Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The present curriculum, I put my fist in 'em

My daytime job sort of makes me feel like I contribute to the community. I've done construction work on train stations, stadiums, food factories, office buildings and I am currently working in an elementary school. The office building gave me the shivers when crews started setting up cubicles for future renters. It was like having war flashbacks or something. But looking from room to room in the elementary school gets my blood boiling.

Let's forget about the sweaty, dirty kid and sour milk smells that seem to hang in the hallways and bathrooms even till the end of summer and focus on the general oppressive, bossy, hypocritical atmosphere that schools seem to create and nurture.

At the school I'm in, there isn't a teacher nor principal in sight and yet I feel like I'm being yelled at every time I turn around. There are nothing but rules posted everywhere you look. Most of them are written using incoherent and rude language. There are signs up and down the hallway that say "Speed Limit Walk" and "Quiet Learning Zone." "Stay to the right." In a hallway full of nothing but coatracks there will be a sign that says "Coatrack for room 51 ONLY!" There are places with hundreds of kid-sized footprints painted on the ground so kids know exactly where to stand at the appropriate time.

Nearly every classroom has its own customized list of rules. Here are a couple of those lists along with my own personal interpretation of each rule:

1. Follow directions the first time given.
translation- Are you stupid? You must be stupid. I told you what to do, now do it.

2. Keep hands, feet, mouth and objects to yourself.
translation- You don't know what a catch-all/cure-all rule is but just don't do anything. I don't want to deal with you. It's not my job to teach personal boundaries.

3. Always be in the proper place.
translation- It's vague but if you can't figure out what it means then you're going to catch it, mister! You know, sit in your desk. Or if I want to ask you a question, be nearby. Or if they need you at the office, be there. Just be where we want you to be. Figure it out.

4. Use all art materials and equipment properly.
translation- In the past there were naughty, naughty students who got excited about art. It was madness. Kids ran with scissors. One kid threw a handful of glitter in the air because she wanted to watch it sparkle as it drifted to the floor. Please resist any creative impulse you may have. Paint by numbers. Draw some hand-turkeys. Do not deviate from acceptable art projects. We are working to gather funds to buy those coloring books where all you have to do is rub a wet brush across them and all the colors appear "in their proper place."

5. Walk in the classroom.
translation- You're a kid. Try not to be a kid. Sure the place is full of kids your age... and games... and toys... but only bad kids get excited.

6. Always show respect for others.
translation- You're six years old. You should be able to write a two page paper on what respect is. So do it. Now. Because we said so. Don't talk back to me. Get in the corner, dunce.

Even if we had a sense of irony, we still wouldn't laugh.

I know the context of these lists of rules is meant in a completely different way but that is the way I read the list. My brain translates it all for me even as I read it. Here's another one:

"When Finished I can quietly"

Finish all assignments

You're done? Here's another one. Or go back and finish the last assignment I didn't give you enough time to complete. If you think any teacher in the world ever runs out of busy work for their students you are sadly mistaken.

Read a book quietly

Ahhhhh, nothing like passing the buck. Learn from someone else for a change. Please quietly read quietly!

Write a story

To be honest, I don't care what you do as long as it's quiet. I got crossword puzzles that need doin'!



Practice my spelling words

You deserve a reward for your hard work. How about you only write the words with their definitions 3 times instead of the usual 5?

Practice my math facts

Statistically speaking, it is evidenced that your understanding will abound statographically cosecant... could you just sit down and shut up please? No, I don't have time to show you how to manually do a square root.


Quietly. No naked ladies, even though it's a valid career. You guys are so childish.

Take a quiz

My mother used to spank me for no reason. I thought the reason would be obvious when I was older but I still don't know what I did wrong or why I could never make her happy. Do you want to take a quiz? Isn't it fun to punish yourself sometimes?

Work on scrapbook

Don't make a mess. Don't ask for help. Scrapbooks: they're educational-ish.

And after "Work on scrapbook" the sign said "etc." which leads me to believe there were many more things that could have been on the list. Let's imagine some more:

feel degraded
squander your youth
contemplate the benefits of sitting in a desk rather than spending time with friends or family
figure out a non-dorky way to walk fast since running is not permitted
hone the skill of whiling away the hours* important later in life
shun people who chew gum or dye their hair outragous colors

Being in the school makes me feel bad for kids. I know we are trying but our school system is not good. I think they psychologically isolate kids. I think they make kids feel like they have nothing to offer because teachers already have all the answers. There is an emphasis on trite and pointless rules. There is a strong emphasis to behave by a standard that adults are even incapable of living up to, yet we come down hard when kids fail to do so. A lot of the classrooms I've been in have inspiring words all over them. Words like honesty and integrity and curiousity and on and on. Most kids don't know what they mean. Most of them are abstract concepts, people probably get confused as to why the words on the walls. I guess they are just big ideas meant to make something click in a kids head and suddenly turn the kid into Ghandi or something.

It is hypocritical that a school sends every message to kids with a stern, disrespectful tone and then plasters the walls about bullies and how to deal with a bully or how to stop being a bully.

I think the problem begins with the ratio of one teacher to thirty students, having to teach at the speed of the dumbest kid in the class. And then having to start all over again next year with a new set of kids. We should inspire our teachers the same way we hope to inspire our kids. Something better than writing whimsical words randomly across a wall. No more fantasy worlds.

I admire people who have the nerve to teach but here are the good teachers I've had through 17 years of school:

Mrs. Warner - 5th Grade
Mr. Mason - 7th Grade Math and Science
Miss Kurtz - 9th Grade English
Mrs. MacPherson - 9th Grade World History
Name forgotten (sorry) - 12th Grade Chemistry
Mr. Vansuchtalen - Intermediate Drawing Class
Mr. Golden - Calculus

The rest were not so great. And there are probably over 100 names on the bad list.

My point is that school sucks. It sucks worse that we try so hard to make them good and they still suck. Therefore, we suck?


Native Minnow said...

What? No teachers from Cow Country High made the list? Surely there's been a mistake.


Epitome of Sweetness said...

Some schools actually separate the kids by smartness. I know this sounds rude, but they will take scores and divide the kids by those scores, so there isn't such a diversity between the children in their learning.

In Cow Country I think there is probably a sign in the lunch room.


PsychDoctor said...

At Belknap Elementary there should have been a sign that said, "Do not throw your margarine pats so they stick on the ceiling!" :)