Friday, June 15, 2012

Photo: Because people want things without the work ...

This is so true. (Sorry if the full image is not shown, but the idea is that we used to hold students responsible for their grades, but know we blame everyone, but the student.) With the way schools are currently set up we are teaching the kids how to take standardized test so the school can keep getting federal money and so the student do well on entrance exams. They don't actually teach them a curriculum especially math and science. Our kids are not learning actual information or critical thinking.  We are now being out done by countries that our own student don't even know exist because we don't teach things like geography because schools are too concerned with keeping their funding. The kids don't actually learn information and critical thinking skills that will make them better, more productive workers.
The test used to asses a schools performance have no consequences for the individual students taking them. They have no personal incentive to perform well. It doesn't matter to the student if they do poorly on these exams. The person directly affected is the teacher. The idea is that if student do well on their standardized test then that teacher is doing a good job. If a student has nothing to lose personally why would they care what happens to the teacher. We are placing blame for poor student performance on the teacher alone. Both student and teacher need a way to measure a teacher's performance that does not hinge on the results of a test that students don't care about. Then the schools cut every course and teacher they can. Kids end up in huge classes and have no exposure to the arts or physical education. Studies have repeatedly shown that kids that study music do better in school in all areas of study than their counter parts. We also have kids that are completely out of shape and increasingly obese. They are not taught how to live healthy lifestyles. The average kid spends up to 8 hours in front of a TV or computer screen. Student that maintain a healthy lifestyle also do better in school. A student that hasn't learned any knowledge or how to express their thoughts properly they will have a horrible time in college. Then they graduate and enter the job market without any independent thinking skills and are buried with debt. Then the cultural shift of parents that teach kids that others are responsible for their bad grades rather than teaching them that they have to work and think on their own in order to do well in life. We have parents that constantly tell their kids that they are perfect and are not responsible for their own education.
 I already know there are people that will say that I just want to see more federal money to go to schools. Not necessarily. What we need is to stop spending money and time on standardized test to measure the performance of public schools and divert that money to things that have demonstrated to result in better, well rounded students that have knowledge about a wide range of ideas and the skills to express them. They need to learn how to solve problems with a variety of knowledge in their mental toolbox. Employers value workers that are creative and can use seemingly unrelated knowledge to develop ideas and strategies and solve difficult problems for their employers. They also need to understand how to take responsibility for their ideas and work performance. This is one area where I agree with the conservative ideals of going back to the way things were. We used to be the leaders of the world in all areas of study. Now we are being dominated by tiny countries.  Perhaps we could follow students’ academic performance in college by reviewing the transcript of those that completed a college degree, and then also look at the academic performance in post graduate areas of study. I don’t think what the student ends up doing for a living and how much money they make. This would not work because large numbers of people end up working in fields that are seemingly unrelated to their careers. Many people are valued employees because they have a different academic background than their fellow employees because they bring new and creative solutions to problems. Also, things can happen in a person’s life that forces them to explore careers that they had never even considered in college.
 I speak from personal experience. I have a degree in psychology. It was about half way through college that I realized that a career of being stuck in some basement lab at a university doing studies and constantly being under pressure to publish as much as possible because the university expects to have their institutions thought of as a place where lots of studies get done. The truth is this leads to poorly executed studies that have gross flaws because they are rushed and put the scientist in a position where they must choose between doing the job right and yielding solid data and analysis or pleasing the university by having their institutions published as much as they can. Being a professor became an undesirable option. My other option was to become a therapist. I did consider this a great deal because my friends have always say that they enjoyed talking to me because I am a good listener and gave them ideas that they felt were good. I have always wanted to do something that helped others. The problem was financial and an issue of the amount of time and competition it would take to become a clinical psychologist. All therapists face the same obstacles, but I had my first attack of what would become chronic pancreatitis when I was a junior in school. Because this illness affects me on a daily basis with chronic, intense abdominal pain and nausea, I had to make changes in my diet and am required to take large amounts of medications, some of which have side-effects that sedate the patient and cause the patient difficulties in memory, speech, and appearance.  The effects of the disease cause unpredictable attacks of pancreatitis which result in several days to over a week of hospitalization plus bed rest at home.  Because of the physical demand that I know faced I knew that I would not be able to devote the amount of time and performance that a competitive doctoral program would demand. It turns out that the disease resulted in becoming disabled.
 If I had attempted a Ph. D. program I could have done very poorly or I would have to abandon the effort all together in order to treat my disability that consumes large, unpredictable absences from my obligations due to hospitalization, home rest, and numerous doctor visits. My doctors and I knew that this disease would continue to progress and never be cured. After college I took a job as a snowboard instructor as a way to make money while doing something I love before my health deteriorated further, rendering me unable to perform physical labor. Because my absences became more frequent and unpredictable my employer did not know what else to do other than drastically cutting my hours. It finally ended when I asked off for about a week because I had to have a procedure performed that would require days of recovery and I had to return to KY to attend my grandmother’s funeral. When I brought up the topic of when I could return to work my boss said for me to take leave for and undetermined time and to not return until I “Got better”. Because this disease is irreversible that meant that I would not be able to return at all. Since then I was forced out of work and lost my private health insurance. So, out of pure necessity I had to go on Social Security Disability. This left me out of work and the work I could get had to be able to accommodate my health care issues and to keep my income below $1000 a month or else I would become ineligible for SSI. If I did get a job that paid higher I would have to try to get private insurance which is next to impossible because I would have a “pre-existing condition” and unless I became a millionaire over night I would not be able to afford what insurance might be possible or to pay the huge amount of money my disability cost.
By this point you are wondering what this has to do with education. Well because I grew up in a time when students were taught actual facts and information. I know how to solve problems creatively because between music education and an understanding that it is up to me to figure things out for myself I developed the skills to adapt my knowledge and creativity into useful approaches to careers that are not in the field of psychology. I discovered that the knowledge I gained through my education made me a better employee at every job I have had, because I have a broad foundation of knowledge and skills to draw from. No test will demonstrate that. Especially since the tests did not affect my pursuit od higher education. Now that I am stricken with an illness that dramatically limits my opportunities I have had to use my education to figure out something I can do. While working as a snowboard instructor I had to teach student starting from the age of five to full grown adults. Because of psychology I understand the different ways children learn depends on where they are developmentally and intellectually. I knew that I had to be creative in my approach to teaching such a diverse mix of students. This was incredibly rewarding on a personal level. To have students tell you what a difference you made for them personally demonstrated that I have to ability to adapt my approach to a variety of problems through a solid base of information and critical thinking. Because of this experience I believe I would be an excellent “regular” teacher. I had consulted a vocational rehab counselor that was unable to think of any career that was flexible enough that I could continue to work despite my very demanding health concerns. It was me that realized that I could use my skills I developed in my life to become a teacher. I know I will never get rich, but I would be able to make a living and contribute to society. As a teacher I would have the luxury of substitute teachers that could cover my class if I am incapacitated by my disability. I would have access to health insurance. That is as long as the provision of the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare) that prevents insurance companies from denying me coverage for my pre-existing condition. While I explore how to make this happen I plan on applying to become a substitute teacher myself. This way I would not have to come in to work if I am in the hospital or severely ill. They would call the next person on the list. I could keep my monthly income low enough to maintain my SSI coverage and still make some money and feel as if I am providing a service to my community rather than feeling like and being perceived as a dead beat that is draining the system.
If I did not have the education and sense of responsibility that my pre-education reform provided me I would be stuck in a horrible position and no ability to change it. I have the knowledge and creativity to solve my problems rather than blaming my misfortune on my teachers and school. By training teachers to teach “to the test” rather than teaching knowledge and problem solving skills we are robbing out children and country as a whole to continue to slide down the scale of academic performance in relation to much smaller, poorer nations. We have the resources to fix this problem. We need to invest in proper education because it translates into economic success for generations to come.  Conservatives want to cut spending on education because we are getting poor results. That is all the more reason to redirect the way we spend money for education and to increase education spending if we were spending it on a system that got results. Perhaps if we changed the current situation of tax breaks, loop holes, and subsidies for those that can afford to do without them and to invest in the reform and increased quality of our educational system we could look forward to economic growth and greater opportunity for our children so that they can lead us to a brighter future.