the first week. As 4th grade students, they should write with proper sentences and paragraphing, which made me wonder how they graduated from the 3rd grade.
Except for this one teacher, I wondered from class to class, where is the adult? I have no problems with self-directed learning, but our youth are growing up and where are the adults to educate and guide? Did I grow up, learn, garner a degree plus, work in many jobs, research, and more simply so the kids could do their own learning when they don’t yet have the information from which to guide? (If I had been told, while growing up, that I was doing my own learning, what would I have done having little experience and knowledge from which to do my research? Why is the adult there if not to learn from?) In other words, why teachers if the kids can research all on their own? They could always stay home and do their work there. My methods have always been, teach and ensure the basics, then teach the curriculum (but supplement when the curriculum is insufficient), and with the information, the students will have learned quality working skills, information, and be sufficiently knowledgeable to pursue their own researches. Yes, some kids are very self-dependent. But most need guidance. And quality teachers, like the one’s I grew up in their classes, are an answer. As a teacher, I utilized more as I understood.
So, why are they not looking for teachers like us? Why have things changed so much? And why are more and more teachers leaving the profession? We get into this for the good of the students. We provide them with the benefit of our learning and experience, then open the doors for their own curiosity and questions as they demonstrate responsibility, effort, and understanding. Then, as they become more independent and self-directed, we observe, guide, and give helpful tips from time to time. But this takes time and learning. And we require responsibility and hard work. We care, but we’re not absorbed by their feelings, for in the work force, no one will care about how they feel. But we care. And we show them by working, focusing on the positive, the problems they have don’ t seem as important, which is a life skill. Anyone who works knows, when you go to work, you leave your personal problems outside the work, and this is a life skill that creates success and reduces problems. What is our focus as educators? Why was America number one in the world when we were growing up?
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Thanks for taking the time to share some valuable experiences and perspectives that we don’t often hear about.
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We need teachers to share their experiences. To bring simplicity and excellence out of the children, a clear understanding of what education is, which I grew up experiencing, though as a teacher, I added what I knew would help the students motivation. Thanks for what you do.
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