Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Stupiding of America

So I need a copy of "Self-Reliance"  for our study of Into the Wild (ItW) by Jon Krakauer; we are working our way through ItW and have been looking at the people and writings who influenced Chris McCandless to throw caution to the wind, walking in the Alaskan wilderness with little more than a bag of rice and a small-gauge shotgun. We have already read and discussed "Walking" by HD Thoreau, and studied the ideas behind Transcedentalism that formed McCandless's philosophy of life. It seems a natural move to "Self-Reliance." I located an online copy, but I am trying desperately to get my students to interact with their reading, so I made some calls today to locate a hardcopies to write all over.

No dice.

Not at Barnes and Noble or Borders, and when I called The General bookstore for Kennesaw State University, not only did they not have it, but college student who answered the phone also had no idea who Ralph Waldo Emerson was and asked me to repeat the name of the essay THREE TIMES.

Welcome to The Stupiding of America. My newest student told me that she has only written two essays since she left me three years ago (when I taught her at the public school I just left), and her social studies class in 8th grade was a social hour. Now she is in 9th grade, working with me, and I have asked her to complete more complex tasks in two weeks than she has all year.

Two of my other students have NEVER had to write a multi-paragraph essay with a thesis statement; they are both in 8th grade.

What are we doing? Why are kids in school?

I am completely supportive of the idea of a free, democratic education for all, but I don't think that parents and citizens of the country know how simplistic and rote instruction is becoming. My 9th grader is gifted and should be reading college-level texts; she loves to read (has read three novels already in less than two weeks and will finish two other by Monday) but has not completed an entire book/play this whole year in public high school (they read snippets of Romeo and Juliet and passages from The Odyssey, then mostly discussed the personal philosophy of the teacher). This student became angry and frustrated and said, "I wanted to learn, and I wasn't learning anything." She ended up refusing to go to school and finally came to me, where she has been working diligently ever since.

This is another case of an extremely bright, motivated person shut out from school. She is almost 16, and had she stayed in her school she may have ended up dropping out (I read at one point that 25% of dropouts are gifted, but I cannot locate that original research, so you'll have to take my word for it, or locate it yourself and send me a link!). We are so focused on the ridiculous test at the end of each year that we offer the very lowest of expectations, and our students sink to them every time.

What will it take before we learn that we need to teach up and provide the tools for all students to be exceptional? How many kids need to drop out or fail and be held back before we see this as a national crisis and stop arguing about who is responsible? It is broken, and it doesn't matter why. Stop pointing fingers and focus on the classroom. Anybody ever consider that behavior has gotten so bad because kids are bored by tasks or frustrated because they are not learning tools to help them succeed?

Stepping one foot off the soapbox but will keep the other one up there until I feel it doesn't need to be said anymore. I have a feeling I am going to be there for awhile.

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