FOWC with Fandango — Homework

This is a little rant about schools, educational funding, underpaid, exhausted teachers, outdated textbooks, and overpriced colleges lacking state and federal backing.

In the years since I graduated from college in 1967, I’ve been watching what was a mediocre school system get much worse. I see legally required fancy buildings which offer little real education. Each year, it gets worse. Do we care about education or is it just something we like to to talk about? Do we want our kids to be able to compete in the world?

I pretty much never did my homework. To be fair, back in those golden olden days, teachers didn’t check to see if you did it either. You might get tested on it at some point later in the term, but if the information was covered in class, I’d remember it. Back then, I had a great memory. I prided myself on not having to write down phone numbers. I could remember all of them.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Now, no matter how often I use a phone number, other than my own and my son’s, I have to look it up. I may not remember it long enough to not have to look it up a few times while trying to make the call. Time. It does its thing. I have maybe 15 seconds between getting information and it disappearing like the breeze in the trees.

I swear kids these days get homework intended to make up for not getting taught anything in school. Apparently, they are supposed to learn on their own what their teachers are too tired, bored, or incapable of teaching.

Leslie commented the other day that there are some great movies that could be used in the classroom. There are, absolutely. Inherit The Wind. On The Waterfront. The Lion In Winter. A wide variety of well-done historical documentaries and movies. But they aren’t used.

Harvard – Photo: B. Kraft

What they are getting is dry, dull textbooks, many of which were out of date when they were written fifty years ago. I never cracked a textbook. I just read on my own and I had a mother who loaded me down with books and a library that was a mere mile away. I remember toting home the maximum limit of books they’d let you borrow in a week. Ten books. They were heavy books, but I was young.

High School, really

For a country that supposedly values education, this country has a  strange way of showing it. Every year, when we begin to run out of budgeted money, states and the feds cut school budgets.

You can’t make a great country from a nation of ignoramuses. Yes, if your parents have the money, they might be able to send you to a superior school and if the child is smart enough, he or she might really benefit from a better education. But there are also a lot of private schools that are essentially “pay tuition for good grades.” Send your kids there. Pay the fabulous tuition and they’ll get grades which should get them into college.

Hofstra in 2014

Colleges have gotten smarter, though. They test incoming kids to make sure they can read and understand what they’ve read. They make sure they have basic maths skills. They check science education. This isn’t to make sure they are brilliant, but to make sure have a basic grasp of English. To see if they can understand the concepts of what they’ve read because — as an English professor I know has pointed out, many kids not only don’t read but can’t.

They don’t know grammar because it isn’t taught in public schools and hasn’t been since before I started school in 1951. They don’t know the parts of speech, have no concept of punctuation, and can’t do anything resembling research because when all of the preceding is true, how can you research anything? If you don’t understand what you’ve read, you can’t move forward.

Let me state for the record this is not the fault of the kids. It’s OUR fault for allowing education to become so bad in so many places and so expensive everywhere else. Only the brightest and most individually motivated youngsters manage to rise above the system.

I know not every child from every family is going to be a scholar, but shouldn’t every child have that opportunity? If they have the smarts and the interest, shouldn’t it be possible?

P.S. 35, Queens

Loading them up with eight hours of homework while loading them down with 50-pounds of boring, timeworn textbooks is a total educational cop-out. The schools I went to weren’t fabulous, but the teachers knew something. They encouraged us. If we showed promise, there was always a teacher who’d give us a nudge, suggest we try a little harder and get better.

These days? Working (briefly) as a substitute I was appalled at how listless and bored the students were. They were thrilled to have someone in the classroom that could talk to them about anything. I was told that usually, all they did was read the textbooks until the bell rang. I’d have collapsed from boredom.

We wonder why they spend so much time on the phone or iPad or computer? That’s how they learn. But what are they learning?

Categories: #FOWC, Books, Daily Prompt, Education, Fandango's One Word Challenge, learning, Marilyn Armstrong, Teaching and teachers

Tags: , , , , , ,

21 replies

  1. Utah has a reputation, richly deserved, as being one of the worst in public education. I find that annoying, because each year more of my tax dollars go towards ‘education.’ Yet I find the same things you described in your post are true of the children and teenagers here…boredom, inability to read, inability to spell, can’t do simple math (they really can’t). The local McDonalds (and probably most other fast food places teenagers may get jobs) use computers with pictures of the food items. If you need change, let us hope the machines aren’t down, because those kids can’t do math without assistance.

    It’s not the fault of those children, it’s not the fault of the teachers either IMHO. My niece is and my cousin was a teacher. My niece teaches 2nd grade. My cousin taught high school (11th graders I think). Both have groused about the restrictions placed on them about what they are ‘allowed’ to do in their teaching. They have strict guidelines and woe betide the free thinker. My cousin is now retired and said the last decade was the worst in her career because the rules got more and more restrictive and less and less common sense based. She says she’s glad to be out. She was beginning to get written up a lot for trying to TEACH.

    Our country has a lot of big problems, but this one might be the worst of the bunch. Our future is being ruined by their lack of good education. Many parents up this way home school. I see the problem of lack of socialization with the child’s peers as one fault of that system, but by gawd the kids LEARN. Can spell, know history and English and Math. Learn social studies outside the box. Learn science. Are very well prepared for college. Maybe that’s the way of the future…the parents needing to step up and make sure their children are educated.


    • Massachusetts has a ton of colleges including Harvard and MIT and some of the really worst PUBLIC education anywhere. Our public schools, with a few exceptions, range from mediocre to poor, to really terrible. Rural schools are worse than city schools, often worse than even BAD city schools because we don’t have the money to pay for better teachers or decent textbooks. In Uxbridge, we almost got disenfranchised because our high school no longer met the legal standards for a legal high school. We ran — in public education — I think about #48, which is just above Arkansas, unless they’ve improved. We don’t spend the money and we get what we pay for which are nice buildings and bad education. I didn’t go to school here. I went to school in New York, as did Garry and at least when we were growing up, schools were not bad. Not fantastic, but not bad. I think they have improved. But New York puts MONEY into their schools — and we don’t.


  2. Now I think about it I never hear much from the mothers I know about what their kids learn in school. Most of the conversations seem to be about bullying and special needs children not getting enough help. I do know that some grades do a standardised test and when the subject of education comes up on the news it is usually about the fact that Tasmanian children are behind those in other states according to the results of these tests. I meet some parents who home school their children who often come to the Op Shop looking for books and other learning material. I wish we had more room I would like to make a little corner just for school supplies to help them find what they need.
    What stands out in my mind was that ten or so years ago when I was studying at TAFE (Technical and Further Education) I was in a class which was predominantly recent school leavers and twenty-somethings. I think about four of us were over 30. We were the only ones in that class who did not struggle with reading and writing business letters. Our lecturer ended up applying for a literacy tutor to be available to the class. She also struggled to get anyone to hand in an assignment on time. I can only imagine how much worse things have become since then.


    • For a lot of stupid reasons, we have become a nation entirely reliant on standardized testing rather than teaching. Someone convinced a number of previous presidents including Clinton and Obama that this was going to improve education. It hasn’t. If anything, kids learn less. ALL they do is study for these tests. If it isn’t on the test, they don’t learn it. They don’t read, they have no art or music or creative anything and they come out brain dead.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The three “R’s” Reading, (W)righting and (A)rithmetic – they aren’t reading, have never been taught to write and as for Arithmetic -forget it. A few of those passionate movies would be a huge inspiration.


  4. I couldn’t agree more! I remember in grade 6 (had friends in grade 8 9 10) thinking, omg, I get to learn that, fantastic! By the time I got there, it had been cut from the curriculum and I was pissed! I’ve watched the cutting to education and the belief that “kids are overwhelmed” and can’t learn. Bullshit! They can learn if they apply themselves and the teacher gives their all to those that are dedicated to learning. It should be something encouraged and yes, pushed, at home! Get An Education!!!!! It’s imperative. I see the cutting as a way of dumming down society so that each generation is less informed and able to make capable and informed decisions. My rant for the day and how I feel about the education system pretty much everywhere these days!

    Liked by 2 people

    • They can also learn if the opportunity is AVAILABLE. They have eliminated music, art, shop, home etc … anything creative or simply useful and dumbed down the rest of it. All they do it prep students for standardized tests. That’s not learning. That’s rote memorization and no one learns anything that way.


    • Ditto, ditto.

      During my brief tenure as sub teacher at our local high school, I covered history and English classes. I thought it would be wonderful. I wuz wrong.
      The English classes were a nightmare.
      The History classes were cautionary “Twilight Zone” episodes. The text books were old, rotting and out of date. My sub assignment was to run an ancient, inaccurate “educational” film about the Pilgrims and Plymouth Rock.
      I scrapped the film. Chatted one class up about my former career as a TV News Reporter, figured that might hold their attention. Hands flew up. GREAT!
      Question#1 – “How much do you make as a TV News Reporter?”
      Question#2 – “How do you know what to say?”
      Question #3 – “Do you wear new clothes every day?”
      Question #4 – “Did you cover WW 2?”

      It stopped after question 4. I tried to explain the time differential between WW2 and me – as the “mature” adult talking to them. A few nodded, clearly confused.

      I needed a “hook” to get to the kids — High School Juniors. I chatted about their town and valley’s history — as a fixture for mills and textiles. More confused looks but a little sparkle here and there.
      I segued to unions. A bit more interest.
      I had an epiphany! Run “On the Waterfront” and use it a vehicle to talk about unions, political corruption and union busting.
      There was some hissing as the film began because it was B&W and not color. Few of the kids were familiar with Brando, Rod Steiger or Eva Marie Saint.
      Someone knew Karl Malden from reruns of “The Streets of San Francisco”. It was vexing for me. I wove in some of my own war stories which got more interest. I finished the class a bit demoralized.
      Later, I heard from the adminstration which didn’t appreciate my improvisation from the sub teacher’s manual.
      I think that ended my sub teaching career.

      POSTSCRIPT: Weeks later, I encountered some of the students at our local supermarket. They approached me and thanked me for the “interesting history” classes. They’d been encouraged to read books outside the school curriculum. They found the books exciting and planned to read more.

      One small victory.

      Liked by 1 person

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