Sunday, October 04, 2009


I have kept at The Human Stain because, despite the author's insistence on using stream-of-consciousness writing to express his character's inner thoughts at times even though the third person narrative had adequately performed this task. It's a good story and I want to see how it ends.

The main character in the book is a college professor of the classics. That means everything Roman and Greek, including the language. I came across a passage and it shot straight to the highest part of my soul that loves learning while at the same time the part that laments the state of education in this great country of ours.

Before I reveal that, let me tell you what happened in my own town. Our school superintendent was asked by a parent, why raise the bar? In fact, you can read the story, and her response, here.

I thought, why raise the bar, are you NUTS? That is not even a relevant question. The only question we should be asking as parents and as a community is, how do we get every student to the very highest level of academic achievement? Okay, maybe there are more questions, such as, how do we challenge the students who are already at a high level, and how do we raise everyone else to that level, and beyond? What's important is that every single student perform at their absolute best, no exceptions! Seriously. Anything less is PATHETIC. LAZY. UNACCEPTABLE. I'm amazed that a question like that came from a parent. Another question might be, how do we get parents to get off their lazy behinds and demand more from their kids: hard work, accountability, and better manners while we're at it?!?

So, I've got this idealistic vision for education that involves a community of teachers and parents working together to make sure that every student is performing at their very highest. I also know that it's all about as realistic as fairies and elves doing a little dance across my keyboard right now. That's where I am as I read The Human Stain, when all of a sudden, WHAM-O. I read this:

"In my parents' day and well into yours and mine, it used to be the person who fell short. Now it's the discipline. Reading the classics is too difficult, therefore it's the classics that are to blame. Today the student asserts his incapacity as a privilege. I can't learn it, so there is something wrong with it. And there is something especially wrong with the bad teacher who wants to teach it. There are no more criteria...only opinions." -----The Human Stain, Philip Roth

Hot damn and hallelujah, as my grandmother used to say. Eureka, as the forty-niners (and the Greeks but it looked more like Εὕρηκα) used to say. That's very true, don't you think? I'm not trying to take you down the primrose path where everything was better back in the old days. But there is something to that paragraph. Things have changed to where the pressure is off of the student to work hard and instead, easily accept defeat when faced with challenging material.

That's not to say that teaching methods and materials haven't experienced a declined or serious defects. The great progressive educational experiment, among others, has done more than its fair share of damage to American children since the early 20th century. Eschewing phonics for whole-word methods of teaching reading, for example, left perfectly capable and bright schoolchildren in the darkness of incomprehension. What I think is telling here is that the student used to be accountable, and now, they are not. To whom does this failure point? We are talking about children here. Children who learn very well what they are shown. Parents! The answer is, parents, and they should know better.

Some parents (like whoever asked that question) don't want to be bothered with their child's education. Some might say, that's what teachers are for. If that's your argument then you must also believe that all learning is confined to the classroom. Then, taking that further, homework shouldn't matter. That MUST be why a percentage of children don't do their homework on a regular basis, and why the parents do not help with homework nor discipline their kids to do it, or even talk about the importance of it in the home. Declining grades, test scores, and now Iran has the nuclear bomb! (Maybe. But most likely.) Who can say that it is no wonder that America is in decline when it comes to education when we dumb down material and test out ridiculous theories at the expense of real children who do not appreciate being treated as test subject guinea pigs.

And then there is the social aspect which lets people off with their feelings, not to mention parents who would rather be friends with their kids than do any actual parenting. It makes me want to insert hot pokers into sensitive areas in order to wake those people up. Hello! Did you not realize it was going to be hard to be a parent? Sorry to tell you, but it is. Too bad, now deal with it.

I know a mom who spends hours each night helping her child do homework. She goes above and beyond because she cares. Sure, she could watch tv instead, or do ANYTHING else, because who wants to spend so much time on homework? But she cares, and I respect the hell out of her for it. There are many parents who care and who foster a sense of responsibility in their children when it comes to school and instill values. I'm talking about those who don't, and they suck.

They suck because it teaches kids a lesson in the worst way, that school doesn't matter. It teaches kids that they don't have to listen to authority - their teachers - and that sets a bad example for the future. And heck, it sets up a pretty bad scenario for themselves, if they think their kid is going to grow up and not realize they don't have to listen to them, either. After all, kids learn what they have been taught. To look at it a different way, it's not even realistic, because homework is supposed to reinforce what was learned during the day. The higher the number of times the brain is exposed to something, the more likely it will be to recall the information at a later time.

Of course not every teacher is fantastic, but they are also not magicians. They need our help to instill the lessons taught at school. Our kids need us to be strong and teach them valuable lessons that will endure throughout their life: hard work and accountability will always serve them better than laziness at a difficult subject.

So, buck up! Do the right thing. Encourage your kids to work harder, dammit. Don't accept anything less. Be the example you wish to see, and all of that.

Focal shuas. (Word up, in Irish.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

All I can say is, "Amen, sister!"