It has been more than a semester now that I have not been a teacher. I am missing it mightily. I even miss the yelling and screaming, the name-calling and the crazy-eyed threats against life and limb. And that’s just me. I miss what the kids always did too. This was driven home to me as I tried to move my middle child from one school to another. We were hoping to get a bit of a break on his placement. He is a gifted child with a penchant for bizarre and long-lasting obsessions. He has a talent for building huge, monumental structures in Minecraft. He is very computer-nerd and history-wonk. (Yes, I know those are not pure predicate adjectives, but I am a retired English teacher and just don’t care any more.) I was hoping they could overlook his burnout/blowout eighth-grade brain meltdown from the previous year and give him the chance to be a ninth grader for at least half a year. No. Arbitrary rules must be obeyed. (That isn’t even how she said it. More like, arbitrary rules MUST be obeyed). That meant of course that he has to continue to repeat the mindless indoctrination of year number 9, (eight numbered grades plus K), (And Pre-K, come to think of it.) Make that year number 10. No high school yet, though he is more than mature enough, intelligent enough, motivated enough, and sweet-natured enough. We are not loving and forgiving people. We are strict and by-the-book people! Forgive me, Lord. I am writing my own book. (In more ways than one.)
This is what we are doing wrong in Education;
1. We are putting people in boxes. (Little people. Kids mostly. We are calling those boxes things like ADHD, Special Education, trouble-maker, learning disabled, emotionally disturbed, disobedient, truant, and “in need of alternative education”… here meaning kid-prison.)
2. We are sealing those boxes with heavy-duty red tape. (Read special or remedial classes as waste-baskets for keeping the rabble and the riff-raff out of the good teachers’ hair.)
3. We are routinely handing those boxes to the box-bangers and package manglers. (The semi-incompetent teachers who have discipline problems because in teacher college nobody tells you what to do with the kid who sits in the corner and sings to himself instead of paying attention, or the girl who gets out of her seat every time the teacher turns his back to go flitting around the room like a bumble bee going flower to flower (except that it is a more hormonal attraction and goes boy to boy); or the competent teacher like me who incurs the principal’s disfavor for having classes that always make noise and are given such classes in boxes as a punishment because that kind of principal is too limited in intelligence to understand that those kinds of boxes are not really a punishment if you merely take a moment to examine the treasures they contain.)
4. We keep the boxes air-tight so that no oxygen or light gets in. (To suffocate learners under piles of worksheets and endless drill and practice is murder. We are killing the precious learners with boring stuff and teaching them to be zombies who all act alike and hate learning because their brains are rotted masses of goo.)
This is what we must do instead;
1. Open the boxes up again and thoroughly mix the contents. (The rich suburban parents will resent the heck out of having their precious honors student sitting in class next to the poor black kid from the projects, but studies show that both kinds of learners do better when they are mixed together.)
2. Notice, we don’t need two any more, because learners are already distributed to different and diverse boxes based on what they individually need and want to learn about and have talent for. Groups should be more like the Shakespeare-loving group or the talkative-socializing group or the Tinker-toy builders group or the vampire-literature-writing group and less like groups of kids all the same color or all the same culture or all the same age.
3. All the teachers need to be trained to handle all the possible… no, make that probable problems that may come up in the classroom. Every classroom needs a proven veteran teacher and an enthusiastic young apprentice teacher. Neither one should have to face the evil hordes alone. And most important of all, any teacher who doesn’t love working with kids (and doesn’t love the kids in a way that will not lead to a prison term) needs be utilized in some way other than as a classroom teacher.
4. Every classroom is a laboratory and every teacher is a creative and daring mad-scientist-type intent on trying new things and only re-doing things that really work well. Forget this nonsense about standard curriculum goals and common core curriculum. Those are only buzz words for suffocating learners and being too lazy to think on your feet in the middle of the every-day classroom battle in the on-going War on Ignorance.
Now you see… I have all the answers and I know everything. The only mystery is… why don’t more people listen to me?