Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Clarification of Yesterday

I was just going to put this in the comments of yesterday's post, but I realized it was going to get a little longer than needed for a comment. First, thanks for the compliments, although I'm not entirely happy with that piece yet. It doesn't flow as well as it should (oddly I'm mildly obsessed with the rhythm of my writing despite my refusal of standard poetry) and I really wanted to express a few things in a little more interesting fashion, but then I've always been frustrated by how limited the the ability of my fingers or tongue translate what I feel in my head is. It's part of the reason I pretty much stopped writing for years before taking up this blog.

Second, there wasn't any critique of the subject intended in yesterday's prose poem (my only poetic tendency). Instead I conceived of it as a rather neutral portrayal of people I'm familiar with but with whom I've never identified. Teaching helps you learn that education isn't for everyone. The type of kids I'm talking about there will never need an education beyond enough math for personal finance and enough reading skills to read the paper. They're miserable in school and they'd be miserable in jobs that require a college education. Sure, you see blue collar types who regret the path they've taken or hate their jobs, but that's the same for educated people as well.

I'm dubious of schemes that call for all children to be educated equally. Not everyone has the ability, need or desire for it. What good are we doing forcing them to work at subjects that are only going to make them feel inadequate when they won't benefit them in the future? And despite what most of us were taught, not taking your education to its fullest extent isn't something to be looked down upon. Sure, it's a shame when someone with the ability and desire falls through the cracks like some of my students too bright for the future they're headed for, but what's the shame in working as a welder in some machine shop when the work is something you like and when you're happy to bring home enough to provide for a family, but not necessarily living in a huge house with a luxury car in the drive. I'm happy to not have a huge house and a fat wallet, but I'm not sure I'd have been happy without education. I long to continue it even now when doing so doesn't bring with it a huge advantage in career options. It would have been a melancholy tale for a kid like me or Courtney to never have made it to college, although I admit that after having actually worked in a machine shop as a teen, I would have actually been happier with the work than most of what I've done since.

Meaghan's right that we need these types of people, but they also need to be allowed to take those paths without shame or pity. We should encourage those with the academic ability, especially those pairing the ability with desire, to further their education, but I think we're wasting the time of a large portion of population who find no personal fulfillment in education and no realistic benefit in education to the level they're forced to attempt. Instead of expecting kids in danger of dropping out to learn Trigonometry, they could be working on job skills that will help them make more money in the future. In Georgia, they're changing the curriculum so that every high school student takes college preparatory-level classes regardless of their career path after school with only a separate track for those who will take Advanced Placement track classes. I can't see this doing a whole lot of good to balance out the increased drop out rate I think it will bring. Sure it'll benefit a lot of those kids who shouldn't have been in the Tech/Career tracks by forcing them to see that they keep up with the "smart" kids just fine and perhaps giving them confidence to take their education past high school, but you're going to make it easier for most of the kids in my tech classes to make that decision to head out the door before graduation even easier. Still, in Georgia, taking the tech track wasn't an educational dead end. You're still qualified for admittance to college, especially if you take a path through a local junior college before heading to the larger campus of a major university. The financial barrier has also be significantly lowered here with the HOPE scholarship. I just don't see the point in pretending we're all just as smart as everyone else and forcing kids who just don't have those abilities to try to be something they aren't. We should be willing that not everyone is going to get the deeper meaning in literature, solve calculus problems, or understand the underlying trends that led to major historical developments. Wouldn't it make more sense to identify these students strengths and interests and give them a chance to advance their knowledge and experience in those areas instead of wasting their time the way most of high school does for them now?

As for the puppy simile, that wasn't insulting them specifically. People always behave like animals when acting as a group.


Julie said...

So basically your narrative was a big f-u to the "no child left behind" act. jacob says it's Ok to leave a few kids behind.

And I thought the puppy comparison was brilliant.

And I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you, I just think it would be too hard to discern laziness from aptitude. At what age is it Ok for a kid to decide he is not meant to or does not want to learn anymore?

Jacob said...

No Child Left Behind = Increase the Dropout Rate.

Laziness is irrelevant. If they don't want to work at school, find what they're willing to work at and work on that. There should be some sort of system to make up for those who grow up and change their mind, but just because you're smart enough doesn't mean you have the interest.

You shouldn't hold back the gifted and motivated for the slower and less interested to keep up and you shouldn't waste the time of those getting no practical help for their future. There's always the educated voter argument, but face it, a large portion of the population is going to stay stupid and ignorant no matter how much education you try to shove down their throats.

Jacob said...

Actually, yesterday's piece didn't actually have any deeper purpose except to step back and take a different look and people who are often ignored.

Mickey said...

I think people are missing the point here. I read the first post as a simple, and poetic, observation of life, with no judgments made within it. The neutrality is what made it poetic, if that makes sense.

I agree with your analysis of the system that insists that all students be pushed as hard as possible onto the college track. It's not for everyone, and that doesn't mean that a person who opts for a different path isn't good enough. Everyone is different, with different interests, aptitudes and ambitions. One size fits all only really works for one size.

Meaghan said...

Jacob, I absolutely agree with you on this. And I have yet to meet a teacher who support the No Child Left Behind thing fully. It's great in theory, but in its implementation, it's crap. I will add that so much emphasis shouldn't be placed on test-taking as well. I'm not that great of a test taker, but as a day-to-day student I can kick some ass - and that's what it takes to get through college.

But for the record, I got that the first post was simply an observation. The good thing about reading someone's observation is that you can make your own analysis of it. That's what journalism should be - an observation - and the reader should do the interpreting.

Chris said...

I agree students shouldn't be pushed to the college track. But I also see Julie's point. If we took it so far as to, say, not require public education at all, I think we'd see more people embracing their lazy tendencies earlier, leading to higher unemployment, lower work force productivity and a much worse "welfare state" than we already have.

I agree the original post was effective as a judgment-free observation, and that's what made it so good. I also liked that the writing was perhaps a bit raw, or not as well-rhythmed, as you said.

My first instinct was to view the description of the students negatively, but then I realized that was my interpretation and not the language that produced that.

sid said...

My dad teaches at a high school in a disadvantaged neighbourhood. There the kids do Maths literacy instead of Maths since the government realised that very few of them would actually pass Maths. The problem with this is that they wouldn't be able to get into university with Maths literacy. And there a few of them that would like to become doctors.

Oh you Americans say Math right?

Jacob said...

Sid, I do think what I was talking about can be taken too far as well. The line to higher learning should always be left open, but let's be honest, not everyone who wants to be a doctor can or should.