High Schools: "I'm against Them!"
Earlier this month, I was tagged to do the "I'm against it!" meme. Heck, I agitated to be tagged for it. =P Of course, the second I was "in" was the second I realised that I didn't really want to write something for the Catholic blogosphere. But what to write, then?
Today I had my answer, when I came across this video . . .
Okay, so this speech could have been more nuanced.
Look at it this way:
she's an eighteen-year-old girl
from the generation that gave us Emo;
and she probably has post traumatic high school disorder.
We can cut her a break.
If you're having the same trouble with audio on your computer as I am, you can read the entire transcript here:
Here are some of my favourite quotes:
There is a story of a young, but earnest Zen student who approached his teacher, and asked the Master, "If I work very hard and diligently, how long will it take for me to find Zen? The Master thought about this, then replied, "Ten years." The student then said, "But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast--How long then?" Replied the Master, "Well, twenty years." "But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?" asked the student. "Thirty years," replied the Master. "But, I do not understand," said the disappointed student. "At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?" Replied the Master, "When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path."
This is the dilemma I've faced within the American education system. We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective.
This really, really hit home with me, because the President of the Philippines has just suggested that Filipino students should have two extra years of basic education. The idea is to bring the national school system up to the world's standard of twelve years of basic education.
My first reactions were: relief that I was no longer a student; disbelief that young people are going to lose an extra two years of their lives to pushing pencils and paper around; disgust that "the world" seems to think it takes twelve years to get a supposedly basic education; and anger that people with no relevant experience teaching in a classroom are making these decisions. Or in short: WTF?!?!?!
I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contend that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer--not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition--a slave of the system set up before him.
I'll disagree with anyone who says, "Marriage is just a piece of paper," but I don't know if I can argue with someone who suggests that institutional high school education is just a piece of paper.
Yes, it can be more, if the student is interested enough to have an educational life outside the classroom and is savvy enough to integrate classroom learning with real-life learning. But that doesn't always happen. Students are conditioned to think that what happens in school should be their Number One priority. And if you've ever grounded your teenager for bringing home a poor report card, thereby disabling him from pursuing his extracurricular interests, you know that what I'm saying is true.
We are more than robotic bookshelves, conditioned to blurt out facts we were taught in school.
My own favourite quote about teaching goes: "Education is the lighting of a fire, not the filling of a bucket."
But the image of "robotic bookshelves" is freaking gold. I think I just might have a new favourite . . .
Demand that the excuse, "You have to learn this for the test" is not good enough for you. [sic]
And this is where my experience as a high school teacher comes into play. For I am guilty of saying that very line and of helping perpetuate the system that makes such lines necessary.
This is what it looks like on the other side of the Faculty Room door . . .
A high school teacher isn't really an educator in an institution dedicated to learning; he is a record keeper in a bureaucracy dedicated to crafting standardised assessments and computing grade point averages. I learned that the hard way for two years.
In short, it was all about the grades. Which was difficult for me at first, because I didn't start caring about my own until I was in uni. I coasted through high school with a B minus average--not because I couldn't do A-level work, but because I had other priorities. So when my students started stressing out--really stressing out--at the grades I was giving them, it took me a while to see what the big deal was. They're just grades, right? (Bwahahahahahaha!)
Yet even as I thought my students should be more laid back about their grades, I was a hard marker. I didn't give A's unless I thought the assignments deserved A's. In my class, students who had been getting straight A's for years were getting B's again--or the first C's of their lives. Their parents were up in arms. (I thought one mother was going to have a stroke. "Why does my daughter have a C+ in your subject? She speaks English fluently!!!")
My superior had a chat with me about this, and we concluded that my standards were way too high. Given what my students had been used to during their previous three years of high school and the fact that I was still learning the system they knew pretty well, I had to accept that I was in the wrong about my marking system. So I adjusted it accordingly and hardly ever handed out another C. Well, why not? They're "just grades," right? =P
But it didn't stop there. For the greater issue was not that students should be graded fairly but that teachers should have their asses covered. I think I spent more time recording, computing, encoding, and double-checking grades than I did working on lesson plans, evaluating assignments or just interacting with my students. Grading sheets are hard evidence that students have
Basically, high school is one big bubble of busy work. Parents send their children there so that teachers can make them jump through hoops and grade them on their jumping; the teachers pretend that the jumping and the grades matter in the real world; and universities play along by demanding the jumping scores before they even consider admitting applicants who might be independently intelligent.
For me, the pressure not to fail students--even those who deserved it--was incredible. Perhaps someone plagiarised 95% of a major essay. No way to sweep that under the rug. But did I really want to be the bad guy who ruined her shot at a good university and pretty much the rest of her life? And think of the emotional scars she might carry for life! Okay, get me a broom; I'll do some sweeping. After all, they're "just grades." (What a double-edged sword, aye?)
The few students who did get failing marks were those who had nobody in the faculty room to make appeals for them--and no student ever flunked out without first pissing off a substantial number of teachers. And don't think they didn't know how the system worked: one of my biggest "scandals" involved being hauled in front of the principal because a student who hadn't done very well in my class believed that I was out to get her.
So, anyway . . . Institutional high school? I'm against it!
An extra year or two? I spit on its grave!