Monday, May 11, 2009

Schooling

Just finished reading Logical Mommy's post on student performance after high school, and I think she missed one very important point and did not emphasize one point strongly enough.

First, it's important to understand that many students should not be in the grades that they are in. Simplifying that further: if a student is "supposed to be" in 6th grade, but is performing at a 4th grade level, then maybe, just maybe... they should be in 4th grade. Maybe promoting them just because they "passed" is not the appropriate maneuver.

In school, it's always easy to tell the kids that aren't in the correct grade. They're always smaller than the other students, usually be a fairly significant margin. It's the sixth grade boys, usually, who are a shade over four feet nothing. They should not be in sixth grade, and it shows: their performance in academics, in the arts, and in physical education is markedly behind the other students. I can always tell those students by the art displays hanging in the art wing of the building: unlike the other students' creations, theirs look sloppier, less-thought-out, and worthy of elementary school instead of middle school. (It's not indifference; that's easy to tell. It's lack of maturity and ability to handle the task.)

Musically, those students also stand out. They lack the coordination of their peers and always show less skill on their instruments. It's not entirely limited to boys, but the numbers skew that way. The last statistic I read said something like 85% of special education students are boys. The worst thing that the George W. Bush administration foisted on this country was the "No Child Left Behind" Act, because it says that schools' funding is directly related to how every single student performs on the standardized tests, including those students who are severely handicapped and have severe learning disabilities.

Think of the special ed kids that you grew up with. You knew them: the kids always acting up in gym or shop or art, because that was the only class you had in common with them. Now realize that your children's school funding from the government depends on their performance on the tests.

But, I digress.

If students were more accurately assessed and were taught grade level appropriate material, then the school system would likely work better. That might mean that some students do not graduate high school until they were 21; that might mean that some graduate at 16. There are social issues to work out (such as the 14 year old in sixth grade, hanging with 10 year olds who are smarter), but I think that, long term, those are less than passing a kid through school then acting surprised when they are incapable of handling normal college work.

Which leads me to the emphasis on the last point, namely parenting. I come back to a statement that I make frequently: a person of average intelligence is simply not very smart, and half of the population is below average. The "bell curve" exists for a reason: half of all parents are below average parents.

We would be best served by requiring "parenting classes" when students start kindergarten. Let's put forth a couple of postulates to argue about:

1) Your child is not your friend. They might be, later in life, but when they are under 18, your job is NOT to be their friend.

2) You are going to piss them off on a regular basis. That's your job. Your job is to tell them to turn off the television, hang up the telephone, turn off the internet, and get to work. It's time to do homework, read a book, practice their musical instrument, whatever. If they have no homework, your job as a parent is to FIND some for them to do. Quiz them on a chapter in their history book. Argue an interpretation of their English book. FORCE them to think.

3) Sports is NOT that important. If your child is spending four hours every single day at practice, then all day on Saturday and Sunday at games / meets / whatever, and if they aren't getting their homework done and are exhausted all day at school, then, guess what? They can't handle sports. This isn't true for all kids. Some can handle it very well. If your kid can't handle their homework, housework, family responsibilities, AND the travel team, then one of those things has to go. Join a rec team, join an intramural team, or take them to the track to run around in circles for 45 minutes a day.

High school sports is severely dysfunctional. I'm not going to get into that now, because it's upsetting to me. But, the problems are getting worse, and those problems are extending into middle and elementary schools. When parents are attacking referees because of something that happens in a peewee league, then the system probably needs to be blown up.

4) Punishment is NOT the answer. Punishment doesn't do anything. Instead, when you remove privileges, provide a set of criteria - a rubric, if you will - for those privileges to be earned back, along with consequences when it doesn't happen. "You will earn your video game system back when you bring me five test grades of 'A.' You will earn your cel phone back when these chores are completed for two straight weeks. When the chores are missed, the counter resets to zero; this means that the cel phone will be taken away from you until such time as we reach two consecutive weeks."

Then - here's the hard part - you have to stick to it. Are there times to allow exceptions & exemptions? Yup. They are called "special occasions" and should be special enough to warrant a change in behavior.

Anyway. Off the soap now, because it's 11PM and I'm tired.