Monday, April 25, 2005

School Daze #2

Yesterday I said I would be back to tell you what I see right or wrong about testing and the No Child Left Behind Act. Just to reconfirm what I’ve known since I left the teaching field many years ago, I visited two classes at a District #150 Edison School today. I observed first hand a large percentage of kids who have already been left behind, some will not make it to high school and if they do, they will not be prepared. One older teacher ignored the interruptions of the kids and taught the few kids that were paying attention and the younger teacher spent 20% of her valuable time trying to get the classroom settled down. Both teachers were trying hard to get the class to pay attention and quit talking, but it was like a “wave” at a sporting event. When some were settled down, other started up again and that’s the way it was during most of the classroom period. The younger teacher said she is so exhausted some days she just goes home and goes to bed. It was exhausting to me just to watch how disrespectful many of the kids were. In the older teacher’s class, one kid had to stay out in the hall because he didn’t bring his books to class. Did he stay in the hall? No, in fact he kept coming in and strolled around the classroom, interrupting all he could and even used the telephone until the teacher finally took the phone away from him. Then he looked thru the hall door window or opened and closed the door trying to call attention to him-self. Some kids did not participate in the learning experience. Either just sitting there or throwing paper wads when the teacher was distracted or constantly getting up and moving around. At almost any given time, some kid was trying to distract!! Do any adults in charge of these kids ever come to visit a class to see the disrespect shown by their own kids? I am told these kids are disrespectful at home and carry that attitude into the school building.

I said yesterday, these disruptive students along with kids with high truancy rates, one with 61 absences as of April 19, will all be tested and the class judged by the results of all who took the test. A fair way to test kids in the NCLB? I think not.

I’ve visited enough public schools over the past number of years to see what’s happening and it continues to make me sad and mad. Those supposedly responsible (and there are responsible adults of parents) for their kids, transfer to Edison Schools because they think they are moving from an undesirable school to one where their kid will do better. In actuality, my observation is that many of the kids just transferred the problem to Edison holding back the ones that came to Edison to learn. To change Mr. Henry’s observation from college to grade school, “if students reflected a national boom in love of learning and a prevalent yen for self improvement, America’s investment in the classroom might make sense”.

I read today that 900 new inmates enter our prison systems each day and our prison population is now over 2,100,000. I could probably tag as could most teachers the ones that will be incarcerated at some time in their lives and the ones that will be pregnant, on welfare or both. The kids and the adults responsible for them will blame the “system”.

I’m now quoting from a book I read “Why do so many immigrants succeed? They enter our country detached from a larger society; not hearing the negative messages such as so many Afro-Americans hear – they come with values and goals strong enough to turn their menial jobs into liberation, not servitude. History teaches that energy and inventiveness have with centuries of toil cleared the ground & nurtured the growth of prosperity – what kindles the spirit that conjures up prosperity? The answer is culture, values and beliefs, not economics – poverty is the result of society, not of poor people given more subsidies; the more subsidies, the more reliant people will become”. Why do I bring Afro-Americans into this equation – because 60% of all the kids attending District #150 are Afro-American and approximately 70% are classified as poverty level or below?

Like all professions, some involved in educating our youth do a better job than others. But all are challenged by what they have to work with. It is no picnic to be a school teacher in the public school sector of Peoria. I applaud all teachers and wish I had the ability and “the fire in my belly” to help more with those teaching and working in the educational field in and all those involved in trying to save the public school systems in Peoria. We will always need public schools in Peoria because many of the kids I observe would not be accepted into a private school due to their lack of discipline, a work ethic and a poor attitude toward learning.

How did we get in the predicament we are in? Read William Henry and Myron Magnet. There are hundreds of books, many with different theories touting successes, failures and solutions but these two writers are best in defining the problems with attainable solutions.

If the workplace is where many of these kids are going to learn how to make it in society, someone must teach them to have at least a respectful attitude, to accept discipline, have a work ethic and integrity. That burden by default lies on the school systems. Otherwise why would anyone hire these uneducated graduates and dropouts? Out of charity?? Probably, if we drift further into a welfare and socialist state.

I was a mentor a few years back and when I visited with the then president of the school board to tell her of some of the problems I saw; she denied any problems in the system, yet that very day, I saw two policemen take two bloodied up grade school boys away in handcuffs. The problems we are having have been long in the making and the community without community leadership understanding what was happening and Dist. #150 took a large step backward when a weak school board hired Dr. John Strand as administrator. I believe we have a stronger board today and I wish Ken Hinton the best in mending a partially broken and bruised system.

When I moved here in 1975, I felt Peoria was in a state of denial. It didn’t want to bear the label of a blue collar town and denied the poverty of the underclasses. I feel the same way today when the advances some Peorians are proud of are the planning and building more enhancements. I wonder if many of the shakers and movers of this community have ever made an unannounced visit to a classroom and observed the disrespect and poor attitude of so many of these children and listened to the frustrations of the teachers. Enhancements may distract attention away from our flaws but they will not cover them up. GOODSCHOOLS, DECENT PAYING JOBS AND PUBLIC SAFETY ARE THE THREE MAJOR KEYS TO GROWTH AND STABILITY IN PEORIA11

I know the new administration is making progress and that I appreciate. Even though many of the kids are being bused to the school door, once they enter and are disruptive and refuse to learn, the very best administrators and teachers have a very difficult role in satisfying the federal government requirements of NCLB.

A few years ago one of my more wealthy acquaintances said “Merle, why do we care what happens to those who don’t make it in school and life? There are enough kids like my own that will supply the leadership in the community. I answered that we must bring everyone along to support and respect society or your kids will be dragging a lot of baggage when they are older. (Like maybe 3 million incarcerated at a cost to society of somewhere around $30,000.00 per each per year, plus a huge welfare system). My remarks gave him pause.

I have studied problems and solutions to the PSS for the past 11 years and have accumulated quite a lot of files. In these files lie the solutions but the problem as I see it is there is a lack of coordination and support from the leadership of the city. (I understand that Mrs. Royster is still on two or three major boards here in Peoria. Someone correct me if I’m wrong). Maybe I’ll be less sad in two or three years although it may be easier to bring democracy to Iraq than to bring several generations of family failures into family successes in our community.

I have attended many summits and strategic planning sessions. In these meeting, we identified most of the problems and successes. Now we need the talent and will to coordinate, organize, be inclusive and transparent and act swiftly.

I’ll be blogging more on the subject of “School Daze”.


Anonymous said...


Amen, Brother! I send my kids to a District 150 school and I EXPECT them to get straight A's. (They are in elementary school, and I don't think that one can get by not fully understanding each and every subject. When they reach high school, a B - or whatever their "best" is - in physics or calculus would be acceptable.) If there is a problem, I get in there and help, or find someone who can.

My children know that if their teacher called with a discipline problem, their lives would be miserable until their behavior was socially acceptable and respectful.

Yet, my kids are happy, joyful creatures. They are not overly stressed or fearful of their parents or authority figures. Their teachers tell me they enjoy having them as students.

I think this is because they are being raised with equal parts of love, affection, expectation, and discipline. They are the children, my husband and I are the adults. This gives my children a lot of security.

Think about how scary life must be for the children acting up in class. The boy who wandered in and out of the hall, picked up the phone, made it is goal to disturb the class... how insecure and scary his life must be, when at a such young age he is given the freedom to reign and behave as he likes.

Remember when you first learned to drive? Remember how powerful you felt? Remember how scary that power felt until you knew what you were doing?

Imagine giving a nine year old the keys to the car, and without any instructions, saying, "Here, drive." How terrifying for the kid... and society!

I think children act out because they want to know an adult is there to catch them when they fall or make mistakes. They want to know that they are sheltered enough so that they can be kids.

The kids disrupting were probably really saying, "Put me in my place. Don't allow me to behave this way. Let me know that you care enough about me to not allow me to be self destructive."

A counselor once told me that she was raising her kids in a sheltered environment. The goal being the same as a plant in a greenhouse. By providing a strong shelter the plant develops very strong roots, and it is much more like to survive and thrive outdoors when transplanted.

I shelter my young children. I shelter them from media, and television that isn't age appropriate. I shelter them from sexual images, even those in advertising. I shelter them from any negatitive influence possible. So, that when they do go to junior high and are exposed to sex, drugs, or worse they will be SHOCKED and scared. They will know these things are harmful and will want to return to a safe environment.

So many kids and teens are numb to negatitive influences, and it is no wonder. They have spent their entire lives witnessing these things in the media - and at home -with no consequences.

The real answer, the solution, is for adults to start acting like ADULTS!!! Instead, we have adults behaving as children, trying to be friends with their offspring. They are overindulging kids with materialism instead of love, affection and discipline. Parents actually fear that their kids will no longer love them, when the exact opposite is true.


Merle Widmer said...

I can't comment further. You said it all. We know most of the solutions to the problems. Even the kids from the worst environments must be given the shelter of love and discipline every day they enter the culture of the school grounds. Like many adults, they test the limits of their freedom. Kids are looking for discipline & guidance even if the "guidance & discipline" hurts their self-esteem!!

When guidance, discipline and love is lacking at home (which is sad) is no excuse if it's lacking on school property also. Having said these things the teacher must be backed up by all administration.

Thanks very much for you comments!