Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Jumping Right In...

Been looking for something to get this thing jumpstarted, and I think I found it at Rachel's Tavern:

Do you have any political stances that would surprise people who don’t know you? If you are a liberal, do you have an issue where you side with conservatives? If you are a conservative, do you have an issue where you side with liberals?

Somethings should come as no surprise--I am stereotypically Southern in some ways. I'm not into really restrictive gun laws; I'm the daughter of a gun-toting father, a man who has always told my sister and me, "If in trouble, shoot. I don't want you carrying knives, 'cause if someone is close enough to stab, they're too close." And I waver on capital punishment--having a government in the business of killing people, for whatever reason, is worrisome. Then again, the reason I got out of psychology was my feeling that some people can never be rehabilitated. And, if I try to put myself in the victim's place (or the place of relatives/loved ones/etc), I know I'd have no qualms about demanding CP. Pure vengeance or retribution, perhaps, but I'm honest.

I think I surprise people on the issue of education, undoubtedly the result of being a product of and a teacher in a poor school district in Louisiana. Listen to me: MANY OF OUR CHILDREN ARE OUT OF CONTROL and there's very little teachers can do about it. Oh, and before you come at me with the "teacher's just need better classroom management bit," let me say smugly that was one area in which my principal, mentor teacher, and outside observers all agreed I was strong. But I had colleagues who went (and go) home crying everyday, some child having made them seriously consider giving up the career for which they had trained. And parent support/participation? Ha! Try one family at my first year (1999) open house. So, not-so-progressive observation #1, there need to be some consequences for these children and their parents. We can't make them care but we damn well ought to be able to say what will happen if they don't put forth some minimum of effort.

Mainstreaming leads me to not-so-progressive observation #2. Mainstreaming is the practice of placing special needs children in classrooms with regular ed kids as much as possible. Beautiful concept--for too long, special needs students were grouped together with little regard for ability or age and left basically to rot in the "special ed" classroom. But once the federal government agreed to give all children a Free and Appropriate Public Education, that changed. Okay in districts like the one I'm in now--there's a lot of support for special needs kids, assistants and aides to whom they can go when they need additional help or smaller class size. But back home, mainstreaming simply meant that the special ed classroom was taken away and replaced with--you guessed it-NOTHING. It meant that GT kids like me shared lesson times with classmates who were up to 3 years behind and for whom teachers made few accomodations or modifications. Stifling, let me tell you.

And when I was teaching, 5 of my 15 fourth-graders were special needs, pulled out by the circulating special ed teacher for an hour of reading in the morning then sent back to me. Imagine doing six individual preps (reading, language, spelling, math, social studies, science--HS teachers typically only have 2 or 3) then having to modify or accomodate those in up to 5 ways. With no planning period. And a principal who was a stickler for lesson plans. "Find the middle ground," they tell you, but when you have a kid who's doing HS level work in a classroom with one who can't read, they both suffer. And so do you, if you care at all about educating them. So, not-so-progressive observation #2--total mainstreaming needs to be thought about.

Not-so-progressive observation #3: I really don't know what to think about vouchers. Yes, it can destroy some schools, eradicate some jobs. But I've been in schools in which nothing changes, where the old guard teachers, aides, and clerks think "This is MY school and woe to anyone who tries to change a damned thing." Even if it benefits the kids. But a different school won't cure everything that ails education. And if some of the non-involved parents and/or "the teacher is always wrong" parents go elsewhere with those attitudes, bullshit will persist.

So, I'm cynical. Sue me. Parents threaten to do that to teachers all the time.


RachelsTavern said...

I'm with you on kids being out of control. Even though I don't think parents are too blame for everything, I think too many parents try to be buddies with their kids. In my own experience middle and upper class White people are absolutely the worst about this. You see the kids running around grabbing things off shelves in the store, and the parents don't even tell them to stop.

I also can't stand those people who back up their kids no matter what. They make life hard for teachers.

Elle said...

Thanks for the comment. Hope I didn't gve the impression that parents are all that ails education--though working with some of them made me want to pull my hair out strand by strand. The buddy thing is right on point--while you see it w/middle and upper class white people (and Lord, in the situation you describe, I've seen countless black women shake their heads and hiss "If s/he was mine..." including), i mostly got to see it with young black parents who were determined to take their kids' side at all costs b/c 1) they were so wary of the Noth LA education system from their own experiences and 2) many of them were so young, they still had grudges, as in, I remember how Ms. So-n-So or teachers in general act/treated me. Throw that in with a few white parents (largely poor because the richer ones got their kids into private and "Christian" schools in the area) who weren't so eager about their kids having a mid-20 something black teacher (though many black parents assumed white teachers were inherently better, too) and voila! A recipe to make Elle run screaming from the school--well, that and the absolute poverty. No playground, health textbooks I'd used 15 years before, purple ditto copies, buy your own everything and you may get reimbursed--etc.

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...